Student Reactions to Hate Crimes Differ with the Groups Targeted

At 4:46 on Sunday, I received an e-mail stating that somebody had written the n-word in the snow on a car outside of the Lord Jeff Inn. At 5:31 and 6:30 that same day, I received e-mails about student-organized meetings to discuss this incident. The message seemed to be, “We will do whatever it takes to fight this hatred.” I was glad to see the strong student reaction to this. Complacency is unproductive, and I am proud that as a student body we have fought against the so-called “Amherst Apathy.”

There was another hate crime that happened during this academic year. On September 9th a student from the University of Massachusetts broke into the Keefe Health Center and spray painted two swastikas on the wall. After this occurred, the only emails I received were from the school. There was little to no student reaction to this incident.

As a member of the student body and as a Jew, I have been trying to ponder the reasoning behind these differences in reactions. I believe that anti-semitism is often not taken very seriously. Many Jews are white, or white passing, and therefore have the privilege that this skin color entails. This does not erase the fact, though, that anti-semitism does exist. Anti-Israel political cartoons personify the nation as a large-nosed man, who highly resembles the man depicted on Nazi propaganda. In my experience, “Jew jokes” are met with less guilt than jokes about other races. Everybody knows that in order to get a Jew to run, you have to roll a penny down a hill. These jokes are said with jest, not malice, but they continue to perpetuate a harmful stereotype. Part of the reason that anti-semitism is not considered a serious issue in this country is because Jews are perceived as having money and therefore power.

Last year, an image circulated around the Internet of a beer pong game. On one side of the table, red cups were arranged in the shape of a swastika; on the other, yellow cups were arranged in the shape of the Magen David, or the Star of David. I think it is important to remember that not everyone has the luxury of finding humor in that image. The swastika caused my great-uncles to emigrate from Austria to the United States; their peers called them “Nazis” because they could not lose their German accents. The swastika caused a man who belongs to my temple—the one who had the same Torah portion as I did—to take the Kindertransport out of his homeland, seeing his parents for the last time at the age of thirteen. The swastika is used to represent the fact that there are people alive today who adorn that symbol with the sole purpose of making the statement that they want me, and all other Jews, to be wiped off the earth.

The working definition of racism that many people use is prejudice plus power. As I mentioned earlier, Jews are considered to have a lot of power, whether it be in the media, Hollywood or banks. Also, there is the argument that Judaism is merely a religion, one that anyone can leave or join. Whether or not I am practicing, I will always be seen as a Jew. My grandmother’s aunt felt she was safe in Austria because she had converted to Christianity, and she was raising her kids as such. Their entire immediate family was killed. There is a long history of discrimination and oppression that goes along with being Jewish, one I would be unable to reject.

I wonder if, as a group, we as Jews are sometimes complacent. I rarely hear anti-semitism being called out in the same way that racism and sexism are. We are a small minority, making up less than two percent of the country and about 0.2 percent of the world. It can be scary, being in such a staggering minority, not knowing if others will back you up. When I hear from someone that the difference between pizza and Jews is that Jews don’t scream in the oven I plaster on a fake smile because playing along is easier than fighting, especially when it is a fight that I am fairly certain I will not win. We live in a world where people get mad when they are told “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Because the majority of the country celebrates the holiday, why protect the feelings of the few who do not?

If the Amherst College student body is going to be a group that takes action, one that calls out and fights injustice, we should do so against all forms. It seems hypocritical to rally against racism, sexism and the culture of silence while merely viewing an anti-semitic event as an unfortunate occurrence and moving on. I know that when it happened, I should have been more vocal. I should have created discourse, ensuring that the incident was not something that we immediately forgot about. It also would have been preferable if I had written an article back when it happened. I am just one person, though, in a miniscule minority, and I alone do not have the power to effect change. It is important for the students here to continue being responsive to injustice and ensure that we are not focusing on some causes and seemingly ignoring others.