My first, mild exposure to antisemitism was in my teenage years, when an acquaintance used “Jew” as a verb. As I recall, my response was “What?!?”
Even back then my eloquence was, you’ll agree, impressive.
Early in my career, at a table in the company cafeteria, one of my colleagues referred to Blacks as “jungle bunnies.” I forget the context but remember my response … an utterly blank look as I tried to figure out just exactly what to say. I failed, and the moment passed.
I first wrote about bigotry in the workplace seventeen years ago (“The uselessness of race“) in KJR’s predecessor, InfoWorld’s IS Survival Guide. I was shocked when several correspondents wrote to inform me … gently … of my error: Blacks really are, they explained, cognitively inferior to whites.
I’m reading Spymistress: The True Story of the Greatest Female Secret Agent of World War II (William Stevenson, 2011). I already knew that colonial England had a level of racism baked into its culture — a country could not practice colonialism without it.
But I was shocked at how profound the English aristocracy’s antisemitism was, rivaling that of Germany’s Nazis … so much so that many British leaders openly endorsed the Nazi program.
Two years ago Charlottesville happened, with its disturbing Tonga torchlight parade and brutal murder by a white supremacist of a counter protester.
Who would have thought that two years later, one fatality would be considered an improvement?
Which, skipping a few steps, brings us to the present, where domestic white supremacists have overtaken radicalized foreign and domestic Muslims as our most significant terrorist threat.
I’m no longer naïve enough to be shocked that racism, mysogeny, antisemitism, and other bigotries are alive and well in the United States of America. I am still absorbing the shock that bigots have joined flat-earthers in their utter lack of embarrassment.
In fact, these no-they-aren’t-just-as-fine folks don’t seem to realize that thinking Blacks and Hispanics are inferior; that Jews belong to a secret cabal plotting to run the world; that women in positions of authority are emasculating … they don’t realize their views are, in fact, outrageously bigoted and have no place here.
What can we do to combat this repulsive trend?
As an individual, if you’re adept at social media, you might consider trolling the most prominent alt-right sites. An adept hacker might plant humiliating content there, too (I’m not advocating this, merely pointing out the possibility).
But as individuals our most important role is to make clear to anyone we hear espousing any form of bigotry that they’re embarrassing themselves and should be embarrassed.
Following this, in a closely run second place, is to echo, wherever and whenever it might be appropriate, Isaac Asimov’s conclusion that “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
Bigots who aren’t violent and don’t incite violence aren’t dangerous. They’re merely annoying.
No, it isn’t particularly profound to observe that we need culture change, and that peer pressure is important in making it happen, but I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of profound to offer on this subject.
Anyway, I write KJR for managers and for those who have to deal with managers. So as a manager, what role you have to play in all of this?
The starting point is recognizing that you do have a role to play. You have a legal responsibility to provide a workplace that’s free from harassment and intimidation. If you observe an employee speaking and acting in a bigoted way, it isn’t okay to ignore it unless and until someone complains.
And a thought for IT: It isn’t just websites featuring erotica that you should block access to. If visits to erotic sites have no business purpose, neither do visits to sites that promote hate and violence.
As a teenager I read The Autobiography of Malcom X. The book as a whole vividly introduced me to the Black American experience. But what stuck in my mind more than anything else was Malcom X’s account of how he met his wife: He explained that really, she was the one in control of it all.
By modern standards this was a mildly sexist account of things. What struck me then was that, in this one respect at least, Malcolm X was just a guy.
In 2010, I attended Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. There, on the national mall, I saw a smiling, relaxed, friendly-looking Pakistani family sitting on lawn chairs, holding a sign that read, “We’re the people you’re supposed to be afraid of.”
Believe me … these aren’t the people you should be afraid of.