David Bruce: Prejudice

• In October 2010, the Al-Zubaydi family came to the United States from Uzbekistan and opened the Babylon Restaurant in downtown Lowell, Massachusetts. However, someone threw a 20-pound building stone through the restaurant’s front window, frightening the family, who wondered if they are victims of a hate crime because the father of the family is from Iraq. To show support for the family, 40 to 50 United States veterans showed up to eat at the restaurant on 10 January 2012. Vietnam veteran Patrick Scanlon, a local coordinator of Veterans for Peace and a man who works with refugees from Iraq, said that after the stone-throwing incident, “I went over and met with them … and they were scared. It had achieved its goal of intimidation and fear.” He added, “Something like that happens, it’s almost like a statement from the society, as far as they’re concerned. And, they don’t know if there’s other rock throwers out there … that are looking to harm them.” A man confessed to throwing the rock. Lowell police Superintendent Kenneth Lavallee said, “Unless this gentleman is lying to us — and I don’t believe that he is — he didn’t even know this restaurant was affiliated with people from Iraq.” Mr. Scanlon is doubtful. He said, “Now you’re caught, are you going to admit that, ‘Yeah, it’s a hate crime’? Why did he pick this one [building], that says ‘Middle Eastern Iraqi food’ on it?” Leyla Al-Zubaydi said about the veterans’ “eat-in”: “It was so awesome, you cannot even imagine. It was an honor for us to have them here and to see that support that they gave us.”

• In the summer of 1938, Germany was already displaying great prejudice toward Jews. A publishing company that was preparing a German translator of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel The Hobbitwrote him to make sure that he had no Jewish ancestry. Mr. Tolkien was not an anti-Semite, so he wrote a flat reply to the publishing company in which he declined to reveal anything of his ancestry. However, he felt that he had an obligation not to do anything to hurt the profits of his publishing company, Allen & Unwin, and so he drafted another reply to the German publishing company: “[…] I regret that I am not clear as what you intend by arisch [Aryan]. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewishorigin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.” Mr. Tolkien then sent both replies to Allen & Unwin and let the publishing company choose which reply to send. The publishing company sent the flat refusal to give the German publishing company any information about Mr. Tolkien’s ancestry. A German translation of The Hobbitdid not appear in print until 1957.

• In 1972, Yale University invited many black musicians to its campus in order to raise money for an African-American music department. The invitees included Eubie Blake, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Noble Sissle, Willie (the Lion) Smith, and Mary Lou Williams. While Dizzy Gillespie was leading a sextet in a performance, someone called in a bomb threat. The other musicians moved outside to play, but Mr. Mingus declined to do that, saying, “Racism planted that bomb, but racism ain’t strong enough to kill this music. If I’m going to die, I’m ready. But I’m going out playing ‘Sophisticated Lady.’” Outside, Mr. Gillespie and other musicians played Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady,” but from inside the theater building, whose doors were open, Mr. Mingus played his bass.

• British humorist Israel Zangwill was very capable of wit. An anti-Semite once talked at excessive length during a dinner party about the desirability of the women of the island of Tahiti. Finally, Mr. Zangwill asked him whether he had noticed anything else of interest on the island. The anti-Semite looked down his nose at Mr. Zangwill and replied, “What struck me most of all is that there were no Hebrews and no pigs,” “Is that so?” Mr. Zangwill said, “If you and I go there together, we shall make our fortunes.” By the way, Scottish writer Andrew Lang once wrote him a letter asking him to take part in a benefit. Mr. Zangwill wrote back, “If. A. Lang will, I. Zangwill.”

• Architect Frank Gehry was Jewish, and when he was serving in the US Army from 1954 to 1956, he occasionally ran into anti-Semitism. One Army sergeant called him by the slur “Kikey.” Mr. Gehry complained to his company’s commanding officer, who brushed off his complaint. Later, he complained to some officers he knew at the service club, and one officer told him, “Don’t worry about it. Give me his name.” Mr. Gehry did, and within three days the anti-Semitic sergeant learned that he had been transferred—to Alaska. When the sergeant told Mr. Gehry the news, Mr. Gehry replied, “I’m sure you’ll find lots of kikes up there.”

• Dick Clark loved music, and he loved the people who make music. During the Civil Rights Era, he used to take caravans of music stars through the South. Some of the stars were black, and some of the stars were white. Some venues told Mr. Clark that the white stars could perform there, but that the black stars could not perform there. Whenever that happened, Mr. Clark would cancel the entire concert, and then he and the stars would move on to the next venue.

• John Lewis, an African-American who was active during the Civil Rights Movement, suffered from prejudice while growing up in Pike County, Alabama. He was the son of sharecroppers, and when he went to the library to get a library card, the librarian told him that the library was for white people only. The story has a happy ending. He marched and helped get civil rights for his people, and he was elected to Congress. As an adult author, he went back to that same library for a book signing—and he got a library card.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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