Rick Sanchez and the Jewish Question
CNN news anchor Rick Sanchez found himself dropped into the ranks of the unemployed after an interview in which he disparaged Jon Stewart as a bigot, asserted that Jews controlled his network and the larger news media, and closed by mocking the idea that Jews are an oppressed minority. There are two things you can’t say unless you’re Jewish or black: one is that older Jews are possessed of their own unique racism, and the other is the word nigger. The former accusation was leveled by Jon Stewart at his own father; the latter pejorative is used as a term of endearment by some African-Americans, a fact which other African Americans bemoan. Sanchez is Hispanic. If anything, he noted the obvious: Jews have achieved remarkable rank and stature for themselves throughout the news media’s executive ranks. So what?
If anything, I’ve always admired the Jewish people for their innate ability to survive and thrive in the harshest of conditions. I don’t resent them for their success. I actually enjoy rooting for the underdog in life, and there is no underdog that has achieved as much over seemingly insurmountable odds. The Jewish people have been burned, hung, drawn, quartered, pillaged, raped, gassed, expelled from various nations, incarcerated in ghettos the world over, and yet they have endured. More power to them.
The great irony of their story is that for all of their ability to accrue great success and fortune, the Jews have been unable to repel the aggression of those who sought to do them harm. The Jewish narrative is proof that capital alone does not connote meaningful power in the face of brute force. Jews have created wealth wherever they have been allowed to live and work, wealth which has benefited many countries throughout history due to the fact that wealth is taxed. The resentment of the Jewish people for their success has been a kind of suicidal obsession among anti-Semites. Hitler was ultimately undone by his absolute hatred of the Jews and the irrational actions he took to eradicate them. European monarchs found that after the Jews were expelled from their kingdoms, the wealth they left behind was of little use. It was finite; the Jews alone had possessed a unique gift to multiply wealth through genius and hard work.
Are the Jews an oppressed minority? They have certainly been a persecuted minority. However, the great triumph of the Jewish people is that they do not accept oppression. They refuse to be defeated. Persecutions come, and persecutors go, but the Jewish people stubbornly endure through unimaginable suffering and hatred to become greater than ever. It’s an insult to call such a people oppressed. What the rest of us can learn about the Jewish people is that even when stripped of their wealth, their status, and their protections under the law, they endure regardless.
Those who choose to wallow in self-pity over the various slights they receive from society, be it racial profiling or increased attention from law enforcement, or higher rates of interest on mortgages, would do well to learn from the Jews. Very few of us have ever faced the threat of wholesale extermination as a race. We’ve never been deracinated and forced to leave an entire country while our wealth remained behind to be pilfered by the thugs of the state which expelled us. The problem I have with what Rick Sanchez had to say is this: here’s a Hispanic news anchor with a lucrative career, and he is still dominated by his resentments rather than shaped by the obvious reality that his hard work and personal achievement enabled him to be looked at as something other than a Mexican.
Therein lies the problem with oppressed minorities and the victimology narrative they spin. Ultimately, oppressed minorities seek to weave a story which justifies their failure and excuses it due to some grand conspiracy against their kind. Even when a member of their ranks makes it and stands as proof that a person can be judged by the content of their character and the competency of their labor, they very often choose their resentment over celebration. Rick Sanchez squandered a career in his embittered rant. He was proof that a Hispanic male from lesser means could rise to the pinnacle of the broadcasting world. He was more than that; he was an example to other Hispanics, and he squandered that example.
Much of the problem with oppression is that it is self-imposed. We choose not to rise above the obstacles and bigotries of a world that disparages us on the grounds of gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, or any other classification. We choose defeat rather than a fight. We capitulate without even giving much of an effort.
I grew up poor for the better part of my first nineteen years on this Earth. I grew up in a house with holes in the wall. Our bathroom had holes in the floor and the walls through which the outside world was visible. Our house was infested with cockroaches, and there were times when my father had no work and relatives brought us food. My father had a heart attack my sophomore year and was declared disabled by his cardiologist. My mother had to resort to working for minimum wage at a daycare in order to support a family of six while bureaucrats made my father wait over a year to receive disability benefits.
I remember being cognizant of how the world viewed poor people. If you were poor, it was because you were ignorant and inferior. Somehow you deserved your lot in life, even if you were a child. You would not and could not amount to anything because you obviously didn’t have what it took. After all, your parents were poor, and you were made of the same stuff they were made of; how could you be anything greater?
In school, I heard the taunts about my Rustler jeans and the bobo shoes from Payless my father brought me for eight dollars. It was soul-crushing to be subjected to it day in and day out. My parents were both miserable with their lot in life as well, and thus our house was often unpleasant. In seventh grade, I was accused of plagiarizing a paper I wrote in class as I sat less than five feet away from the teacher’s desk. She had no book to prove that I had plagiarized; her basis for accusing me was that I could not have written that good of a paper. After my parents went to the school and protested, and the school took a look at my standardized test scores and the fact that prior teachers would attest to my ability to write well, she was forced to assign me something other than an F. After acknowledging that there were sophomores in the high school who couldn’t write as well as I could, she gave me a B.
The basis for her assumption was that I was poor. Poor kids are just not that good. They lack the ability to achieve because they come from poor parents who lacked the ability to make anything of themselves beyond being poor. The next year my parents paid off their debts and gained the ability to buy our school clothes from the actual mall. I showed up to school in Levi’s Orange Tab jeans and realized that the clothes did make the man. People who had incessantly ridiculed me noted the difference and treated me like an actual mammal.
I was hardened by these experiences. As much as it hurt, I was unbowed. I made it through high school, eventually finding my niche on academic teams and graduating with a scholarship. I went to college and found instructors who helped me develop my writing ability. In short, I refused to resign myself to the narrative someone else had written for my kind. I was not poor white trash.
I’m not saying that I ever faced a segregated lunch counter or a lynch mob. No one burned a cross in our yard. I was never threatened by goose-stepping storm troopers. It was awful to endure what I endured, but it wasn’t on the level of real oppression. Much of what we call oppression today isn’t.
People will be ugly to you as a matter of due course. They will make crass and insensitive remarks, and they will try to crush your spirit. It’s the nature of human beings to be resentful and envious of anyone who resists the mold society tries to impose upon your kind. The world looks at racial minorities and the poor (the two are often one and the same), and believes that they should know their role and their place. The penalties for resisting those roles usually come in the form of insults and intimidation; they rarely rise to the level of serious mortal danger. The world is an ugly place to live because most human beings are ugly people. That doesn’t mean that you have to be ugly yourself.
Years later I saw the teacher who accused me of plagiarism. She was the faculty sponsor of another high school we competed against in Scholar’s Bowl. We obliterated her squad, and afterwards I walked up to her and extended my hand. She recognized me and blanched. There I was, living and breathing proof that everything she had assumed about an entire group of human beings was wrong. It was deeply satisfying, but to be honest, I wanted to decapitate and disembowel her.
If being stubbornly persistent and refusing to accept terms imposed by others who seek to define you at a perpetual disadvantage makes one Jewish, I am a Jew. What I am not and will never be is oppressed. My neck strains at whatever yoke is placed upon it until the yoke breaks. The greatest oppression for me would be to give in to my wrath towards those who are less than me. If I had decapitated and disemboweled my former teacher, that would have been oppressive to me. I would have given in to her definition of my kind.
I simply refuse to capitulate. Stephanie Bromley can burn in hell. I hope that heaven has a place where I can watch her burn. Vengeance might belong to God, but the celebration thereafter belongs to me. There are any number of people I have hated in my life, on a level which very few normal individuals can comprehend. I have long ago recognized a capacity for cruelty within my being. I usually don’t give in to it because I refuse to be defined by what I believe to my worst qualities.
My pride prevents me from losing control and giving into my anger. It prevents me from losing control and saying the sorts of things that Rick Sanchez said on a radio show. I don’t believe that Rick Sanchez had enough pride to refrain and bite his tongue. I also believe that Rick Sanchez was being honest about his worldview, even though that worldview is demonstrably flawed from a logical standpoint. Everyone is a bigot. Jon Stewart is bigoted against Republican males with guns and Bibles. Rick Sanchez is bigoted against anyone who doesn’t kowtow to his viewpoints on oppression. I am bigoted against those who can’t look beyond stereotypes to see an individual person with unique aptitudes and gifts.
I am also bigoted against the likes of those who constantly choose to wallow in their bigotry rather than summoning up the pride and self-control to overcome that bigotry. It’s not that I’m a saint; it’s that I am an inherently vain person who doesn’t want to sully his own image by saying something stupid. I believe that I am better than most people I meet. I loathe the idea of looking worse than others. If you want to be oppressed, you can choose to take on that role. If you do, fuck you. I’m a revolutionary and I choose to fight against anyone who tries to impose their terms on me. I have no time for victims and cowards. Take up your swords and cut their throats. Prove them wrong. Don’t whine.
There will be the requisite recriminations and useless pontifications which inevitably follow such outbursts. But really, what is the point? If you’re Jewish, do you really want to claim the mantle of oppression for yourself? Yours is a story of triumph, courage, and perseverance. In refusing to allow that yoke to fall to your neck, you won’t be proving the point of some half-wit bloviating fool. You’ll be refusing a label too often imposed upon you by others who seek to deny your obvious strength and power. Rick Sanchez will never be right about Jews. None of the bigots who repeat his quack theories and regurgitate such stereotypes ever are right about any group they pontificate about to anyone narrow-minded enough to listen.
An oppressed people accepts it lot and perishes as a result. The Jews live. They live as an example to everyone of what is possible if you simply choose to live rather than resigning yourself to death. The Jews do not make excuses; they make success in whatever circumstance they find themselves. I aspire to that level of tenacity.