I'm pleased to present, for the first time ever, a guest post from a loyal reader, and most talented writer, Bethany Berger. The following post is in response to a comment thread generated on a different blog, one that is definitely worth your time to check out - the new collaborative chassidic writing venture known as 'Unpious'.
It's easy to utter blanket generalizations about ethnic/religious/racial groups. (Not because they are true - stereotypes are often complicated - but because they ring true.) What is difficult, however, is pinpointing the finer points of that generality, taking it beyond the general, opening it up, unpacking it, fleshing it out, so that we uncover the complete scope of that sweeping statement.
I was reminded of this when reading Bar Maravashi’s post, "Pious Encounters." The subject of race is always provocative, and I silently applauded Bar’s daring in choosing it as his topic. As I read the post and accompanying excellent (some!) comments, it struck me that nobody found it important to analyze the issue of hasidim’s alleged racism by separating thoughts and speech from action. Since the big evil of racism is the actions it leads to - namely, discrimination and hate crimes - it is, I believe, reasonable to expect a discussion of this matter to segue into, or at the very least, touch upon, hasidim’s discriminatory acts or lack thereof.
Actually, it’s lack thereof. Hasidim, as a rule, do not discriminate against Blacks. Well, not more than they discriminate against other non-Jews, and to a lesser degree, against anyone non-heimish. They may talk the shvartzes-are-cursed talk in the mikvahs and shuls (and for the record, I am not condoning it), but they won’t not hire someone because he’s black. If the guy works cheap, he will be hired. If the neighbors used a black painter and said he did a nice job, that painter has it made. If a black family applies as a tenant to a hasidic landlord, as long as the hasid perceives the family to be "bessere," people who are likely to pay the rent and not ruin the apartment, that black family will get a lease.
Sure, the talk about cursed races is horrible. But it’s not much worse than what an uneducated, unsophisticated person (at least 65% of the U.S. population, in my opinion) says about hasidim. So there’s an ironic, unintended tit for tat in the equation. I’m not trying to say that "two wrongs make a right"; rather, I want to show that while one is condemning hasidim for racism, she/he should simultaneously praise them for their dearth of discriminatory practices.
I anticipate two arguments against my statements and will address them before they can be made. The first is that ideology and action are intertwined, one impacting the other; consequently, we shouldn’t separate thoughts and speech from action. The second is that talk of the type quoted in Bar’s article is evil in its own right.
To the first, I can only hold up history as an example. Although hasidim (in general; I know there are countless exceptions, myself included) have been speaking derogatorily about Blacks for years, they have generally not discriminated against them and certainly have never, as far as I know, committed hate crimes against them. (As an aside, this linked ideology/action theory is a pet peeve of mine, specifically in the case of women’s place in Hasidism, and I intend to post about this in the future.)
To the second, I somewhat agree. Yet the difference between talk and action is too vast to be placed on a level of parity. Think about it: if the Nazis had left it at hateful talk, would the world have remembered them at all?
Photo credit: flickr user PhiNAPHantaSY
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