Nationalism, racism, tribalism, and sexism

Nationalism, racism, tribalism, and sexism are aspects of the same purview, sexism somewhat different because the differences between the sexes are real differences in the sense that sex is naturally of consequence of life, the other isms only of consequence because of decisions human beings, not nature, makes concerning how difference is regarded.  All reflect problematic in the way people choose to think about one another.  That the many are prone, in one way or another, to allow themselves to engage in such prejudicial ways of thinking and willingly act upon that thinking constantly impinges on my strong desire to believe that human beings are truly capable of engaging life humanely.  As were all who carry some degree of humaneness, I was disgusted by the carnage that occurred in a Jewish Synagogue in Pittsburg on Saturday.  I was also disturbed by the reaction of a number of people I know who thought the tragedy to be so much of a Jewish one as to pull it away from the context in which it exists, as first a crime against humanity and then, particularly, in this case, against people who the killer understood to be Jewish.  He did kill Jews but he exists amongst a class of killers who mass murders of people they, the killers, locate within the human race by tribe or race or national origin or by sex to harm or destroy.

So from where is it that such people who kill and do harm to others come?  They come from societies or sectors of society in which differences in people that are naturally of little consequence are made to be differences that count in deciding how people of one kindor anothercan and should be treated. Not all, probably not most of those who hold such prejudices would admit to holding them, often because they do not see the discriminations they make to be prejudicial.  For this reason, discrimination is, for a good many, simply a fact of life, no harm meant by it.

Thus, it  was disturbing to me to listen to many of those who expressed despair over the events at the Tree of Life Temple on Saturday, a good many of those who are Jewish speaking of the tragedy as though it was unique in some way because it involved Jews.  Only those of the Jewish faith were slaughtered.  That is true.  But to treat the event as different from those involving those who are not Jewish is symptomatic of tribalism, sorrow made more profound because they are ours, this symptomatic of the us/them way of thinking that allows for, even commands varying degrees of discrimination and prejudice.

I was particularly taken aback by the journalist Howard Fineman who I respect as a good journalist and good human being when he told of his feeling concerning the Tree of Life massacre.  He described how he was raised in the idyllic American community of Squirrel Hill, a section of Pittsburg that, when he grew up was populated almost exclusively by Jewish people.  In that community, he said, that almost exclusively Jewish community, he knew of no prejudice.  People treated each other humanely.  It was, he said, a safe place and a wonderful place in which to grow up.  Squirrel hill now, he mentioned, is now only a 50% Jewish community and I could swear I was hearing in his discussion a bit of longing for those old days when, in Squirrel Hill, all was well, Jewish people getting along well with other Jewish people.  He said nothing about the fact that the existence of ethnic or racial enclaves within America’s towns and cities is indicative of something like one of those problematic isms discussed above, by means other than hostility and/or violence but by separation and exclusion.

I too grew up in a neighborhood that was populated mainly by people of Jewish background.  I was never told to hate or even dislike others who were not Jewish.  I was made to know, from an early age, that I was Jewish and that being Jewish separated me, made me different from those who were not Jewish.  I assumed to be Jewish and not Jewish were as natural a division as being either male or female, I different from themin ways that mattered.  And it did matter because all of the friends I could have, for matters of proximity, yes, but also by sanction, were Jewish.  All of my parents’ friends were Jewish so that all of the adults who visited us in our home were Jewish, their children too, of course.  As I got older I did meet people who were not Jewish who I understood to be not as welcome at our house as those who were Jewish and, when girlfriends became a part of my life, there was always someone around to make clear that Jewish girlfriends were good and girls who were not Jewish could not be good girlfriends.

I cannot speak to whether these kinds of you are a Jew and remember you are a Jew and never even think about marrying a goy girl and try now to even think about having friends who aren’t Jewish, but knowing the Jewish kids I knew who are now Jewish adults, Jewishness is still a distinction that carries weight in life and some of the poundage comes in the form of prejudice and various forms of discrimination.

This is exactly what we need to get beyond.  A particular religion does not make one better or worse than others.  Being of a particular race does not make one better or worse than others.  Being of a particular ethnicity or nationality does not make one better or worse than others.  And being of a particular sex does not make one better or worse than others. Intermingling is the key to understanding and yes, intermingling does tend to dilute purity.  The good thing in all this is that purity of the national or religious or ethnic or tribal or sexual variety is at best worthless and desire for it of ignorance, against good sense.

By lafered

Retired professor of education concerned with thoughtfulness

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