A couple of years back, I wrote an essay about the blatant anti-Semitism I witnessed while teaching middle school in Glendale, California in the late 1990s. In keeping with my reputation for being somewhat of a masochist, I actually moved to Glendale last year. However, I’ve come to appreciate how the Los Angeles suburb has really come into its own since I hung out here 20 years ago, and it’s perhaps the safest place to live in Los Angeles.
Still, I was reminded of the anti-Semitism (or at least the extreme stupidity) of some of Glendale’s residents when I decided to lounge at Starbucks earlier this week. I usually don’t pay attention to other people’s conversations, but I couldn’t help but overhear a group of three twenty-something students discussing the concept of “privilege.”
One of the kids sported a buzz cut, scruffy beard, tattoos all over his arm that made no sense, and appeared to be either Caucasian or Middle Eastern. He tried to explain the concept of “privilege” to the others by using Holocaust victim Anne Frank as an example of someone who had privilege because she was white. Burying himself even deeper, he went on to speculate that if Anne Frank were alive today, she wouldn’t have to deal with being pulled over by the police for no reason or having her résumés thrown in the garbage.
“Buzz’s” two female friends wore shocked looks on their faces. Although I fully understand the concept of privilege and inequality, I thought this kid was exploiting the issue — and minimizing today’s societal ills in the process. I honestly wanted to hit the kid. Worst of all, he appeared to be quite sincere — and puzzled by the stinging criticism he elicited from his friends and another customer.
“You do realize that Anne Frank died in a concentration camp during the Genocide?” retorted his friend in the Rihanna T-shirt. She was, of course, was referring to the Holocaust. For the benefit of any millennial readers who don’t know what that is (there isn’t an app for it), it was the worst tragedy in human history. It was so bad that there are people who need to deny it ever happened.
Buzz tried to explain that although Anne Frank’s death was certainly tragic, her light skin gave her privilege, and somebody with darker skin wouldn’t have survived as long as she did in the same situation. At this point, I was ready to strangle the kid. However, his other friend, a girl who appeared to be Hispanic, started scolding him. I thought I’d let the situation play out before getting involved.
“Yes, I’m sure Anne Frank was feeling guilty about her ‘privilege’ before being put in a gas chamber,” replied the girl sarcastically, which drew more stares. I’m not sure if I was the only one who remembered that Anne Frank didn’t die in a gas chamber; she died of typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp — hardly a refuge for people with “privilege.”
An older woman approached the table, looking as though she was about to slap the kid into submission. Apparently regaining her composure, she began by complimenting the young man on his concern for social justice.
“However,” she noted, “you are being extremely offensive by minimizing Anne Frank and the Holocaust to prove a point about today’s social issues.” Refusing to let the kid interrupt, she told the group that listening to a Holocaust survivor speak was one of the most memorable and eye-opening events in her life, explaining that the concept of “privilege” didn’t exist during the Holocaust — but the concepts of life and death did. I smiled warmly at the woman as I gathered my things and left.
Walking back home, I thought about how I could just excuse the guy as one miseducated fool, but I’ve come across discussions on Anne Frank’s “privilege” in certain Internet circles before. A friend of mine who attended UCLA also said it was discussed in one of her classes. And there appears to be a movement developing claiming “ENDING WHITE PRIVILEGE STARTS WITH ENDING JEWISH PRIVILEGE.” Truthfully, any discussion linking Anne Frank or Jews to privilege is revolting in any context.
I consider myself liberal-minded and think inequality needs to be dealt with, but this guy represented a growing number of young people who do nothing for liberal and progressive causes but turn people away from them. They complain about Donald Trump’s election, but their extremism and clumsy rhetoric helped get him elected.
If the left is so threatened by Donald Trump’s election and the rise of all the various “isms,” they need to take a stand against the social justice extremists who are giving liberals a bad name and making “progressive” synonymous with “anti-Semitism.”