Sunday, October 03, 2004

Discrimination is alive and well, everywhere

Here is an essay by a smart young man practicing law in New York with one of the better weblogs being published. Here he reflects on the challenges that some Jews encounter when they move to Israel from some other part of the world. Ironically the prejudice they find there echoes antisemitism. The essay is worth reading in full.

"With second and third generations now born in Israel, the Indian Jews have gradually come to feel accepted in their new homeland." But this is nothing new, I have heard the same sentiment expressed to me by second generation Indians in Britain and those from the USA and this seems the norm for the cycle of immigration/ acceptance into most Western countries for such immigrants. It is only to be expected that Israel would replicate the same structure, with its attendant problems as well as opportunities. The powerful integrative factor of a common religious background and an ethnic-based nationalism would be centripetal influences that don't exist in the same way for Indian immigrants to other countries and where acceptance is carved out along different axes of identification. The thrust of Mandalia's enquiry to me seems misplaced as it seems to assert that Israel should somehow be different; when there is no reason why this should really be the case and his plea for tackling racism seems slightly inappropriate juxtaposed to the phenomenon of anti-Semitism elsewhere.

I have spent my adult life looking at discrimination in its many forms and trying to figure out how to overcome it. The challenge started sometime in my teens when I came across Gordon Alport's The Nature of Prejudice. I was too young to realize that what I was reading was about to destroy to foundations of much of what I had been spoon-fed growing up in the South in the fifties. By the time I reached the college classroom and learned in a sociology class that a first-generation African from the bush could , with the right environment, grow up to be an engineer or physician, my universe of racial prejudice was entirely destroyed.

I was a ripe convert for the civil rights movement and found myself taking part in picket lines and sit-ins. I learned early how easily one's peers could dismiss your acquaintance when you were willing to stand for certain principles. Character development was, for me, a product of on the job training.

Later, during a tour of Korea, hosted by the Army Medical Service Corps, I learned first hand that Koreans were no less prone to prejudice than we were. Not only did they discriminate among GI's of color (which they had learned, of course, from the military itself, watching how military units were segregated by color during the Korean conflict) they were also able to discern among various Asian racial groups, pointing out those who looked Chinese or Japanese or Korean, even among their own population! I learned that their Declaration of Independence began "We declare ourselves to be an independent nation and an independent race..."

My sad conclusion early on was that prejudice in all its forms seems to be an inborn characteristic of mankind. I reared my children with deliberate efforts to vaccinate them against the poison of prejudice, but sometimes I sense that the lesson is still not learned.

I do understand at a visceral level how tough the battle can be to stay clean of this bad thinking. Sometime in the seventies white people were politely but firmly invited out of "the movement" as black leaders were able to say in so many words "thanks but no thanks; this is our issue, not yours" which, when you think of it, is another form of the same thinking.

I could go on for hours about this subject, but nothing would be added to the store of knowledge that would change any minds. I can only point to others who are still manfully fighting the demons and hope that in time the landscape can change for the better.

More from the Head Heeb

Unrelated to the topic above is another essay that describes jury selection in Eighteenth century England. For anyone interested in history, particularly the history of law and juries, this is one of the blog host's passions. The historic foundations of the jury can make us very glad that the law is able to become more resilient with the passing of time...

Finally, anyone whose name, address or occupation didn't match the list provided to the prisoner was ineligible to serve, even if the mistake was as minor as a name misspelled by one letter. This was a time when the law was still highly formalistic and the concept of "harmless error" - an error so trivial as to have no legal significance - had not yet been developed. It was during this era that a defendant accused of stealing a duck was acquitted because he had been caught with a drake, and William McAndrew was dismissed from Crossfield's jury panel because he lived in Lower Thames Street instead of Lower Thomas Street.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't take credit for the essay on Indian Jews; that was posted by Conrad Barwa, a good friend and occasional guest poster who lives in the UK.

Jonathan Edelstein