It is a case of bigotry based on ignorance.
Eavesdropping in restaurants is a national pastime. The conversations from surrounding tables are usually benign and filled with personal stories, shopping tips or business. Occasionally, a conversation is filled with misinformation that must be corrected, like the rumor that if Hawaii Island Air flies out of Columbia it will go non-stop to Hilo. (It won’t happen in our lifetime.) Occasionally, the noise from the other table is offensive, filled with stupidity and the deep hatred of others based on race, religion or ... you can fill in the blanks.
I am a big-city kid and a Jew and have been the target of anti-Semitic language, which I usually attribute to ignorance. Unfortunately, I have experienced more racial and religious bias in the middle of Middle America than I had living in New York or Denver. Equally unfortunate are the sources of such comments.
This time, it was three fairly large men of European decent. Their language was rather foul and loud enough to be heard by the families sitting two booths away. Too often the “F” and “S” words flowed too easily, the basis of ill-placed humor. They had gone too far for personal comfort, but it was the language used concerning negotiating a deal that caused me great distress.
Yet the language of discrimination comes from other sources, some seemingly unlikely. Too often I have fielded anti-Semitic comments from Americans of African decent, using the same language and biases leveled against Jews that have been leveled against blacks (a term I personally dislike). Language that is beyond hurtful, language that is truly hateful. Language, as used by a small minority of this community, that is nothing short of racist, the same racist remarks that men and women, from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to Bill Cosby, have fought to eliminate.
I have been pushed and prodded by evangelical Christian extremists (another small minority) who have taken it upon themselves to deem this a Christian nation (which the United States is not), and only worthy of those whose religious beliefs are the same as theirs. Mostly covert, sometimes overt, the language of discrimination is ever present, especially when I speak about the American secular political system.
I have been ridiculed by Jews who believe that I am not Jewish enough, that belonging to a Unitarian “church” (which I attend regularly) is somehow sacrilegious and my humanism insulting to G-d, the Torah and Moses. I am not a fan of the Israeli government’s actions in Palestine and I do not keep kosher. I do attend Temple for the High Holy Days and work to assure that Jewish (and Islamic) holidays are not forgotten by the worshipers in my liberal religious congregation. However, in a minor number of Jewish circles, I am an outcast.
There were the college students from one of our prestigious institutions, highly educated, intelligent and knowledgeable of the world surrounding them, who asked why Jews control the world banks, the U.S. economy and hate Christians. They were serious. I was appalled.
Back to the three “whites” sitting in the eatery. They were not speaking of anything important, just the stuff expected from three 20-somethings in a college town, like finance, sports and dating. The first time we heard them say that they had “Jewed” someone was shocking. The second time was insulting and I confronted them, saying their language was troubling and deeply insulting. They stopped as if the Sword of Damocles was about to fall on their collective heads. Someone had to say something. They did not apologize.
On March 13, CBS’ “The Early Show” reported on Charmayne Brown, a reporter from WSPA-TV in Spartanburg, S.C., who was attacked by the family of an accused murderer. She was not only beaten, but was also the target of racial slurs. During the interview with CBS’ Maggie Rodriguez, Ms. Brown said, “I can’t believe it’s 2008 and people still believe that way.” Neither can I, Ms. Brown, neither can I.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.