Friday, October 29, 2004

Stupidity personified. Again.

I'll warn y'all now before I get into this message: I am going to rant.

There, now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's proceed:

Without identifying the guilty party or where this actually happened, suffice to say I encountered someone today whose Halloween costume incorporated a swastika. He was dressed as a German Shepherd (an actual shepherd, not the dog.) As if to underscore that fact, he had draped a large sign saying - you guessed it - "German Shepherd" around his neck. Gee, I'm sure he was mighty proud of his questionably creative contribution to a ridiculously mindless holiday.

Um, how to put this delicately: there's nothing funny about a symbol that stood for what is certainly the most monstrous crime in the history of humankind. The passage of a couple of generations does nothing to dampen the visceral, nausea-inducing impact it has on me every time I see it. That someone felt it was a comical addition to a costume does nothing to mitigate how wrong the decision turned out to be.

Pacifist that I am, I said nothing. It's not as if I'm surrounded by legions of skullcap-wearing Jews whose presence would make me feel any more comfortable in opening up my mouth. Growing up in Canada, I long ago got used to being the token Jew in whatever group I happened to be in, and I learned to hold my tongue lest I become identified as - you guessed it again - "That Token Jew Who Always Whines."

Since moving to London, beautiful whitebread-where-visible-minorities-really-stand-out London, that feeling has only become more pronounced.

So instead of saying anything, I quietly observed the rest of the crowd casually ignoring the burning symbol on this guy's hat. As I did so, my vision turned red with anger. Still, I bit my tongue, because I knew I'd toss the dictionary at the guy if I started with even one word. Am I ashamed that I didn't confront him? You betcha. I owe my family, my community, and our history a little more than mere silence.

When I next saw our protagonist, the hat was gone. Maybe he picked up on the look of consternation on my face. Maybe he simply got warm and decided to doff his headgear. Either way, the fact that it was no longer visible did little to drop my blood pressure.

In this day and age, you simply never know what someone out in the real world will do when you open up and argue a point that is so obviously emotional - to you, anyway. There's little opportunity to educate morons who don't think before they act, and you run the very real risk of making yourself look worse in the eyes of everyone else because, frankly, they simply don't care.

So I sat back, seethed through the day, and decided to write about it here. I'm left with the gnawing feeling that perhaps a more direct confrontation might have reinforced my message more effectively.

Sometimes, being on the outside of a secular society can be more challenging than we'd like. Regardless, I'd rather be in my shoes working through the receiving end of issues like this than in a glorified bedsheet without a clue about why this stuff matters as much as it does.


Photominer said...

thats sick, i have no idea what to suggest. my wife (who is also Jewish, understands why you may feel that you should've confronted the jerk, but pointed out that someone that stupid or insensitive probably would've provoked you (or me or any other sane person) into doing something over the top. cold comfort i know, but paybacks can be more satisfying if you get the shmuck back someday down the road.

i'm suprised that your company HR dept didn't say anything, thats way out of line by any measurement.

Amelia said...

How anyone would think that might be funny or even want that to be funny is beyond me.I find it hard to believe that there were not others that also felt like you did, regardless of race or religion.

The atrocities that were committed under that sign make me physically ill. I find it very disturbing to even watch movies or documentaries on the holocaust. I can not begin to understand how you feel, but I can tell you that I would rather know, trust and support a person on the receiving end of such intolerance than those that hold views of superiority.

Maybe the reason you didn't say anything was because it was done in a 'light-hearted' or comical sense, this always makes it easier for the other party to brush it off as a .... 'Relax man, I was just kidding'... type of thing.

I'd like to think that the person who did it actually realised it wasn't funny to anyone (not just you) and that's why he took the hat off.

twenty something said...

To not say anything to this horrendous man is'nt something you should feel ashamed about. Being the only Jewish girl in so many different times has led to the same kind of awkward situations for me, and sometimes it's better to ignore and move on, especially when it's work related.

The sad part is that this is 2004. HE should know all that already. No one should ever HAVE to confront him...because it should come naturally not to put such a STUPID costume on.

Hopefully when people walk by him and his "sign", they laugh at him for being such a fool and not laugh with him for thinking of it.

Keep your head up Carmi. These people are not worth your time. (But I do appreciate you getting it out there through your blog).

Jenny said...

How idiotic. Sometimes the high road doesn't feel very good. Is this person someone you could address in an intelligent way?

I have a Jewish friend that participates on an internet board that I frequent. She is always quick to point out, in a neutral way, when anyone says something that they might not realize is offensive. For example: the phrase "nursing nazi" is often used to refer to a woman who is militant about breastfeeding. Surprisingly, it is not considered a negative term - I've heard it used by highly educated, generally sensitive women in reference to themselves. The alliteration makes it roll right off the tongue.

All it took was one "please, can we not use such a hateful term to refer to this" opened a lot of eyes wide open. I think that people who casually use these terms and symbols don't realize how truly offensive it is.

Jamie said...

I doubt you would have changed his mind. Don't beat yourself up about the idiot. I have never been to London, but even in my small american town, most people would think he was an ass.

Canuckeh said...

One can only hope that this person was ignorant and not meaningfully malicious. Although ignorance is no excuse, it probably is slightly easier to tolerate than someone who actually realizes what they're doing. Some people are just incredibly insensitive ... at a minimum.

Beth Fish said...

I tend to take the passive-aggressive approach to that sort of thing. I like to look people in the eye and say "you know, I'm Jewish" and watch them as they realize how badly they've embarassed themselves. Sometimes they don't get it, but when they do I think it is much more effective to let them chastise themselves than for me to do it for them.

Diane said...

I am so sorry, Carmi, that you had to go through that. People are incredibly ignorant sometimes.

Rachel - Wicked Ink said...

I find it difficult, when people doing things like this, because although I am not Jewish, I don't find these things funny, and tend to think they are insulting. I have been told that I am too sensitive, and really need to 'lighten up', but I am glad I don't.

There are terms that people toss around, perhaps in the hope that time has softened the edge on their definitions, as in Nazi (Nursing Nazi). It hasn't, and hopefully it doesn't. We as a global village, may forget the realities of what has happened, if we begin to slacken on the memories of ourselves (if we are old enough) and our ancestors.

Spencer said...

I think this is one of those times when the complacency of good people is as large a part of the problem as the offending act. It's easy for people to point at the "That Token Jew Who Always Whines" and tell them to 'lighten up'. But people who aren't Jewish should know just as well what the Nazis did and why it was wrong. Wearing a swastika is wrong all the time, not just when there's a Jew in the room. Ordinary people have to speak up about that kind of thing. It's a lot easier to convince people like that guy that what they're doing is doing when it comes from a more objective place (i.e. non-Jewish).

And besides all that, is hanging a swastika the only thing this guy could do to show that he was supposed to be German for his costume? What about some kind of Oktoberfest getup? If people were more imaginative the world would be a better place.

Mark said...

I am astounded! How old was this guy? (physical age; I think we can all guess his mental age)

I can't think of any more universally recognised or emotive symbol as the swastika, or one more associated with all that is evil (i don't like using the word 'evil', but in this context I think it is appropriate)

I suspect he was doing it to get a rise out of Jews, so I think you did the best thing by ignoring him. Pity the fool, and his predudices...

Mark said...

Was this the guy?

If so, then it puts a different perspective on it, I think.

Danya said...

After checking out Mark's photo, I think that I can safely say, without any doubt that if this man is the same fellow that Carmi encountered, that Carmi truly had a brush with the dregs of civilized society. And you can quote me on that. It's a shame that a symbol like the Swastika was bastardized by a twisted political party so completely that people forget that it is an ancient symbol representing the four elements and the Earth. The Nazi version of the swastika has the 'legs' actually turned backwards. Somehow appropriate.

consumerdemon said...

i'm indian and there are swastikas here is horrible how they have taken a symbol of luck and prosperity (at least in India, that's what it stands for) as a symbol of oppression and hate.