There are so many different ways to insult a person, mock her or him, denigrate someone's ethnic group or gender or sexuality, and basically turn a discussion into little more than an insult-fest. I got caught in a modern-day version of it, and it caused me to ponder how casual people are in hurling hatred.

I had read an article on Facebook from the website Gothamist (which had gone under but was recently revived). Gothamist is devoted to New York City news stories, many of them laced with humor, and some quite critical of things going on around NYC. This week they ran a story about real estate in Harlem, and it was critical of how much expensive new buildings (and businesses) are being built in Harlem, and that long-time residents, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, cannot afford much of this and are being forced out.

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I consider this a serious problem, and the rush to erect luxury housing at the expense of poorer New Yorkers is a real woe, which I believe should be addressed in a serious manner. But a discussion that splintered off from this original thread veered quite nastily into stereotypes and sweeping condemnations of white people and especially Jews.


The word that got tossed around that particularly grated on me was "colonizer." Apparently this is being used to critique, and often unfairly, anyone who is white and has moved somewhere. In this case a few African-American and Latina women were angry at whites who came into Harlem,, and called them all "colonizers". This assumes that only Blacks and Latinos were in Harlem and now, boom, there are whites (Whypipo) and they are "colonizing" and taking over Harlem. So Ms Historian that I am, I pointed out that many years ago, Harlem was heavily Jewish and Italian. And I then I was skewered.

It's true, people: in the late 1800s through the pre-World War Two years, Harlem's Jewish population was considerable, and there are plenty of former/lost synagogue buildings still standing that prove this. And East Harlem still has remnants of an Italian past (a few restaurants and a Roman Catholic church). But I was slammed for writing this, and slammed for being a colonizer.
A Latina woman named Maggie R. wrote that "Ellen Levitt yup. You're family are STILL colonizers." She and another Latina and another woman whose ethnicity is unclear to me, insisted that I was a colonizer, in whatever bad meaning that contains. One woman posted at least three times about bad Jewish landlords. But when I wrote that this is not what all Jews are, she insisted that yes, it is.

And I should not "white-splain" about this, either. Nope, no discussion, end of discourse, all Jews are crooked landlords who have no claim on Harlem even if 100-plus years ago, Jews were here. And in her rendition of history, all Jews always were colonizers, even when they were chased by Cossacks, herded into death camps, or kicked out of Arab nations with little but a few items of clothing.

I am probably preaching to the converted, but people, when you make sweeping assumptions and utter vapid, nasty generalizations about Jews, you are not contributing positively to any meaningful discussion about race and socio-economic problems. And when I mentioned that I have taught students of all different ethnic groups, a woman named Maggie mocked me for using coded language to insult Blacks. 

Other people supported my contentions and I never resorted to slinging curse words, as did two of the other women (women cursing at other women, it upsets me!). Some others asked me why I didn't disengage, and why I let this toxic talk trail on. But I wanted to make a few points, and I wanted it out there that resorting to nastiness, stereotypes, and especially anti-Semitic trash talk is NOT the way to conduct one's self.


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