Hi, My Name’s Racism. Have We Met?

Everyone knows that the Israelis and the Palestinians don’t exactly have warm, fuzzy feelings for each other. Everyone knows that it extends to the larger Jewish and Arab communities, as well. So why was I so shocked to see the overt racism that marks almost every Arab-Jewish interaction here in Jerusalem?

Maybe it’s the fact that even people who I know–and like–espouse this mindset. Maybe I thought people here would be a little more progressive. But when almost every interaction involving an Arab or a Muslim turns into an occasion for disparaging comments or outright discrimination, the pattern isn’t hard to see.

“That Arab magazine showed a veiled woman with a baby,” noted a friend of mine with disgust. “That’s so wrong!” When I pointed out that a lot of American magazines show women with babies on the cover, she was only slightly less horrified. Later that day, I ran into some Muslim students. All my friends were eyeing them with suspicion, contempt or some combination thereof, and you’d think I’d just offered to do volunteer work for the Khmer Rouge when I said hello to them.

The most brazen example, though, happened on Thursday night: since Thursday is the beginning of the weekend, it’s a big party night. I was out with a large group of friends consisting of American and British students, and two Arab students from France. We couldn’t get into any bars, restaurants, or clubs. They’d wave us all through security, and then would physically block the Arab kids from entering. “You can’t go in,” I heard them say. They never said “no Arabs allowed,” but it was embarassingly clear that this was their message. In this case, they make the argument that it’s in the name of security. It’s undeniable that the suicide bombings in Israel have all been carried out by Arabs, so an extra degree of scrutiny is warranted. If you were to search Arab patrons more extensively before letting them into a bar, that would be an acceptable tactic. But barring them entirely–especially when they’re with a group of Americans and Brits–falls far short of the security argument.

It was like stories of the deep south before the Civil Rights movement: restaurants suddenly being “full” when black customers showed up; people not allowing patrons of color into any stores for no apparent reason. I was furious, as were my friends. Our Arab friends offered to just call it a night, knowing that they were considered problematic by every bouncer in the city. Thankfully, someone discreetly spoke with the manager of a nearby coffeehouse, and asked whether they could please be let in. To her credit, the manager was happy to oblige, and the evening was redeemed–but I was reeling for the rest of the night.

I have yet to become friends with any Arab or Muslim students, since there aren’t many at the university. However, I’m trying to seek out students from other countries, as well as some of the few Muslim students, so I can try to get a wider picture of what’s going on and how it fits in with the rest of the world. I’ll be curious to see if the racism that is espoused in mainstream Israeli life is reflected in moderate, progressive Muslims as well. If it is, it can certainly be added to the long list of reasons why this conflict, unfortunately, will never be solved.

2 thoughts on “Hi, My Name’s Racism. Have We Met?

  1. mcturkeeman September 6, 2005 / 3:18 am

    Hey, Lil: profiling wasn’t invented by the New Jersey state police, either. The problem with any generalization or stereotype about someone of a different group is that there’s enough truth in it to keep it functional. It’s like the racism now being vented over the descent into chaos in the gulf region (that would be the US Gulf, the one “of Mexico”) with people giving voice to the view that it’s all the blacks’ fault.Racism and stereotypes die hard. Keep fighting them while acknowledging their germ of truth.

  2. Scott M September 7, 2005 / 1:52 pm

    Lil, this is Scott, a YDS acquaintance of two people you might know a little bit, Kevin and Vaughan.Re racism: I was born in Texas, have lived in Virginia, and spent 1963-1964 in Montgomery, Alabama when George Wallace was governor and leading the fight against the civil rights movement. Racism in any form is a problem; when it’s institutionalized, like it was in the Deep South in the form of segregation, it is abhorrent.I don’t know how much news you’ve seen about hurricane Katrina, specifically what’s transpiring in New Orleans, but the fact that so many of the victims are African-Americans, and the response of the federal government has been so slow, it is hard not to consider the possibility that what we’re witnessing is an expression of institutional racism, intended or not.Keep up the good work! I plan on checking up on you via your blog often!

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