Jon Stewart is not our “spokesperson” – he normalized hate speech – The Forward

Jon Stewart has won praise and acclaim for his “empathetic” And “thoughtfulinterview with Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” Tuesday night. He recently argued anti-Semitic rhetoric from celebrities like Kanye West And Kyrie Irvingas well as a monologue delivered by his close friend Dave Chapelle.

Chappelle’s “Saturday Night Live” monologue in response to West and Irving conspiracy theories was quickly excoriated by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who tweeted that he was disturbed to see the show “not just normalize but popularize” anti-Semitism.

Stewart’s interview was meant to be some sort of balm from our “Jewish spokesman(Stewart’s words), addressing what was not only a painful and frightening experience for Jews, but also an experience that disproportionately affected the black community – the focus of the discussion was largely on three celebrities black – and largely obliterated black Jews.

But Stewart failed profoundly and further normalized anti-Semitism and racism in the process. He did this through surprisingly easy and empty arguments based largely on conjecture rather than reality.

The hate speech spread by celebrities is deeply dangerous

Early in his interview, Stewart responded to the idea that Chappelle has normalized anti-Semitism by pointing out that it has already gone mainstream. “I don’t know if you’ve been in the comment sections on most of the news articles, that’s nice [bleeped] normal.”

This was a painfully fallacious argument: anti-Semitism spread by one celebrity to millions doesn’t matter, because the world already hates us.

But celebrities the speech further fuels behavior that endangers Jews and other minorities. When leaders of any kind engage in hate speech, the hateful acts are normalized. A recent study, for example, found that when an “elite” engaged in prejudiced speech, it encouraged prejudice in its followers. When other elites remained silent, followers saw it as an indication of a new norm.

Hate speech leads to hate violenceand remaining silent when influential figures like Chappelle or Irving spew anti-Semitic rhetoric is not a viable response.

Making anti-Semitism taboo

Referring specifically to the recent suspension of Kyrie Irving by the Brooklyn Nets, Stewart said, “Penalizing someone for thinking about it … I don’t think it’s going to change their mind or understand.”

When asked by Colbert later in the interview to explain what his solution was, Stewart said, “The only way to heal a wound is to open it up and cleanse it.”

This is the classic point about the “marketplace of ideas” made by many liberal-minded people free speech absolutists. For years they have argued that hate speech and other forms of dangerous language should not be “censored”, but countered with “better words”.

But racist views and hateful beliefs aren’t resolved with open discussion. Making these ideas unpalatable requires having social consequences for those who hold them. We don’t want to argue with paedophiles about legalizing child pornography. We want to make the idea taboo.

And lest you think the example is extreme: on social media sites that don’t even regulate discussion child pornography can be normalized. As it has been proven time And stillwhen hate speech flows on social media, violence follows. The problem is not that we are too heavy-handed in dealing with hate speech. It’s that our culture and institutions, including social media companies, are inconsistent in addressing it.

Anti-Semitism is not resolved with low expectations

Stewart told Colbert that the people who have recently garnered national attention for their anti-Semitic remarks were black men: West, Irving and Chappelle.

This has been a touchy subject for many, me too, in the Jewish community which is trying to find a balance in its approach to exposing anti-Semitism, regardless of the race of the person involved. Too often, the Jewish community has focused on the anti-Semitism of black figures like West while ignoring the anti-Semitism of white, conservative commentators like tucker Carlson.

Jon Stewart’s approach to this difficulty was to downplay it, and to quote, of all people, Kanye West: “‘Hurt people, hurt people.'”

He went on to say, “Look at it from a black perspective. It is a culture that feels its wealth has been mined by different groups. Whites. Jews. The things. Whether that’s true or not, that’s not the issue. This is the feeling in the community.

What sounds like an attempt at empathy is actually its own form of racism: the belief that black people as a whole are, and have good reason to be, anti-Semitic. Like Soraya McDonald, senior cultural critic for Andscape, a black-led media platform put it“He basically advanced the false and ahistorical idea that black people are generally anti-Semitic.”

Stewart’s mischaracterization of blacks was problematic in another way. He wiped out the black Jews. As Shawn C. Harris, author and vocal commentator on Black Jewish issues told me, “He effectively perpetuated the idea that Black people and Jews were separate communities and identities.”

When influential people like Stewart talk about black Jews as if they don’t exist, it means they have, in Harris’s words, “the burden of rejecting anti-Semitism masquerading as pro-Black and anti-Blackness masquerading as anti-Semitism.” Stewart’s comments only further erased Black Jewish identity.

Stewart’s interview, therefore, largely just spread further misinformation. He equated celebrities with massive platforms and cultural influence with roaming internet trolls. He argued that hate speech is not addressed under the banner of free speech. And he further perpetuated racism and the erasure of Black Jews.

The result was the normalization of both anti-Semitism and racism: a shonda.

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