Reflections on the Exhibit “Confronting Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, and the Resistance”

by Dylan Shack FCRH’23

Visiting the exhibit “Confronting Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, and the Resistance” in the Walsh Family library was an eye-opening experience in demonstrating the similarities between antisemitism and racism. The exhibit shows how both forms of hatred and their propagators have used similar methods to otherize Jews and African Americans. In both the United States and Europe, derogatory depictions of Jews and Black individuals were widespread in different forms of media consumed by the majority, Christian and white, from cradle to grave. This included storybooks that portrayed both Black Americans and Jews with exaggerated facial features, which were particularly used to caricature and dehumanize them.

Children's books play a role in perpetuating and fighting derogatory stereotypes: displayed here series of children's books from 1905, a 1949 edition of "Little Black Sambo," and Julius Lester's anti-racist reinterpretation of "Little Black Sambo": the 1996 "Sam and the Tigers"
Children’s books play a role in perpetuating and fighting derogatory stereotypes: displayed here series of children’s books from 1905, a 1949 edition of “Little Black Sambo,” and Julius Lester’s anti-racist reinterpretation of “Little Black Sambo”: the 1996 “Sam and the Tigers”

Seeing them on the screen in class was upsetting enough but seeing these items physically and knowing that they were distributed widely, that people made money off this hate, and that millions purchased these items willingly was a stomach-turning experience. These depictions and dehumanization, over centuries, resulted in the enslavement, torture, and mass murder of both peoples, though contexts for these persecutions differed. Pogroms committed in Europe even before the Holocaust against Jews and lynchings committed across the United States against Black people show the consequences of hatred and dehumanization.

Another aspect I found interesting is that both Jews and Black people came together in these times of elevated discrimination and hatred in order to establish both guides and physical places where they could enjoy themselves without fear of discrimination. I knew of both the Motorist Green Book for Black community and the resorts which were open to Jews in such places as the Catskills prior to visiting the exhibit but had never independently made the connection of the level of similarity between these two in the creative ways in which they made the best they could while facing particularly dire discrimination nationwide.

The case displays a menu and promotional postcards of Jewish resorts in the Catskills and facsimile editions of the Green Book.

I think that this exhibition is also more relevant than ever in our current time as we have seen an increase in the level of both antisemitic and anti-Black racism nationwide, as well as a concerted effort by white supremacists to separate our two communities and define our struggles to obtain equal rights and treatment in our country as entirely separate issues. White supremacists know that the only way in which they can achieve power is to divide minority groups and pit us against each other. The reality is that our respective communities did have unique struggles. This is especially true of the degree of discrimination that Blacks faced in the United States, which was much more severe on average, in legal and experiential way, than Jews such as my family faced.

It is important as a point of mutual respect that I acknowledge this historical reality while also acknowledging that my family came to the United States to escape often comparably severe hatred and persecution Jews faced in Europe. Still as immigrants from Europe, my family was allowed to integrate into and benefit from white America, which was and still is a society that persecutes and discriminates against Blackness. This is something that I acknowledge while also understanding that Jews in America continue to face the threat of daily antisemitic violence. These realities which both of our communities have lived through and continue to live through are not mutually exclusive and acknowledging them can help us to work through much of the divide that white supremacists have sought to establish between our communities. This exhibit shows in painstaking detail the ways in which both communities have been dehumanized and othered are very similar, and the danger that these forms of hatred continue to present to society. The exhibit also shows resilience and ways to confront this hatred. I am grateful to have visited this exhibit and seen this intersectional struggle that our communities have experienced.

Dylan Shack is a senior Economics major at Fordham College at Rose Hill. He is taking a values seminar on antisemitism with Professor Magda Teter.

The exhibit “Confronting Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, and the Resistance” is on view at the Walsh Family Library until February 28, 2023, workdays 9:30AM-4:30PM. The exhibit catalogue is available here.