Honestly, I actually intended for this post to be about another subject entirely, but a friend brought an article to my attention to which I hadn’t seen before and I felt the need to respond….
Blogger, Failed Messiah posted about a Chasidic newspaper “Der Yid” and its uses of both the “n word” and “shvartze”
Failed Messiah also provides a rough, summary translation of the article in question.
“As if it (the Olympics) were the most important thing in the world, they [secular Jews, Zionists] even forgot about Iran… The ones that call themselves Am HaSefer (People of the Book) were busy during the 2 weeks [of the Olympics] with a untranslatable awe of every black nigger who ran with a few sec. faster than the other.
And they [secular Jews, Zionists] are the one’s that keep on writing, [that] the Haradim are giving insufficient education to their kids….[as] if to be busy for weeks with lame sports matchup’ of a few black niggers that run almost as fast as a monkey or a different animal – if that means advanced, then we’d like to stay behind.”
For all of you who aren’t aware Der Yid is the largest Yiddish paper in the US, founded by Satmer Chassidim, but read by many in the Yiddish speaking charedi world.
I wish I could say I’m surprised, by this….but instead I find myself merely disappointed. Disappointed that racism is so accepted in the community that they are willing to use such extreme language in community publications. Disappointment in the utter lack of embarrassment in printing the “n word”, shvartze, or comparing black people to animals because the publishers know that such racism is prevalent and accepted in their community. Disappointed that these words get tossed around with such frequency that no one would bat an eye at their usage.
Yes, I know…here come the excuses. Shvartze isn’t proxy for nigger. In Yiddish that’s how you say black, etc., etc. Many chassidish communities are surrounded by poor black communities that are infested with crime, that’s why their opinion of black people is so bad. They don’t know better, etc.
Why? Why do so many people rush to defend this behavior? Because in other aspects of their lives these people are so religious? Would the community be in such a rush to defend this behavior if it came from Jews that don’t wear black and white? Does frumkeit no longer include derech eretz (loosely translated as common decency)? Are not all people, white or not, Jewish or non-Jews created bztelem elokim (in the image of G-d)? What is happening in our communities when people are so focused on Torah and these basic lessons are being missed?
Are people so wrapped up in tznius (modesty) wars, Gemara, and one upping each other on chumras they’ve forgotten what Torah is about? Is this the kind of language and behavior that is supposed to be bringing Moshiach? The Orthodox community is forever defending itself against claims that its insularity means the community is backwards, misogynistic, etc. Saying that people just don’t understand our social mores when it comes to dress, separation of the sexes, long time learning, or even abstaining partially or entirely from popular culture. Justifying it because of the emphasis on Torah as the center of all things.
But here’s the thing I don’t get….how do you justify this behavior through Torah? Where does the Torah permit and encourage racism? In this case…the community is backwards…and about 50 years behind the rest of America. It’s a chillul Hashem. Do you think the minorities who live around frum communities don’t know how you perceive them? Do you think they don’t know what you mean when you say shvarzte (here’s a clue…a lot of them do)? Do you think that doesn’t add to the tension in your community? Do you think that perhaps, this makes Orthodox Jews look ignorant and bigoted? That maybe, instead of being a light unto the nations…Orthodox Jews are perceived as racist, know nothings?
Why is our community okay with that? Why are people so tied to racist language and behavior that they are unwilling to even acknowledge its a problem? That instead they are willing to cede the moral high ground on this issue to secular and non-Orthodox Jews. What is so holy about shvartze? Why can’t people acknowledge it as the slur it is (anyone arguing otherwise is either incredibly naive or disingenuous and has never had the word directed at them) and agree to work on not saying it?
Why must we “avoid trouble” or “ignore it”, instead of acknowledging that it’s disgusting and needs to change. Frankly, the frum community is great at sweeping issues under the rug, but racism needs not be one of them. There are people of color in the frum community. We exist and the prevalence of racist language and behavior affects success in the community. It affects school and yeshiva experiences, dating, housing, job prospects, etc. …And it’s plain wrong.
As we continue in the days of Aseret Yemei Teshuva (days of repentance), let us as an Orthodox community reflect on where and why we allow racism to pervade our community and what we can do to change it.