Saturday, September 10, 2011

Examining One's Own Bigotry

A friend posts to her Facebook account: I've often wondered why people are so much more concerned w/ the Palestinian/Israeli conflict than this. After all Turkey doesn't exactly have a stellar history when it comes to how it treats others. Think: Armenians.

I added: There's a degree of--emotional involvement and assumption of malicious intent, I guess--that seems to go along with how people see Palestinian/Israeli tension. It does not get applied situations involving the Kurds and Turkey, or India and Pakistan in Kashmir. I have some theories about why, but none of them are especially nice.

And another poster adds: Two wrongs make a right? Sorry, but the "he did it, too" never worked when I was five and it doesn't work now.

This is, of course, meant to shut off any complaints about Israel being unfairly treated. "If you did something wrong, you're gonna get criticized," the line runs, "and don't try to get out of it by complaining about context."

Of course, as a teacher, I've given the 'we're not talking about him, we're talking about you' speech many times. But as a teacher, I have also been asked, throughout my career, to keep a close and watchful eye on whether I critize or punish behavior in a discriminatory manner. Do boys and girls alike get in trouble for the same behavior? Are African-American students, African-American boys in particular, often punished or removed from the classroom for behavior that would not get children of another race into trouble? We're asked to keep an eye on this, and be mindful about it, because research does in fact indicate that this happens in classrooms, that some children, usually on a gender or racial basis, are penalized for things that draw no criticism in a different child.

So, if a child says, "He did it too," you may tell him "We're not talking about him, we're talking about you."

But if your school counselor says, "Why is every child you send out of your room an African-American boy? You sent Bobby to me for chewing gum, but when Susie was chewing gum, you just made her spit it out," it's time to listen, because otherwise you are asserting that your right to be unconsciously racist is more important than your student's right to justice.

So, if your answer to "Why is Israel being criticized for X when Turkey has done worse?" is "Because we're talking about what Israel did," that may be reasonable.

But when the question is "Why doesn't Turkey ever seem to end up in the Indymedia equivalent of the principal's office? Why isn't Turkey the object of BDS campaigns? Why aren't ladies with signs standing every week all over Berkeley talking about Turkey? Why isn't the Turkish flag being burned at demonstrations?" and the answer is "Because we're talking about what Israel did" just might be a bigot fighting not to give up your privilege.


Anonymous said...

Wait a minute. You mean that there just might be a racist aspect to this? So it might be discriminatory to have street riots against one country (let's call it country I) for defending itself from terror attacks launched form outside its borders (by going after the perpetrators rather than indiscriminately bombing civilians), while another country (let's call it, say, country T)that bombs civilians in the territory of another country doesn't get worldwide calls for BDS actions against it?

Nah, there wouldn't be some element of racism at work here, would there?

Anonymous said...

All countries of the world are imperfect, BBJ. We know that. But only one county is imperfect enough to have its legitimacy challenged every day- to have its citizens targetted both inside the country and out. Only one country in the world is subject to such unwielding scutiny.

Call it Racism. Anti-Semitism Bigotry. What other explanation could there be?