Are you as saddened and outraged about what has happened at Oberlin College in Ohio as I am?
An adjunct professor spews anti-Semitic, racial hatred in class and on Facebook. The College President allows it because of “freedom of speech” but in his speech addressing the issue, he does not specify all that is illogical in the anti-Semite professor’s diatribes. Here’s my response and warning to myself and to all of us tempted to scapegoat, blame or ostracize any group AND our responsibility to counter lies and the dark myths of prejudice:
1. We must never speak about any ethnic, national or religious group as responsible for any one thing in particular. Every group is made up of individuals, sub-groups and marginal groups who evidence tremendous diversity . When anyone speaks of “The Catholics,” “The Protestants,” “the Jews,” The Nigerians,” “the Americans” ” the Italians,” we must immediately STOP RIGHT THERE and ask, “Who?” “Which ones?” “What segment?” As soon as any one generalizes about any peoples, nation or religion the statement is a LIE!
2. Even when a sub-group, or smaller group of individuals or individuals themselves are identified as guilty of an immoral incident or event, questions must be addressed and allegations must be verified and substantiated. Again, “Who?” “What Contexts?” “What evidence?” “What verifications?” If No ONE can be substantiated as responsible, then certainly NO ENTIRE GROUP can be responsible. Furthermore, even when ONE individual or Sub-Group is verifiably responsible, it is extremely unlikely that the entire sub-group is responsible and certainly not the entire, larger group. THIS I S LOGIC. This is Justice. This is TRUTH.
3. Freedom of Speech does allow for anyone to say anything including spewing of lies, illogic, hatred, prejudice, etc. but a free society has an OBLIGATION to counter that speech with TRUTH. Furthermore, we have a moral imperative to substantiate the truth with proofs and verifiable historic and scientific evidence. Therefore, I repeat: Allowing one person’s freedom of speech to include lies, hate, scapegoating requires others to RESPONSIBILITY and to TRUTH. In the case cited, the President must conduct a public forum revealing the lies of the given professor’s statements. To allow proliferation of a lie is to renege on responsibility and common human decency and allow the lies to prosper, mislead and corrupt people’s thinking.
4. Even Free Speech has its limits. The public square no longer tolerates racial slurs in the public forums. Certain expletives are band in the media. So, too, must negative generalizations about any group. Any allegation must in justice identify individuals and sub-groups so we promote truth and balance in the media. In truth, even positive statements and praise need to have specific clarifications. For example, even in this hostile political climate in the USA, we must not speak of “The Italian American Vote,” “the Black or African American vote,” “The Evangelical Vote,” “The Jewish American Vote,” those very statements are dishonest. We may speak of “a large portion of African Americans in Alabama in the Republican party are voting this way,” or “More Italian Americans in New Jersey are tending to vote in the Democratic primary this year.” WE must stop generalizations in all spheres or we are planting the seeds of ethnic scapegoating and ethnic hatreds. Anti-Semitism is often the symptom of a terrible illogic that festers in human minds and in human societies. All peoples who seek truth and justice must counter this illogic on all levels including temptations that exist in our own hearts.
If you don’t know about this incident, you can read about it here:
PLEASE COMMENT! Please don’t let Anti-Semitism or any prejudice, any lies, hate or scapegoating go unaddressed. ALSO: in the coming weeks I am going to begin to offer commentary in a series of blogs on a most excellent book: Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s book NOT IN GOD’S NAME. Watch for it!