Racism is clearly a problem in the South and in America in general. Anti-Semitism is also a growing issue, but I don’t believe that it is any worse here than in many other parts of the nation. In fact, I personally have found less anti-Semitism here versus the North.
Recently, some Mountain Brook, Alabama kids were apparently playing around and drew swastikas on another kids back (Al.com, 5-13). To some, this was an obvious act of anti-Semitic bigotry. And, it is very hurtful to Jews. My father’s grandparents all died in the Holocaust. However, to me at least, what these high school kids did is probably more likely an act rooted in extreme ignorance rather than true hatred.
Members of my immediately family lived very close to Mountain Brook for many years. They noticed an extreme amount of distrust and negativity between black and white citizens in the Birmingham area and often mentioned it to me. But they never brought up anti-Semitism as an issue.
In 1964, I moved to a small Georgia town from a suburb of NYC. I was in high school and I was the only Yankee there. My brother and I were also the only Jews. Lots of folks give me a hard time about my heavy NYC accent (thank heaven I lost it). None gave me a hard time about my religion, as opposed to many of the kids in NY who were actively (and sometimes violently) anti-Semitic.
Once, an attractive, sweet Georgia girl was flirting with me but casually said something about “Jewing someone down.” When I told her I was Jewish, she looked startled, then horrified and immediately apologized. She said she didn’t know and would never use the term again. In fact, most of these small-town kids had probably never even seen a Jew before.
My wife was from a small Georgia town when I met her at UGA. We were already dating before I mentioned that I was Jewish. I was only the second Jew she had ever met (she also met the other person in college). Which gets me back to the Mountain View incident.
I suspect that these kids were doing what they did to get a rise out of onlookers. Stupid and hurtful, yes, undoubtedly. But were they doing it out of hatred? My guess is that they don’t know much about Jews and probably didn’t even think about Jews when they were painting the swastikas. They were just trying to be “different” and unconventional.
Which leads me to my underlying point. Southern schools like those in Birmingham need to spend more time academically studying the history of racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry both in the US and abroad. The Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place for Hate” program or something like it should be part of every high school history curriculum. The only way to alleviate ignorance is through knowledge.
Image Credit: No Place for Hate is an education program created by ADL - Learn more at ADL.org.