Lessons Learnt From A Political Shitstorm
Yesterday was crazy.
Scratch that. Yesterday was a shitstorm. But a good one.
This morning I published an op-ed that I knew was going to make waves. I openly exposed an instance of Anti-Semitism I experienced at work and a trend of bias I recognized within the student government and funding at my college, the University of Southern California. I posted the blazing article on my Facebook page, and headed off to work, ready to be ravaged.
Yesterday was my first experience as an advocate on a controversial subject. I had stood up for others through a personal experience, effectively tattooing a target on my chest.
I felt my body fester fears I had only heard of in seminars about intolerance – will I lose my job? Will people rally against me? Or even worse, would they just call me a liar and delegitimize the racism I experienced?
The day was welcomed by supporters. Nice comments, several shares, uplifting texts – people in my community appreciated that I spoke openly about the problem. My reasoning for publishing was solidified – I had experienced blatant Anti-Semitism, and awareness was the only antidote. After several phone calls with my mother, whose contents were a stew of pride and fear of me being hacked to death, I entered my office. Did business as usual, carefully monitoring the progress of my piece.
The first comment came in; a distant acquaintance from a different university was quick to make my experience about deeper political issues, which of course I had opinions on. I cordially dabbled in refuting his arguments I didn’t agree with, but made my focus clear; this was not about what was going on in the Gaza Strip, this is about how Anti-Semitism has taken a hold here at school.
I focused on my work, trying to ignore the deep breaths of dread permeating my lungs.
Soon I would have to face my offender. She’s my co-worker who has a higher position. As she made her way over to me, I braced myself for the thing all victims should: denial.
Denial is not a foreign concept. It is has been the crest of modern Anti-Semitism. It is not enough to have slaughtered the Jewish people throughout history, the hate must continue by claiming it never happened. The hardest aspect of my contemporary Judaism is not that I have lost relatives to the Holocaust, it’s that according to the Anti-Defamation League, ⅔ of the world has never heard of the atrocities or denies they occurred. Denial is a second and harsher step of injustice; it delegitimizes a victim’s experience by labeling them as crazy. It withholds their right to actual pain.
Denial lives in “it was consensual” and “she was asking for it”. In the, “no we weren’t racist, it was just a joke”. It festers in half-hearted apologies stating “we are sorry if our actions offended anyone” while still refusing to admit that the actions were wrong.
As I attempted to balance the Jenga tower of bowels quaking inside me, as the girl who I had reported for making an Anti-Semitic comment about censoring Jewish speakers approached. I prepared for her to deny it all. I was right.
She immediately claimed she had been misquoted, as expected. Her response was to tell me that I had reported a conversation I had overheard, and was not invited to. (As if to note that I had no right to stand against racism that wasn’t specifically directed towards me. Because apparently hate is acceptable in privacy.) She said that I should have confronted her about her actions before making them public. I found courage crammed between my rib cage and I uttered, “Why would I start a dialogue? I’m just another Jew you don’t want to hear speak.”
I left the truth crammed beneath my crania. It would’ve have mature to approach her. But I was belittled by her actions and intimidated by her superiority. Most of all, I didn’t confront her because she was intelligent. Any smart person who is accused of racism knows not to admit it, to use the protocol: deny, attack, and blame.
Fine then, keep playing the victim.
I felt like I had just issued a rape report and now an officer was making comments on the length of my skirt. Although I have never experienced anything that traumatic – for the first time I recognized the “you asked for it”. Somehow overhearing an Anti-Semitic comment was my fault. And even worse, I had spoke up and out – the ultimate offense.
My crime was that her statement was wrong. I refused to be a victim.
I am not the girl who quivers under the knife. I will clench it with my raw fingers and grab it from your hands. During the incident, I was frozen, but now I was thawed out. Not only did I report injustice, I published it. I advocated against it.
I fought denial with denial. I denied the silence I was instructed to submerge myself in and floated above the waves of intimidation. And I had won.
I asked USC to live up to the tolerant, encouraging, and progressive university I know it is. And they rose to the challenge.
In this shitstorm, there was a silver lining. I was contacted by the AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to investigating, documenting, and combating Anti-Semitism in higher education institutions. They beared witness to the racism I experienced, encouraged me to take action, and didn’t care that some people would deny my truth.
They asked me, what would be the best outcome of this situation? I told them: All I want is representation of Pro-Israel and Jewish students with the same funds that were used to marginalize them. They encouraged me to should report the incident; I didn’t even have the knowledge I could. My call for an event fighting Anti-Semitism, that could prepare and prevent students from similar experiences, began to resonate even deeper. My goal was to use hatred to build a safer community.
Yes, I received hateful responses declaring that I was lying. As one commenter exclaimed, “There’s no fucking way the director of WSA said that.” I understand. It’s easier to call me a liar. For many, intolerance is something we don’t want to hear or can’t stand to believe.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword. But some pens drip thicker ink that others. It’s easy to attack people because they show us sides of ourselves we don’t acknowledge in the mirror. But plastering up yourself to be degraded takes a lot more courage, and what you put in, you get out.
I got something amazing out of my words: my faith in my school restored. USC took a stand against racism and towards the equal treatment and security for each of its students.
Within a day of publication, the Executive Director of the Program Board pulled me aside and asked about my concerns. She wanted me to feel safe at work, and told me that my call for change would be answered.
In my article I had asked our Student Government to make amends by demonstrating equality for each of its students and their backgrounds, not exclusively the ones leadership supports. They read, and responded. I was even asked to help plan the event. I met with several members of WSA, BSA, and PSA to organize a program that addresses Anti-Semitism. Together, we are working to make USC a safe space.
Do I think that this would have happened had I not called the organization out? No. Was today hard? Yes. But it was worth it.
Sometimes you need to start a shitstorm to make some justice pour down.