This morning I mentioned that Dana Schwartz wrote an open letter to Jared Kushner, her boss at the Observer (who is Donald Trump’s son-in-law), about the anti-Semitic tweet that caused such a ruckus over the holiday weekend. Now Kushner has written a response. I’d like to walk through what he had to say – not because he is terribly significant in the scheme of things – but because it so perfectly captures how we tend to shut down conversations about the various “isms” that affect our culture.
Here is Kushner’s opening statement:
My father-in-law is not an anti-Semite.
It’s that simple, really. Donald Trump is not anti-Semitic and he’s not a racist.
Anyone who has ever watched Jay Smooth’s video on “How to tell someone they sound racist” knows exactly what he did there … changed the subject.
The question is not whether Trump is an anti-Semite. It’s whether his campaign tweeted out something that was anti-Semitic. As Smooth explains, that may sound like an insignificant distinction. But it’s not. Determining whether or not someone is “an anti-Semite” means knowing their heart and mind. The issue at hand is that the Trump campaign sent out a tweet was anti-Semitic. That is simply a fact we can all see with our own eyes.
If Donald Trump, his campaign staff or Kushner had merely said, “Yeah, we see what you’re saying about that tweet being anti-Semitic. We’re sorry and are instructing everyone to stay away from racist/anti-Semitic websites and tweeters so that this never happens again,” perhaps that would have been the end of the story. But they don’t want to admit that and so they turn it into an argument about something that can’t be proven as a way to avoid a discussion about what actually happened. That’s a classic deflection.
Kushner goes to great lengths to tell a story about his own family’s experience in the Holocaust in order to make this point:
I go into these details, which I have never discussed, because it’s important to me that people understand where I’m coming from when I report that I know the difference between actual, dangerous intolerance versus these labels that get tossed around in an effort to score political points.
He’s right to point out that what happened during the Holocaust was a more dangerous intolerance than an anti-Semitic tweet. But what that ignores is that those events didn’t simply spring up out of nowhere. They came from decades (centuries) of acceptance of anti-Semitism that was eventually harnessed and exploited by people like Adolf Hitler (and Joseph Stalin). The reason we are constantly reminded to “never forget” is to prevent us from giving that kind of thing a foothold ever again.
Next, Kushner wants to talk about the Donald Trump he knows.
It doesn’t take a ton of courage to join a mob. It’s actually the easiest thing to do. What’s a little harder is to weigh carefully a person’s actions over the course of a long and exceptionally distinguished career…
The fact is that my father in law is an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife. His support has been unwavering and from the heart.
That is another standard deflection. I call it “the good heart” excuse. My response is often to talk about my maternal grandmother. She was raised in Kentucky, lived in California for a while and eventually settled with her husband in East Texas. She was a fine Christian woman with a good heart. And yet, as a child I remember her telling me, “A n*gger will become a negro when a chigger becomes a chiggero.” As a young girl growing up in Kentucky, I’m certain that she was taught what we now call “scientific racism.” So she had a good heart and treated her own Black maid pretty well. It’s just that she also believed that African Americans were inherently inferior.
This is why so many people didn’t understand what President Obama said about his own maternal grandmother during his speech about racism in 2008. A lot of people suggested that he “threw her under the bus.” But here’s what he said after talking about his relationship with Jeremiah Wright over the years:
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother — a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
These people are a part of me. And they are part of America, this country that I love.
In other words, Obama’s grandmother had a good heart too. She loved him and sacrificed for him. But she had also been taught racial stereotypes and a fear of Black men.
Until we can get to the place where good people can accept that they have been taught racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, etc. and have a conversation about how we unlearn those things, we’ll keep hearing the same kind of dismissive non-productive arguments as the one espoused by Kushner.