I’m 15 years old, sitting in a cafeteria of my peers, and someone is throwing pennies at me.
I try not to spin around; reaction is fuel to their fire. The best solution is just to ride it out. I feel them pelt the back of my chair. Most miss, landing on the table in front of me, rolling in semi-circles before falling on their sides.
“Hey, Jew!” It’s two years later, and my friend is picking me up to get breakfast. I roll my eyes in a non-threatening fashion and squish myself into the backseat, an extra passenger. I say hi back.
What do we do with the microaggressions of the next generation? We are living in limbo: on the one hand, anti-semitism is largely frowned upon. We aren’t expelled from stores, left jobless, homeless, based on our beliefs. On the other, that cushion of acceptance has paved the way for the “harmless joking” of society. How long do we wait post-tragedy for humor to settle in? It’s been less than 100 years since the Holocaust, and the stereotypes have been resurrected.
“You know it’s just a joke, right?”
Our religion is still seen as an anomaly. What felt like an adoptance into the norm has been met with phrases like, “don’t Jew me down,” and penny throwing, all under the guise of comedy. Millenials have been raised in this strange era of ruthless extremism and political correctness; it seems nowadays, one must fall on either end of the spectrum. The level playing field has all but been eroded, and what we’re left with is two great precipices, neither an appealing leap.
I was never religious growing up. I knew next to nothing about Judaism, other than that I was a part of it. And still, I was relentlessly referred to as this fraction of my identity. Which proves that the microaggressions faced by the next generation have nothing to do with religion at all. It’s about “otherness,” and what is still considered the norm in American society. You are, essentially, the sum of your minority.
What is our job, as young Jews, to inform? Is it fair to place the burden of education on the marginalized? And, when that marginalization doesn't quite match the boundaries of oppression, can it even be taken seriously in society? Is it even a battle worth fighting?
I don’t know all of the answers. But I believe, what we do know, we need to share. No, it’s not “the job” of Jewish people or any other marginalized group to educate the masses. But I strongly disagree with the notion that we shouldn’t try anyway. No great change has ever come from sitting back and expecting other people to grow on their own. Yes, many groups in society are actively persecuted; we are “lucky,” in a sense, not to be the current targets of national oppression. But the comparison of tragedies isn’t a useful tool for bettering ourselves or the people; in the battle of “who suffered worse,” no one wins. Use that sense of empathy to fight for the rights of others as well as your own. Until we shatter the idea of “normal,” there will always be a chance for prejudice to prevail.
It’s the last day of school, and I’m leaving for summer camp. I know 1 out of every 3 goodbyes will be harder than the rest.
“Just don’t use the showers, okay? You know what they say about Jews and camps…” The joke’s not original. They all act like George Carlins, though.
“Ha, ha,” I’m able to choke out. “Hilarious. Truly.” Sarcasm is a wall to hide behind, a barrier for the tears of disparity, the “me” and the “them.”
When you joke about a stereotype for long enough, you end up holding convictions you didn’t even know to be true. Do I love to shop in the sale section? Absolutely, but it’s because I’m a normal human being (and an excellent bargain hunter), not because I’m Jewish. And while some of these stereotypes may seem harmless, like the trope of the overbearing, overfeeding Jewish mother, they all play into the vicious cycle of recycling character traits to describe an entire people. The grouping of humans, whether it be by religion, race, gender, or other, hinders our ability to see individuals as exactly that: individuals, each with their own traits and sense of agency. Culture is important. It shapes people, but it’s only a part of their story. Every joke is made with intent. For every cause there is an effect. You can’t throw the penny without knowing it’ll land.
We have made great strides since 1942. The world is leagues ahead of where it used to be, and thanks to the internet, information is always at our fingertips. Do not let progress make you complacent. Platforms for understanding also lead to platforms for hate. If we are still able to “other” people just for being who they are, we have the power to alienate them from society, no matter our intentions. If we ignore these subtle and indirect forms of oppression, we reopen the vault to hundreds of years of active persecution.