Be Careful of Who You are Stereotyping
I’m sharing a letter of mine that Mishpacha published in the current issue. Here is the letter – with minor cosmetic changes to make it even clearer.
My letter reacted to a single vignette in a treatment a few weeks ago of the increase in anti-Semitic incidents and sentiment in the United States. My letter proposes that we have to be careful not to brand entire communities as hostile, especially when those communities are a source of much pro-Israel sentiment. And even if this were not true, stereotyping itself is wrong, and should be beneath us as Torah Jews.
A theme of the frightening treatment of how anti-Semitism has come back into plain sight (An Uncertain Future, March 20) is that we are going to have to accommodate new realities. In one of the vignettes included, Yosef L. identified the fellow who deliberately jostled him at a gas station as “Hispanic.”
Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that we cry foul often enough when the New York Times labels some malfeasor as “Jewish,” while others are never labeled according to their ethnicity or religion. In this case, pointing out the fact that the aggressor in his case was Hispanic does not necessarily betray any malice on the part of the writer. Likely, it was simply a way of pointing out a hazard ahead. Indeed, the ADL 2016 survey of anti-Semitism in the US showed that Hispanics have an elevated rate of hatred for Jews.
But here is where we have to be careful. It is important that readers should not fall into a trap of stereotyping. First- because it is simply wrong to judge a class of people by the behavior of some. It is not yosher, and it is inaccurate. In this case, the same survey showed that the spike in anti-Semitism was contributed by new immigrants. By the second generation, Hispanic hatred of Jews was only slightly elevated above the national average. In all cases, it is still a minority. Should we reject a group of people – one that is growing in influence – because of a minority?
Second – because we would be shooting ourselves in the foot. A few weeks ago, I sat in Mamila Mall with Rev. Efraim Valverde III, the pastor of a Hispanic church in Salinas, California. His congregants had marked International Holocaust Day by marching through the city en masse in commemoration. A motorist made several passes in his vehicle, screaming at them for supporting Israel and Jews. The pastor himself broadcasts pro-Jewish and pro-Israel programming regularly into Mexico – continuing a practice that began with his grandfather. Rev. Sammy Rodriguez spoke at the presidential inauguration. He heads up a network of hundreds of pro-Israel churches, and even employs a person to lead Israel advocacy. He is a personal friend – one of several leaders of entire groups of pro-Israel Hispanic churches that I know.
Under the inspired leadership of Rav Moshe Sherer z”l, Agudath Israel pursued working relationships with many non-Jewish groups and individuals. One of the new realities that we need to get used to is that to protect our way of life – and even our very security – we need all the friends we can get. Let’s not squander the substantial good that exists everywhere.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
The Simon Wiesenthal Center
Los Angeles / Yerushalayim
Sometimes a descriptor does help the reader understand the motivation for an affront or a crime. Should we censor ourselves then?
We should stop and think whether the descriptor adds anything to anyone’s understanding, and also whether including it might be harmful in other arenas. Sometimes, we have to do a cost-benefit analysis. In principle, I don’t disagree with you. I did it myself in my reference to “Middle Eastern,” davka so people shouldn’t write off the rest of what I wrote to my swallowing some kumbaya pill
This unfortunately relates back to something you posted two weeks ago, and what one of your colleagues on this site addresses today – mixed messages. For half a century we were taught that, as you say, descriptor’s don’t matter, and we should strive to be a color-blind society. But that is no longer the case. One’s race is, by a gigantic margin, far more prevalent an issue today than it ever was. In every case where it matters, one’s racial (or other) identity is today more important than his talent, merit, or intrinsic self-worth as an individual. As right as you undoubtedly are, it is very hard to preach “descriptors don’t matter” in 2019.