Adventures in Jewish Bigotry II
Because I had a fairly disturbing experience tonight when learning with my hhevruta in a beit midrash with a number of somewhat Yeshivish high school students around.
One of the students called another one the N word, and my hhevrusa objected. So we got into a long annoying conversation trying to explain to these kids why using racial slurs is inappropriate. Luckily, some of them understood what we were saying and may have even gotten the message. Others, though, were completely racist, and justified their use of the slur by claiming that it's fine to say accurately-negative things about people who "deserve" it. A few tried to pull that Hham was cursed nonsense out, but I smacked them down by quoting the actual verse and revealing to them the fact that Cana‘an, who was cursed, actually looked just like us and not like Sub-Saharan Africans or African-Americans.
For some strange reason, the crazier ones of them seemed to think that sticking up for the humanity of human beings is something that only "leftist treehuggers" do, but I corrected them when they asked my hhevruta if he is such a person — he's actually a Republican, while I'm the Leftist Treehugger. Which brought up other political issues which I wasn't interested in discussing, such as the War in ‘Irāq, Gay Marriage, and Gun Control.
I'm hoping that we changed a few minds, at least a little bit, and impressed upon some of them the need for sensitivity and recognition of humanity. Even if you insist that the ethnic slur you're using is only being used to refer to the "bums" of that group, that doesn't excuse it — because that's not what people think when they hear it. Slurs are nivul peh (linguistic self-degradation), and using them even to refer to a supposedly "appropriate" subset of a group is mar’it ‘ayin (causing other people to suspect you of doing something wrong even if what you're doing may technically be okay).
But what shocked me the most was one kid's insistence that there's no value, need or obligation to be a nice person. It's like the idea of being a mensch wasn't even on his radar. I blurted out "Are you [even] Jewish?!" when he said that, which probably wasn't the right thing to say (because it may imply that other people don't also need to act human), but there's a reason why we in particular call it "being a mensch" — acting like a caring, mutually-respectful member of a human civilization is one of the primary goals of Yahadut! It always shocks me when people don't understand that what God wants from us is to care about and respect each other.
So I'm just going to go with the hope that the fact that they call me "Mr. [LastName]" is a sign that they consider me a respectable adult (as opposed to it being because they don't know my firstname, or my simply being older and balding or something), and somehow that might give my and my hhevruta's words more weight than if it were just him, who they grew up with and probably consider just one of the guys. Even if I am an UnYeshivish Leftist Treehugger. And when I (iy"H) get semikha and become a rabbi, I can claim Da‘as Torah, and they'll have to listen to me!...