Monday, January 26, 2015


In yesterday's email I received a forward that included this link to a piece in the BBC News Magazine about Winston Churchill's less endearing qualities.  If you scroll down, you'll find some thoughts about how he shared the "low-level casual anti-Semitism of his class and kind."  My friend added this personal note:
     [   ] the wording of "casual anti-semitism" seems appropriate: one of Hemingway's friends, when asked about H's (whose 3rd marital decision was to marry a jew) anti-semitism, the friend replied (words to the effect) "well that's the way we all were", i.e  unthinkingly, 'cause that's the way they were raised/the culture they came from. Perhaps a good example of this is our wonderful Eleanor Roosevelt (see her early life comments about the Jews: obviously, I have great admiration for people who grow).
    In no way to make apologies for antisemitism/other vile & virulent beliefs about others, but I sometimes wonder how others might judge us some day for thinking/behaving in certain ways which our upbringing/culture has instilled in us---or have we Californians of the 20-21st Century already achieved moral perfection??
Which in turn triggered memories of my own.  I responded:
Thanks for the forward.  As one who was brought up in the culture referred to, I was particularly interested.  Living in English country villages, the son of the local Anglican minister, during and after World War II, I never knowingly met a Jew until coming to America!  Hard to believe, perhaps, but true.  All I knew of Jews was what the Nazis had perpetrated in the course of the war, and even that was somehow at a distance.  No, that’s not quite true.  My good Christian mother, the vicar’s wife, read to me stories as a child from books in a series called “All Saints,” and I have deeply buried memories of stories about what Jews did to little Christian children in the dark back streets of eastern European cities…  This, surely, was a part of the “culture” that is referred to.  Not a heritage to take pride in, but one to be conscious of, I think.  We do need to understand, and correct where necessary, the prejudices that underlie of our social/cultural assumptions, and that’s not always easy to do.  And no, we Californians may think of ourselves as liberated but we are far from achieving moral perfection.  It behooves us to wake up, and stay awake, to who we are.   
Thanks again for an important thought on Sunday morning.  
(Actually, my memory failed me.  The book was actually "Six O'Clock Saints."  I had one of those deep frissons of childhood remembered when I found an image of the cover on Amazon...  I wonder if my sister remembers it, too?  The story I remembered was titled "Little Saint Hugh"--and its location was NOT eastern Europe but Lincoln, in my own country, England!  The story is a part of the whole ancient "blood libel" fallacy.  I think there must have been other stories set in eastern Europe, though.  They tease the memory...)

Like all racial prejudice, anti-Semitism arises out of ignorance.  Too often, we are content to allow it to persist in a "low-level, casual" way because that's easier than choosing to take the conscious path.  Our 21st century American culture is shot through with prejudice of all kinds, but it remains below the level of visibility because we are comfortable in our ignorance and choose not to make the effort to question our own behaviors and beliefs.  What results is a great deal of unnecessary suffering, for ourselves as well as for those we so easily dismiss or hold in contempt.

With stories of anti-Semitism and other forms of racial hatred on the rise in Europe, there's plenty of prejudice still to worry about.  With the growth of world populations and their migration, and as cultures clash, there will be plenty more to worry about in the future of humankind.  My own job, though, can only be to monitor my own prejudice, with consciousness.  

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