Fighting the Good Fights
DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles and NBA veteran Stephen Jackson provided a one-two punch this week with the posting and defending of a virulent anti-Semitic screed. While he attributed his words to Hitler (and as it turns out even Hitler hadn’t said them!) DeSean Jackson’s statement of apology insisted that his post bore no ill-feelings for Jews. Stephen Jackson went farther in his response saying that he fully supported the post and that ultimately nothing false was said.
I actually take Jackson and Jackson at their word that they thought that their statements about Jews and Jewishness are so obviously true that they can be said and defended as just telling the truth rather than expressing antisemitic hatred. And that is much more dangerous.
Even more dangerous is that the most blatant source of this twisted worldview is an individual who is elevated by many more people than actually agree with hatred – Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan is not a new figure and Nation of Islam (which is different than Islam) has been on the scene for generations, playing an important role in the fight for Black people and at the same time often an enemy to other Black leaders who did not endorse its very specific dogma.
The question of what will be the consequences for DeSean Jackson and those who double down on his statements has yet to be answered. He should lose his job and probably won’t. One of the responses to this incident has been high profile questioning of whether there is a double standard in what is now known as “cancel culture” – the quick removal of public figures who show hatred or bias against certain groups. Is antisemitism more acceptable than bigotry against Black people, women, Muslims, and gay or transgender people?
Personally, I don’t believe this is the case.
What is called cancel culture is only part of the fight against bias. Right now it is the visible part of the iceberg on which some very prominent ships are finding themselves going down hard. But below that visible part there is a lot of invisible ways in which certain groups have themselves been cancelled for a long time. And violently so. There have been times, bursts of conscience from the rest of the country about these injustices, but the norm has been at best timid statements about equality not backed up with action to uproot bias.
The fight against antisemitism has been a different fight for the most part. In addition to being a minority group facing prejudice, we are rightly haunted by fear that what happened not long ago in Europe could happen again. Yet, for better or for worse the Jewish community has created opportunities to educate and build alliances with all but the most extreme manifestations of hatefulness. We established over one hundred years ago a group called the Anti-Defamation League whose mission in addition to protecting Jews was “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.” From early on we held that no people is safe from persecution unless everyone is.
I have come to see that while hatred of any person for who they are deserves equal condemnation, there is an important difference with how and why different communities fight against discrimination, bias and bigotry. As Jews in this country we say Never Again because a greatest fear is what happened in the past will happen in the future. But for those who are Black, including Black Jews, it can be said that the fight is not Never Again but No More Now. No More of a present that is continuous with a past and threatens the future. Not a double standard, but two different kinds of fights.
And we should fight both of these fights, together.