By Eve Mykytyn
Great Britain’s Labour Party has been wrestling with allegations of antisemitism. One of the charges is that although the Labour party adopted The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘s definition (often incorrectly identified as the ‘international’ definition) of antisemitism, Labour did not include in its definition all of the examples listed in the IHRA definition. Specifically, Labour omitted the provisions that define criticism of Israel as antisemitism.
Israel may claim that it wants to be a state like all others, but it vigorously campaigns to limit criticism of its expansionist policies by forcing critics to navigate a minefield of potential claims of antisemitism. I can think of no other country that even attempts to limit criticism by outsiders.
Even without the provisions relating to Israel, the IHRA definition of antisemitism seems overly broad and unnecessary in light of the discrimination that many people have faced. In the United States our record is spotty at best and many immigrant groups have faced discrimination by the legal system, by the actions of our public institutions and by the behavior of other Americans. Notably, and at different times, Asians and Jews have been affected by quota systems in our universities, the Chinese were exploited and then deported under the exclusion acts, Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps during World War II and our president has accused Mexican Americans of being rapists.
And then, no group has suffered the systemic racism that has been directed against African Americans. Not only do we have few laws that begin to atone for their continued exploitation and incarceration, we don’t even have a word in common usage that refers specifically to discrimination against African Americans. There is such a word in the dictionary, however, and it is ‘antiblack.’
Since the United States has not treated Jews any worse than its other immigrants, it seems odd that the State Department has adopted a specific definition of antisemitism and not of antiblackness. Borrowing from the IHRA definition of antisemitism, I would like to offer the following, modeled on the IHRA definition, to fill this void. Other groups may wish to follow suit. Words from the IHRA definition are italicized.
Antiblackness is a certain perception of Blacks, which may be expressed as hatred toward Blacks. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antiblackness are directed toward Black or non-Black individuals and/or their property, toward Black community institutions and religious facilities, especially the targeting of Black churches.
Two examples: the Charleston church shooting, in which the killer argued that he didn’t deserve the death penalty since the nine people he killed were Black; or the killing of four young girls at a church in Birmingham, Alabama after which the killers were protected by the federal government for at least 15 years.
Manifestations might include the targeting of majority black countries, conceived as merely a collection of Blacks. (e.g., calling them shitholes) However, criticism of such countries similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antiblack. So, if you wanted to criticize apartheid South Africa, you must find another apartheid country to criticize in the same way. (Israel?)
Antiblackness frequently charges Blacks with conspiring to harm whites, and it is often used to blame Blacks for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits. For example, the negative stereotypes of Blacks as portrayed in film, the press, etc. as people who are shiftless, crime seeking, etc.
Contemporary examples of antiblackness in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
• Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming or mass incarceration of Blacks for crimes that are routinely charged only against Blacks, such as vagrancy, in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of race.
• Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Blacks as Blacks such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about the advantages of slavery over life in Africa, the myth that more Blacks than others are on death row, or that Blacks do not contribute to society. Included in this is the theft by artists of the intellectual property of Blacks, under the antiblack assumption that Blacks will not respond. For example, The Beach Boys ‘ ripoff of Chuck Berry in Surfing USA (Sweet Little Sixteen) or George Harrison’s theft of My Sweet Lord from Ronnie Mack (He’s So Fine).
• Accusing Blacks as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by any Black person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Blacks, this would include blaming Blacks for the deterioration of a neighborhood.
• Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms or intentionality of the enslavement of Black people at the hands of the United States, and the financial gain from such labor enjoyed by the South and its accomplices in the North, as well as in a number of European countries who continued to finance the South during the Civil War. Included in this is the de facto slavery of Black people that continued in many states after slavery was abolished, including using convicts guilty of dubious crimes, such as loitering, as ‘free’ labor in factories, mines and other businesses or the sharecropping system that left Blacks unable to exercise the right to move or to realize any financial gain from their own labor.
• Accusing Blacks as a people of inventing or exaggerating slavery or the millions of deaths that occurred in the brutal passage of Blacks from Africa to various parts of the ‘new world.’
• Accusing Black citizens of not being loyal to the United States when they protest the treatment of Blacks in the United States.
• Denying Blacks their right to choose leaders, either as in the past through poll taxes or absurd history tests, or as in the present through voter id laws or by gerrymandering of voting districts. The paragraph in the IHRA definition refers to denying Jews the right to self determination by claiming Israel is a racist endeavor. Two points here: if Israel is the collective state of the Jews then we are not talking about self-determination but policies set by some number of Jews and Israel is a racist endeavor in that only those who are racially qualified may become citizens and others may not.
• Applying double standards by requiring of Blacks behavior not expected or demanded of other people such as submission to stop and frisk policies.
• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antiblackness (e.g., unhinged accusations of rape or use of Aunt Jemima or Little Black Sambo) to characterize Blacks.
• The next IHRA paragraph prohibits drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, but since Gaza resembles a mega Warsaw ghetto I’m not sure why this is not simply an observation.
•Profiling Blacks as lawbreakers by targeting them in ‘random’ traffic stops.
•Failure to provide Black communities with decent infrastructure similar to that enjoyed by nearby white communities (Flint water).
•Using Blacks purely for financial gain such as for medical experiments deemed too risky for the general public, or incarcerating a vastly disproportionate number of Blacks in for profit private prisons.
Of course, Blacks are not the only group facing discrimination. Hispanics, Native Americans and others may wish to get into this speech inhibiting game. Then they too can decide how and for what they may be criticized. Or we could prohibit racism against any subgroup by defining racism as Unesco has, as “a theory of races hierarchy which argues that the superior race should be preserved and should dominate the others. Racism can also be an unfair attitude towards another ethnic group. Finally, racism can also be defined as a violent hostility against a social group.”