The Cure to Cruel Culture
*inspired by New York Times Article, She was Excited for a New School. Then the Anti-Semitic ‘Jokes’ Started.(https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/04/nyregion/new-jersey-antisemitism-high-school.html?searchResultPosition=1)
We often ask how human beings can be so cruel to one another. For children and teenagers today, this cruelty manifests itself in jokes, memes, and racial slurs. This culture, hiding under the battleground of mass shootings and threatening protests, can be equally as destructive as direct violence.
At the Marine Academy of Science & Technology, a small private highschool in New Jersey, a student named Paige experienced anti-semetic harassment for three years. A few kids sent a photo with the words, “I H8 Jews” scribbled in beach sand, to a group chat she was a part of. During school, kids would read Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ during breaks and doodle swastikas. Then the speech became outwardly blatant, when several teens called a teacher “an obnoxious Jew.” Other anti-semitic episodes followed. Paige couldn’t contain her frustration; she reported the issues to her parents and school personnel. These incidents prompted a shallow investigation and lawsuit filed against the school, but the institution’s reputation was protected. Paige, feeling betrayed by the unabated assault, dropped out of highschool at the end of her junior year.
Evan R. Bernstein, Vice President of the Northeastern Division of the Anti-Defamation League, calls the hateful conduct at schools the “underbelly of anti-semitism.” And in fact, many of the occurrences at schools go unreported, with many students afraid to speak up. Paige’s friends refused to stick by her because they feared retaliation from their peers who took part in the bullying. These practices–of unreported cases and lack of action taken due to fear and loss of reputation–legitimize the harassment. Beyond normalizing discrimination, the surface level investigations and failure to condem these actions actually embolden the offendors. While the perpetrators in this specific case had their college acceptances rescinded, Paige’s future did not take shape as she had hoped. Forced to homeschool her senior year due to overwhelming depression, she is still challenged when it comes to trusting others and being herself around friends.
The “underbelly of antisemitism” in the United States is a critical social justice issue that must be addressed. Other than emphasizing that institutions who cover-up to protect their reputation must be held accountable, movements such as BDS supported by congress people like Ilhan Ohmar, are an integral part of this passive, hateful culture. By taking out their resentment of Israel on the Jewish people as a whole, they have melded anti-zionism with antisemitism. Ohmar’s ardent backing of BDS aligns with her comments that “American Jews possess dual loyalty” and that “Israel has hypnotized the world” (Vox). While hate speech is not directly destructive, when government officials and discriminatory groups are not held accountable, the culture continues to brainwash common citizens who fail to distinguish between issues or are ardent followers of a certain party. Historically, hate speech and propaganda have been the catalysts for the greatest catastrophes to humankind. There is no doubt that remarks and the influence of groups like BDS have spurred the violence incurred in these communities and in universities. In the past couple years, anti-semitic attacks– from the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue to Chabad’s Poway, and from the crisis at the University of Berkeley to the stabbing in Brooklyn–are said to be the worst in American history. Despite the strength of the Jewish community and spoken denunciation of these issues, acts fueled by burning racism prevail. Lawsuits or lifetime sentences merely place bandaid after bandaid over a seriously infected wound. The root of the issue must be recognized if we seek to quell the assault on religious groups and ethnicities in this country: people are not born to despise others. People’s thoughts and opinions are shaped by their childhood experiences, and most of all, their education.
While we cannot control what people say or how they express themselves under the first amendment, we can at least try to instill them with knowledge and values of tolerance from a young age. Even so, we can teach them how to share their opinions respectfully and within the bounds of reason. Many harbour discriminatory beliefs because they are ignorant and are influenced by others who spread hatred. I believe that a mandatory and nationalized curriculum, rooted in teaching tolerance, respect, and compassion, starting in elementary school and going through highschool, would significantly reduce racist practices. And because of my stark belief that this could be a potential solution, I crafted a curriculum of my own which I plan to introduce to a few local groups and school administrators (the curriculum is linked here).
Through this hands-on course, kids would learn about the importance of diversity while valuing everyone’s contributions to their community and the world. Additionally, while deeply analyzing current events and tying them to history, students will learn to critically think about pressing issues and brainstorm solutions to them. For instance, if students evaluated the anti-semitism of the past and understood the basics of the Israeli-Palestianan conflict, anti-semitism would not be used as an outlet for anti-zionism, notably on college campuses. I am confident that when children are properly educated and feel that what they are learning is applicable and valuable, they are likely to be content with themselves, and thus, more accepting of others.
Once we begin to stress the significance and consequences of hateful speech and racial slurs to children, students like Paige–whether they be Jewish, African American, LGBTQ+, etc.– will feel more comfortable in school environments and beyond. Not only will this benefit students who identify with minority, ethnic, or religious groups, but will inspire accepting views and tolerant policies among politicians and aspiring leaders. An individual’s well-being and future should never be hindered by racist comments and conduct. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “a threat to justice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” Our gravest threat comes from those who are ignorant and harbour the unreasonable biases of others. The cure to cruel culture is education, and only through shaping the minds of our children will the cries of ‘never again’ ring true.