White People Behaving Badly, Pt. 4

So this past week CNN lost another worthy contributor, joining the ranks of ousted Kathy Griffin and further ousted Reza Aslan. Truth in advertising: I once met Reza Aslan when he spoke at Presbyterian College. We spoke a little Farsi together and he joined me in my office for coffee where he lavished immense praise on my Dwight Shrute bobblehead figure,

“You got a Dwight Shrute!”

“Oh yes, Reza, a 50th birthday present from my daughters. They got it personally from the NBC store near Times Square!”

Such a proud moment, and then he signed my copy of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, suggesting that we should keep in touch.

Clearly, though, we don’t travel in the same circles, and I don’t know if I really hope that one day CNN will dismiss me, too.

For Kathy Griffin, well, we’ve never met but I did see her this week on one of those Seinfeld reruns she so loves to appear in.

Very strange behavior

But back to the bad behavers.

The man let go from CNN this week is, of course, Trump defender, Jeffrey Lord (and that last name had to make even the president drool), who found himself in a war of words recently “after a convoluted Twitter exchange in which he evoked — mockingly, he said — a Nazi salute.” (See https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/10/business/media/jeffrey-lord-fired-trump-cnn-nazis.html?action=click&contentCollection=Style&module=Trending&version=Full&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article&_r=0).

Sorry, don’t know why that address ran four lines.

In any case, that Nazi salute, in case you’re not up on Nazi salutes, was “Sieg Heil.” Lord’s words came in response to “Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal watchdog site Media Matters,” who was calling for sponsors to boycott the Fox News Channel show hosted by Sean Hannity (see citation above).

Without weighing in on the relative free speech rights of anyone here, I do want to suggest that there are other ways to go rather than invoking Adolph Hitler and the genocidal maniacs who followed his banner, marched to his drum, and yelled those two repugnant words every time he took an audible breath. Some think Lord is a good guy nonetheless, and maybe he is.

But I know I’d never let him see my Dwight Shrute doll now.

#

Maybe I’m making too much about this, but as I write, a band of Alt-Right white nationalists is descending upon Charlottesville, VA, protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from the former Lee Park, now Emancipation Park.

“Late Friday night, several hundred torch-bearing men and women marched on the main quadrangle of the University of Virginia’s grounds, shouting, “You will not replace us,” and ‘Jew will not replace us.’” (“White Nationalists March on University of VA,” NY Times, 8/12/17).

Again, without getting into the nuances of removing a statue and free speech at the heart of this particular argument, I want to object for seemingly the millionth time to someone using the term “Jew” in vain. Here are my very personal reasons, as opposed to merely the common sense notion of objecting to the multi-thousand year history of anti-Semitism.

Over the past 30 years I have listened to seemingly well-intentioned people explain to me that Hitler was (a) a great leader; (b) a dynamic speaker; (c a genius.

Not all of these people knew I was born of a Jewish father — a man by the way who at age 18 fought against Hitler in WWII — but some did. Think about that. These were not wide-eyed or maniacally-faced White Nationalists or Neo-Nazi Skinheads. Nope, just normal people: a car mechanic, a random stranger in Barnes and Noble, a student. It’s hard to know what to say in response: “And you’re defending this Fascist instigator of genocide because…?”

I’ve also had people ask me, since I teach courses in American film, exactly why any film about the Holocaust seems to always win Best Documentary Feature? “I don’t know,” I say, “and this concerns you because…?”

What I don’t tell many people, and so am outing myself here, is that almost 25 years ago, I was one of the “normal-people-film-reviewers” for The Greenville News. I had the audacity to give 5 stars to Spike Lee’s X (the film about Malcolm X). To further disclose, my wife and I had seen and met Malcolm X’s daughter when she spoke at Converse College in that same era.

Denzel looking good.

I did think the film was incredible: rich, complex, and yes, in our faces.

Someone, though, took exception, learned my phone number and address, and began bombarding us with unwanted mail — including a subscription to Hustler — and more unwanted phone calls at all times of day and night. Some were calls from escort services, law-abiding folk who actually thought I needed a date.

Others were darker, like this one:

“We know who you are. We know where you live. We’re watching you. Sieg Heil, SIEG Heil, SIEG HEIL!”

I never learned whether the caller knew of my Jewish background, but if he didn’t, then why the words, the Nazi invective and threat?

Our daughter was only two years old. We were members of Amnesty International. I liked X.

Eventually the culprit was caught. He had a prior conviction for indecent exposure. He lived with his parents. He was a thirty-ish white male.

I can tell you that you don’t easily recover from hearing those words come through your phone machine late at night, or any other time. You think several times about who you are and what you want to present to this world — this world where too many people have seemingly forgotten what that “great speaker” did to us, this world.

#

So Jeffrey, sorry about your job loss, but I believe you’ll recover.

Jeffrey in better times.

Yes, fascism is about control, and maybe you felt controlled, or that Sean Hannity was being controlled, and maybe you’re even right. But when you say those two words, you might be inciting things that you’ll never know, and if you did know them, you wouldn’t be able to rein in or control.

I hope all goes well in Charlottesville this weekend, but even if it does, the idea of “white nationalism,” of Nazism, unfortunately won’t, I think. And for thr half-Jewish life of me, I’ll never understand why.

I write about music, culture, food, and my Alabama past in One Table One World, The Riff, InTune, FanFare, SongStories, Rock n”Heavy, Counter Arts, and Pop Off.