I’m still new at this blogging thing, and I still haven’t figured out exactly how I’m going to use this site. Some posts will be reactions to things that happen in the news (or in my life), and other posts will be an outlet for me to describe things that I’ve been thinking about for a while. This one goes in that later category, mostly, but it’s precipitated by this overwhelming sense that everybody wants to be persecuted. I’m planning to write more about how that’s impacted us, as a generation of human beings living in the United States, but this is an important precursor to that post, that might or might not ever materialize. To the point of this post: depending on how you see the world, and on which part of that world you focus on, being persecuted has it’s perks. I seriously doubt that any persecuted group feels those benefits are worth the cost of persecution, but the benefits are there, nevertheless.
Many African-Americans were brought to the United States under the worst circumstances imaginable. Hunted like animals, caught in nets, and sold to the highest bidder. Thrown on a ship, with a pretty good chance of dying before reaching their final destination only to reach the lovely shores of America, where they were owned like farm equipment or sex toys. Eventually they were freed, after a pretty big, ugly, and costly war, and then treated like second-class citizens for years until finally they were allowed to use the same bathrooms as the white people who mistreated them for so long. But it wasn’t all bad, because with all that strife and misery, they were given Affirmative Action, so it’s all better now (somebody really needs to invent a sarcastic font someday, the “it’s all better now” part would have to appear in that font).
In accordance with Godwin, let’s make sure we don’t forget to mention Hitler. Jews have been batted around for centuries. The Bible tells stories of Jews being enslaved and needing God to send plagues to torment Pharaoh so the Jews could be free. But they weren’t really free because after spreading to Europe, they were expelled from Rome, falsely accused of killing Jesus and drinking blood of babies (no wonder people didn’t like them — who would side with people who drink babies blood? yuck), and even blamed for the Black Death plague. As if this wasn’t enough, the pogroms marked a particularly pleasant time in Jewish life (where is that damn sarcasm font!), and don’t forget about the inquisition, and, of course, Hitler.
Hitler presided over what pretty much every historian considers to be the largest genocide (based on death toll, taking into account the dense time frame) in recorded history. But, in the spirit of the sarcasm that riddles this already, it wasn’t all bad because look what the Jews got in exchange for the death of 5-11 million (depending on how you count heads). They got the UN’s backing to give them their very own country – I can’t help but hear Bob Barker saying that like it’s a brand new car! Jews endured centuries of horrific treatment, but now it’s all OK because they got a country for their troubles. Not only that, but Hitler has become the personification of evil. When Randy Weber, a Member of the House of Representatives, wanted to paint Barack Obama as evil…out comes the Hitler comparison. In some ways, the persecution of Jews worked out better than the whole slavery thing. African-Americans got Affirmative Action, but there’s no single slaveholder that people can point to as the evil one, making it clear who won the PR battle on that one. Jews got a country AND a world that mostly paints Hitler as the personification of evil. Well done Jews. Well done.
My light tone is purposeful. These things are so horrific that I can’t seem to bear writing about them without trying, probably not succeeding, to lighten the mood in the room. But what I’ve seen happen from all this is a crazy sort of envy from people belonging to groups that haven’t been persecuted, or that haven’t been persecuted close to as much as these two examples have endured. I think what has emerged is a focus on the “reward” for enduring the persecution, without remembering what these groups endured to get that reward. Instead of thinking of it as a reimbursement, people genuinely see it as a reward. In the same way that many people seem to think the guy who falls and breaks his back, and now has to live the rest of his life in pain, is somehow lucky because he got a million dollars in a settlement from the city who didn’t maintain the sidewalk that caused his fall. Lucky? Really?
It seems that people focus on the consolation prize, and forget that it’s not the winning prize. They see that minorities get things like Affirmative Action, and Jews get Israel, and they might even see smaller events that make it seem like an advantage to be a member of a disenfranchised group. My grandfather was the first Jew to attend a local private school, and, as the story goes, was able to get into all kinds of trouble without getting into trouble, because the school was afraid of being accused of being antisemitic. I had a similar experience at a Catholic high school I spent some time at. But what people seem to forget is that there was a whole lot of bad that came before that bit of good. A selective attention to the million dollar settlement, ignoring the life of pain that it’s supposed to make up for.
I think it’s important to remember that there’s a reason that we go out of our way for some disenfranchised groups. It’s not because we think less of them, or some “there, there, you poor little thing” offer, like Ben Carson (the GOP presidential hopeful) claims. It’s because we recognize that the scales were tipped, and we want to tip them back. It’s the same reason that we give financial aid to people from low income families. We want them to have the same educational opportunities as their more wealthy peers. But when we focus on the compensation for being treated terribly, and minimize the terrible treatment that preceded it, it looks like a gift, not a reimbursement. But it’s really a reimbursement. Let’s not forget that.