As I settled into my LOT airlines seat, waiting for the plane to take off to Warsaw, I realized that I was feeling cozy. All my life I’ve been really self-conscious about how pale I am. Pale skin is thin skin and thin skin provides no camouflage. Every scar and eye bag, every wrinkle and knotted vein, is neon. “Black don’t crack,” black women boast. The darker the skin, the thicker. Thick skin wrinkles less and hides imperfections. Pale people like me look older than a comparable darker skinned person.
Human skin interacts with sunshine to create vitamin D. My ancestral homeland in Poland is on the same latitude as Alaska. For skin to produce vitamin D that far north of the equator, skin must be pale and thin to allow in adequate amounts of brief and clouded-over sunshine. Folks closer to the equator need darker, thicker skin to prevent radiation damage.
I have thin, fine, flyaway hair. An Armenian friend whines about the military assault she has to mount to depilate her hirsute legs. I would gladly pay the price of hairy legs for the gift of a full, thick head of hair. But, again, evolution granted survival to my ancestors who were able to soak up some vitamin-producing sunshine through wispy locks barely covering our scalps.
As I tried to find a comfortable spot in my economy-class airplane seat, I realized I was surrounded by people who share my physical imperfections, as well as my physical gifts, like bright blue eyes. I could be at a family reunion. That felt cozy.
I could hear the familiar sound of murmured Polish, a sound I first heard in my crib. I realized that just about everyone around me was dressed the way I dress: clean, neat, conservative, modest. The women, like me, used a minimum of cosmetics and jewelry. No one was speaking loudly. Everyone was following the rules and being polite. Families predominated. A physically fit man in his early twenties, a tight t-shirt emphasizing his square shoulders and flat stomach, used one arm to cradle a baby against his chest. A mother spoon fed pudding to her cranky daughter. I felt something I never feel when out in public among other people in Paterson. I felt safe. I felt relaxed.
One day in Paterson I walked about a thousand feet from my apartment door. A black woman was walking a fluffy little pooch. I smiled and bent over to pet the dog. The woman yanked the dog toward her. The dog yelped. “You wouldn’t touch my black skin, you white bitch! You cannot touch my dog!” I straightened up, said nothing, made sure not to make eye contact with the screaming woman, and walked on rapidly. On a different day, four people, all Peruvians of Indian ancestry – I was in “Peru Square” – stood in front of my car, in heavy traffic, and refused to budge. They stared defiantly at my pale face beyond the windshield. Finally I reached for my phone and began to call the police. They moved on. And then there are Muslim friends and coworkers, just a few, but enough, who have told me smilingly that some day jihad will arrive and I will convert or die. Oh, and, “Jews are Satanic!” they insist.
My friend Farrah lives in fear that someday Americans will rise up and violently turn on Muslims. I think her fear is projection, but, in any case, it haunts her. She has lived her entire life in Wayne, a safe, economically comfortable, mostly white suburb. With her pale skin and black hair, she is often assumed to be Italian. She doesn’t wear hijab, she doesn’t attend a mosque, she dates non-Muslims, and she eats pork. In other words, Farrah is Muslim in name only, and in her masochistic, paranoid fantasies. She says that when Americans finally start slaughtering Muslims, she plans to retreat to Paterson, because “the Muslim guys there will protect me.” In fact “Muslim guys” might otherwise severely punish a Muslim girl who lives as Farrah does. Tribalism infects even fantasies.
In Paterson’s streets, Dominican gangs fight black gangs (see here). Black gangs from one neighborhood fight black gangs from another neighborhood (see here). Sometimes the warfare is a white-collar scramble for scattered crumbs. When running for governor, Democrat Phil Murphy met with Patersonians. He promised x to the blacks, y to the Muslims, and z to the Hispanics. He promised nothing to the Americans, because he did not see any of us as united under that identity.
But here I was on this jet airplane, full of people who looked like me, who made way for me when I walked down the aisle, who chatted with me in Polish, assuming I was like them, assuming I was part of the group. I waited in line for the bathroom. A man in his forties approached me. He had been drinking. He was quietly jolly and effortlessly charming. In that brief wait, his congenial charm created an island of warm intimacy on the sterile airplane. I felt as if some long lost uncle was connecting with me after I’d been away from the homestead.
I felt like I understood these people. Not just their words, but their behavior, and the culture behind it. I felt like I shared history with these people. Attendance at Catholic mass. The suffering under colonialism, Nazism, communism or immigration. Hard work. Thorough house cleaning. Cabbage, potatoes, and kielbasa. We admired the same heroes: Chopin, Curie, Kosciuszko. I felt like we might laugh and cheer and cry at the same places in life’s movie. I remembered something I heard from a fellow student, who, like me, was an American born of immigrant parents. “This whole country is like my parents.”
I thought of “Bowling with Our Own,” John Leo’s 2007 City Journal summary of Robert Putnam’s research on how diversity affects civility. Leo writes that Putnam’s “five-year study shows that immigration and ethnic diversity have a devastating short- and medium-term influence on the social capital, fabric of associations, trust, and neighborliness that create and sustain communities.” Leo quotes Putnam. “In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings … pull in like a turtle … withdraw even from close friends, expect the worst from their community and its leaders, volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, register to vote less.”
And then, of course, I realized that I could never share any of these thoughts with anyone. “You felt cozy sitting among pale-skinned, non-hairy people? You read an article about the dangers of diversity???” Yikes. I’d be written off as a white supremacist. In fact, the cozy feeling I settled into on that LOT aircraft, as if those feelings were a warm bubble bath, scared even me. Is chauvinism hard-wired into the human genome? Can humans ever transcend tribalism and achieve a healthy multiculturalism?
I think the answer to the first question is “yes.” “Three-month-old infants demonstrated a significant preference for faces from their own-ethnic group,” reports a scholarly study. “Infants demonstrate racial bias in favour of members of their own race and racial bias against those of other races … ‘Older but not younger infants associate own-race faces with happy music and other-race faces with sad music'” reports another study from 2017.
The answer to the second question, though, is also yes. Think again about violence between blacks and Dominicans in Paterson. Dominicans are, themselves, often dark-skinned. Their identification as “Dominican” but not “black” is the result of culture, not genes. And cohesive teams have been built of racially diverse members. We see this in sports and also in the military.
The question becomes, then, what is happening in modern America that drives people apart, forces us to see each other as tribal enemies, rather than knits us together? Is there anything America could do to encourage Americans to feel as if they are members of the same team, in the way that I felt among Polish people on that airplane who were otherwise strangers to me? The answer to that question is “yes,” but the dominant culture in America encourages violent division. Think of those leftists who cheered on BLM riots. In Poland, in my experience, the forces encouraging unity are stronger than those encouraging division.
Also on the plane were several Hasidic Jews. Three of them sat across from me. During the flight, they studied the Talmud and wrapped tefillin. Hasidic men avoid eye contact, never mind physical or social contact, with non-Jewish women. Most of them had a tad more melanin and lots more hair than I do. They spoke Yiddish, a Germanic language unrelated to Polish; their texts use the Hebrew alphabet. But I felt about them the same way I felt about the long-lost Polish “uncle” who chatted with me in the line for the restroom. I felt, “these are my people.” I felt cozy and at home.
I’ve seen estimates that seventy-five percent of the Jews in the United States have some ancestry in the lands of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. Kazimierz Wielki, Poland’s greatest king, was a special protector of Jews. Hasidism was born in the Kingdom of Poland (now Ukraine). Some aspects of Hasidic men’s garb are rooted in Polish gentry costumes. Author Sholem Asch declared, “Do mnie, Wisla mowi po zydowsku!” translated as, “The Wisla speaks to me in Yiddish!” Scholar Harold B. Segel called mainstream Polish literature the greatest European literature of the Jewish experience.
On a previous visit to Poland, in 1987, I met an elderly Jewish woman. She had grown up in the city called Wilno by Poles and Vilnius by Lithuanians. It is now in Lithuania, but to her it was a Polish-Jewish city. She talked, passionately, about how much she loved the apple tree that grew outside her window. She loved that apple tree. She also loved Jozef Pilsudski, a Polish national hero. Of course she was aware of anti-Semitism, but that awareness, she insisted, did nothing to dampen her love for her Polish apple tree, her homeland, and her homeland’s heroes.
Author Rafael Scharf reported that there are Jews “who have never recovered from their love of Poland, those who on the banks of the River Thames dream of their Wisla, and those, who like myself … after fifty years away from Poland put themselves to sleep with lines from the ‘Crimean Sonnets’ or the ‘Grave of Agamemnon'” – that is, a poem by Polish national poet, Adam Mickiewicz, and another poem by Juliusz Slowacki.
The Hasids across the plane aisle from me, though significantly different from me in many ways, love Poland as much as I do. I would make a pilgrimage, during my upcoming short visit, to the Grunwald monument, the Mickiewicz statue, and the Salome hermitage. These Jewish pilgrims would focus, rather, or so I assumed, on synagogues and the graves of tzaddikim. I would visit such places, as well, but my visits would not mean to me what such visits would mean to these men. The point is we both loved the same landscape. We both felt we had significant roots in the same soil. We both wanted the land to prosper.
Community is not just about genes, not just about similar physiognomies. When I was a student in Poland in 1988-89, I regularly spent time with my friend Beata. Beata was one of those refined, exquisitely beautiful creatures who inspired the saying, “In Poland there are no women, only ladies.” Beata, like me, was not born in Poland, but her love for Poland was inspired by her mother’s stories. Beata’s mother used to describe traveling in a sleigh drawn by horses, on Christmas night, over snow. Beata’s retelling of her Polish mother’s memories were so shimmeringly romantic that I could hear the sleigh bells jingle and see the snow-cloaked forest rushing by in the lamplight; I could smell the pines.
I never thought of Beata as anything but, just like me, Polish. She was, like me, studying Polish language and culture. Beata’s father was Cameroonian. I think she was born in France or perhaps Africa. Most African Americans would take one look at Beata and assess her as black. Beata is not alone. Jeremy Sochan, Izu Ugonoh, Sara James, and Bawer Aondo-Akaa are a few high-profile, mixed-race Poles.
In 2017, Erwin Rabarijoely gave a speech to a youth congress. His speech invokes “Bog, honor, ojczyzna,” that is, God, honor, and country, traditional Polish values. It references Poles’ suffering under Nazism and communism. Rabarijoely insists that Christianity is the foundation of Europe. He salutes Sobieski, the Polish king who defeated Muslims on September 11-12, 1683. He insists that Poles cling to their values, and not be tempted by riches offered in exchange for capitulation to leftism. Rabarijoely’s parentage is from Poland and Madagascar, an island nation off the coast of Africa. He has that melanin that I wish I had. Rabarijoely’s speech is one of the most thoroughly Polish texts you can find. One of the most popular comments under this speech on YouTube reads, “Erwin, jestem dumny z tego, że jesteś wśród Polaków. Gratuluję wystąpienia!” Roughly translated, the poster is proud that Erwin is a Pole among Poles.
Compare Rabarijoely here, to Paterson youth, here, with whom he shares a superficial skin color. How did Rabarijoely become who he is, and how did Paterson’s young gang-bangers become who they are? The difference between the two is not genes; the difference is culture. One of the cultural differences is this. In Poland, it is normative to respect one’s own fellow citizens, and one’s own culture. In America, it is normative to express hostility to one’s fellow citizens – “White privilege!” – and normative to condemn one’s own culture. “Tear that statue down!”
Those who embrace mixed-race Poles cling to a quote. “The Polish nation includes polonized Germans, Tatars, Armenians, Gypsies, and Jews, if they live up to the common ideal of Poland. A black or a red-skinned person can become a true Pole if he accepts the spiritual heritage of the Polish nation contained in his literature, art, politics, customs, if he has unwavering will to contribute to the development of the national existence of Poles.” The speaker is Wincenty Lutoslawski, a twentieth-century philosopher.
Racism does exist in Poland, but a black YouTuber who currently spends a great deal of time in Poland pushes back against the idea that that racism dominates. She says she has never experienced racism in Poland. Her YouTube video is in French, but there are excellent English subtitles.
One day in 1989, a Polish-born friend and I were discussing whether or not someone like me, an American, could call myself Polish. At first my friend rejected the idea. She was suffering under communism; I was enjoying an easier life in the US. I could barely speak Polish.
We sat next to each other on my living room couch, as slanted sunlight entered the room from my glass balcony doors. I was hurt by her rejection. I reminded her that I had devoted a year of my life to live under tough conditions and try to assimilate my ancestral language and culture. Clearly moved, speaking softly, she said, “If you love this land as we do, if you are willing to give to this land as we are, then, yes, you are Polish.”
Love can take many forms. Some love is a two-way street. A stares at B and B stares at A. That love may not last long. A and B will inevitably disappoint each other. Here’s a model for a more lasting love: A and B stare together at C. C is something that transcends them both. It is something that they both love. C, the shared something that A and B both love, might be God, family, an ideal, children, or a shared nation.
My Polish friend, Wincenty Lutoslawski, and Rabarijoely’s fans all define group identity as something that can be acquired through love. If you love Poland as we do, you are one of us. Beata, daughter of an African father, wasn’t born with pale skin and blue eyes, but she was on the same team as me. That shared commitment to Poland, rather than skin color, builds community. Those shared loves are not a feature of my encounters in Paterson. And so the coziness, the feeling of safety, is simply not there.
They could be. America once took Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Poland and turned them into proud Americans eager to share in the American Dream. Diverse Americans were brought together through their shared love of American ideals and American triumphs. In recent years, our cultural leaders have encouraged us to hate America, and to tear down its triumphs along with its statues. Our cultural leaders pressure us to shatter community into tiny, isolated, mutually hostile atoms. School children are separated by race and coerced into perceiving themselves as guilty and shameful or proud and entitled depending on their skin color. Children are further splintered. What gender are you? What pronouns do you use? Robert Putnam’s worst dystopia morphs into talk of civil war.
If Anne Applebaum were to read this piece, she would object. She devoted a book to frayed Polish friendships. Applebaum reports that Poland’s current, conservative governing party, Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (Law and Justice), turned friend against friend in the same way that Trump divided friends in the US. I don’t doubt what Applebaum reports about Poland. I ask her, though, has she ever walked, alone, as a white woman down a street in a city like Paterson? And, after doing so, can she claim that Poland is more divided than the US?
I realized, on the plane, that I can’t say any of this.
Here’s more of what I can’t say. My trip was only ten days long. I was in Warsaw and Krakow, major cities. In that limited time and space, I saw Poles carrying themselves with a self-respect that I do not see in American common spaces. I saw few overweight Poles. I saw fit, gray-haired women and men walking, carrying bags, completing errands. I saw virtually no adults in the kind of slob attire that one sees in “Walmart Shoppers” images on the web. Stained sweats, mismatched shirts and slacks, minimal grooming. Rather, I saw men and women who clearly devoted care to their appearance. And what’s more, that care was gendered. I saw women in stockings and high heeled shoes and men in suits. I enjoyed looking at women’s pretty legs – and no, I’m not gay. I just like beauty.
I ran in and out of McDonald’s restaurants several times. I don’t eat there; I used the bathrooms. There I encountered teens. I saw blue hair, piercings, sullen facial expressions, and unisex sweats. It appears that personal dignity and gendered clothing may be going extinct, even in Poland. But who knows.
I was part of a discussion panel. After the panel concluded and the cameras turned off, my interlocutors, professors with grave faces, kissed my hand. It was lovely.
I walk with a cane. I was on a bus for mere seconds when a man, who looked a bit like Daniel Craig, sprang up and insisted that I take his seat. I said no, no, I can stand. He wouldn’t hear of it. I’ve never seen anything like that on a Paterson bus. I’ve seen elderly black women stand for entire rides, invisible to seated young black men.
During one night train ride, I sat across from a handsome youth. Without my requesting anything, or even making eye contact, he took over my heavy backpack, placing it on the appropriate shelf, one I had not seen when I entered the carriage. I could sense this young man’s awareness hovering over me throughout the almost three-hour train ride. We were, at times, the only two people in the carriage. I felt zero concern that the young man might be a stalker or con artist. I fell asleep. When I woke, the young man accompanied me to my bag, took it on his own shoulders, and walked with me out onto the platform. Again, it was night, and we were alone.
“Is someone coming to pick you up?”
“Someone I know from the internet. We’ve never met, so I’m not sure what he looks like.”
“Do you have his number?”
“Let’s call him.”
Then this young man took my phone, and began to speak in Polish. “Pawel here,” he said, with comfortable familiarity, as if I had known him all my life, and as if he knew my host as well. “I’m with Danusha. She is alone and carrying a heavy bag. Where are you? You were delayed? You should come to such-and-such a location in the train station. I will stay with Danusha until you arrive.”
Here’s more I can’t say. My first visit to Eastern Europe, to Slovakia, took place almost thirty years after the end of World War II. I visited during communism, and thirty years after the end of communism. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Poland was divided up between the colonial powers of Russia, Prussia, and Austria-Hungary. Slovakia was under Austria-Hungary. Under these colonial powers, Polish and Slovak education, identity, and economic advancement were violently repressed. In Poland, alcohol use was pushed. After the brief interwar period of independence, Nazism and communism did horrific damage.
Have a look at this film. It depicts, using historical records, what Warsaw looked like after the Nazis were done with it. Or view these still photos. At the end of World War II, “only about 174,000 people were left in [Warsaw], less than six per cent of the prewar population.” Today the sidewalks and streets of Warsaw are immeasurably cleaner than the streets of Paterson. I have watched as Patersonians have dumped their garbage on the street. Dumped it from their hands, their pockets, their cars. After they dump, they move on, unthinking. I saw no such behavior in Poland. Cultural norms separate Poland from inner city US. In Poland, the cultural norm did not support destructive wallows in self-pity. Poles, and Slovaks, too, worked hard to build decent lives for themselves, in spite of all they had been through.
I often walked the streets at night and early in the morning. I walked main thoroughfares and side alleys. In these dark streets, I did not hesitate to stop and refer to my map. I encountered men, women, children, and families. These pedestrians were nicely dressed, chatting quietly, and walking unafraid. The streets belong to them. Do America’s city streets, at night, belong to decent people? Paterson’s don’t. Have a look, here. Any given day of the year, if you type “Paterson shooting” into a Google search box, you will find new accounts of new shootings. Similarly, if you type “suicide” or “Passaic River” chances are you will find news of new corpses.
Our Woke Overlords insist that Poles have relatively clean and safe streets because of white privilege. They insist that Paterson is unsafe because of white racism. This insistence is not only inaccurate, it is toxic. What Poles enjoy today they enjoy because of the heroic self-sacrifice and hard work of their forebears. These forebears accomplished what they accomplished against impossible odds that would crush weaker and less inspired people. Poles achieved what they achieved because they are plugged into narratives that animate them in positive ways.
Paterson is dirty, dysfunctional, and dangerous because too many in the population are plugged into a leftist narrative of powerlessness and despair that weakens and destroys.
Poland defies five foundational leftist lies.
1.) Skin color tells you everything you need to know. Whites are privileged; blacks are helpless victims.
2.) Colonization was practiced by “The West” against “The Global South” and “people of color.”
3.) Blacks were enslaved; slavers were Christians.
4.) If your ancestors went through bad times, your life must inevitably be inferior. You cannot save yourself. You must wait for a benevolent leftist to rescue you through a taxpayer-funded giveaway.
5.) If people X were harmed by people Y, people X must nurse perpetual grievance against people Y.
1.) Read the history of Poland. This is not a land of white privilege.
2.) Poland, and most of the other small nations of Eastern Europe, were colonized by the Romanovs, the Hapsburgs, and the House of Hohenzollern. Language and culture were suppressed and slated for extinction. Rulers pushed alcohol and illiteracy. As Bismarck famously said of Poles, “If we [Prussians] want to exist, we cannot do other than extirpate them. A wolf is not to blame that God made him as he is; which does not mean that we shouldn’t shoot him to death whenever possible.”
Booker T. Washington, born a slave, visited Poland early in the twentieth century for his 1912 book The Man Farthest Down. He compared life for Polish peasants to that of blacks in the South. In his 2017 book False Black Power, black conservative Jason L. Riley explicitly compared the economic advance of freed Russian serfs – a population that would include many Poles – with African Americans. African Americans outstripped Russian and Polish peasants in their economic advance. African Americans’ economic advance was more rapid before the social programs of the Johnson administration.
3.) The word for “slave” in many European languages, and also Arabic, comes from the word “Slav.” Slavic people were the go-to slave population. Muslims were the most recent mass purchasers of Slavic slaves. Muslims have paid no reparations to Slavs, nor have they delivered any apology.
4.) Poles and others in Eastern Europe, including Jews, went through hell in the twentieth century. They worked hard to rebuild their lives. Many achieved exceptional success. I’ve never heard anyone in Poland or Slovakia, or any Jew, say, “Well, the war was so horrible, so no wonder he is welfare dependent, he fathers children he doesn’t care for, and he is addicted to drugs.”
5.) Poland has amazed the world with the generosity it has shown Ukrainian refugees. The New York Times, and MSNBC’s Joy Reid insisted that Poland helped Ukrainians because Ukrainians are white and Christian; in the leftist worldview, all white Christians are exactly alike.
The leftist worldview is false. All white Christians are not alike. Within the lifespan of some living today, white, Christian Ukrainians committed mass atrocities against white, Christian Poles. During the “Volhynian slaughter,” of 1943-45, Ukrainians tortured, raped, and crucified Poles. Possibly 100,000 were killed. Another Ukrainian massacre of Poles occurred in the seventeenth century. Poles exercised political domination of parts of Ukraine. Ukrainians wanted independence. That reasonable goal including unreasonable atrocity. There is bad blood on both sides. In spite of these horrors, Poles put dark memories aside and opened their homes and hearts to Ukrainians. The leftist idea that blacks must always cultivate hostility towards whites, most of whom don’t even descend from anyone who participated in the slave trade, is an irrational toxin. People can overcome the past. Poland shows that to be true.
What else do I want to say that I cannot say?
Zapiekanki were a favorite street food during the old Soviet era. Take a baguette, slice it in half, dump on mushrooms sauteed in butter, top with a gruyere-style cheese, and grill till the cheese melts. Mmmm. I searched in areas where there used to be lots of zapiekanki shops, and all I saw were kebab shops. Kebab shops are a relatively new, post-communist phenomenon. Looking at these shops, I saw trouble down the road. Islam entails jihad and gender apartheid, and jihad and gender apartheid generate casualties. Yes, yes, most Muslims are not jihadis. But a percentage have always been. Paterson has produced at least seven jihad killers in the past two decades; see here and here.
I was told to look for zapiekanki on the menu at kebab shops. I found some. I asked the man staffing the food stall where he was from.
“Egypt. I am an Egyptologist. But I can’t go back there. It’s a mess.”
“Are you Christian?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I’m Muslim.”
“How is it being a Muslim in Poland?”
“It’s fine. I can go to mosque whenever I want. But I don’t go.”
“I don’t like the people who pray there.”
“They are Afghans.”
A man who would rather be a food stall worker in a Christian country than a respected scholar in his own country. A man who skips attending religious services because he does not want to associate with Muslims. Were he not a Muslim himself, he’d be labeled an Islamophobe.
One more thing I should not say.
Communism was soul crushing. Interspersed with my time in Eastern Europe, I lived in two of the poorest countries on earth, the Central African Republic and Nepal. I lived in tiny villages where food was an issue and children died of toothaches and diarrhea. Daily life in Poland under communism, in some ways, was harder. Communism played with people’s minds. It sapped their spirits. Communism taught in bold letters: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Here’s the part that is hard to say. Under those crushing conditions, I met people who exhibited a heroism that I’ve never encountered anywhere else. I don’t want Poles and Slovaks or anyone else ever again to have to live under a perverse, diabolical system like communism. Of course I want young people to have the freedom to dye their hair blue and pierce their noses and drown in consumerism, if they so choose. But I want people to remember how heroic so many were under adverse conditions. And I want them to inherit that strength, somehow, even though daily life is easier. As Poland inevitably secularizes, I hope some to remember Catholicism’s gifts, gifts that got so many people through such dark times.
I was invited to Poland to give a talk on Polish-Jewish relations. Shortly after I returned to the states, a high-profile American celebrity, Dave Chappelle, on Saturday Night Live, delivered an overtly anti-Semitic screed. In the YouTube comments section, one can see the following posts, quoted directly. “Chappelle is a hero for calling out America’s greatest enemies,” “the J**s run everything!” “Fk the dictatorship jews,” and “The J team vs Dave – who will win? They are very powerful.”
Kanye West and Kyrie Irving both apparently believe in a conspiracy theory that Jews stole Jewish identity from black Africans, who were the real Jews of the Bible. This conspiracy theory is absurd, but it can be understood metaphorically. African Americans emphasize victimization as a key feature of their identity. Thus wealthy and powerful people like Colin Kaepernick and Denzel Washington can self-identify as “slaves.”
Jewish suffering, according to the conspiracy theory, “steals” identity from black people, some of whom want to be understood to have suffered more than Jews. Thus we have Kyrie Irving insisting that three hundred million of his ancestors suffered in America. The number is not accurate. “Only about 388,000” slaves were brought to North America. It’s possible that black anti-Semitism is a reflection of the fear of some blacks that Jews “steal” blacks’ status as the most suffering population on earth.
There might be another explanation for black anti-Semitism. Jews have gone through hell. The twentieth century began with pogroms in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. Jews arrived in the US and faced discrimination at work, on university campuses, and in their social lives. The Holocaust took the lives of six million Jews. Jews have to fight to survive in Israel.
In spite of all this, Jews don’t just survive, they thrive. Jews’ ability to achieve highly in spite of persecution poses a threat to the narrative that insists that black people must be poor and dysfunctional because of white supremacy, and that there is nothing black people can do to improve their own lot in life.
I am very grateful to the Poles who made it possible for me to attend the FINA conference “The Image of a Pole in Foreign Film.” Dziekuje!
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.