Racism and anti-Semitism are two forms of discrimination that have been practiced in the USA for generations. Historians indicate that racism was a core foundation of the United States of America as a white society and it resulted in the destruction of the native Indian population and the usage of Black slaves to provide labor for the new nation’s economy.
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Anti-Semitism on the other hand is discrimination directed towards the Jewish people and the US State Department defines anti-Semitism as “hatred toward Jews -individually and as a group- that can be attributed to the Jewish religion and/or ethnicity” (Falk, 2008, p.6). Both racism and anti-Semitism have historically been used to justify abuse perpetrated by Whites against other groups.
They both make it acceptable for the non-White groups to be treated without human consideration since they are perceived as inferior creatures with adverse repercussions being felt by the victims and the society at large.
However, there have been significant changes in the society and as a result of government initiatives and civil rights movements, both racism and anti-Semitism has been purged from many parts of our society.
This paper will argue that while racism and anti-Semitism still exists in the US, it is not a big problem since it has been, and will continue to be, on a steady decline throughout the country.
A case for the Decline in Racism and Anti-Semitism
Key has been on a steady decline in the USA with equal opportunities being afforded to members of all races. A key indicator supporting this argument is the emergence of the African American middle class.
Before the 1970s, racial discrimination was a significant problem in the US and political and socio-economic barriers existed which gave white Americans advantages over other groups, most notably of whom were the African Americans. Racism had been used as a justification for discriminatory actions perpetrated against other races by white Americans.
In that time, there was marginal representation of minority groups in the middle and upper classes of society. Due to civil activism in the US, these oppressive barriers were removed and there has been a marked decline in racism with all racial group being given opportunities to advance.
Today socio-economic mobility among African Americans, who are were historically the most disadvantaged minority group, is a valid indicator of declining racism in the US (Okamara, 2011). Racism was for many years a significant barrier to socio-economic mobility and its abolishment gave the minorities a chance to gain higher socio-economic status.
Racism is characterized by the lack of political representation by the minority groups. This is not the cause in the US where minority groups have gained significant political power in the past 4 decades.
Perhaps the greatest symbol of this increasing political visibility of minorities was seen in Obama’s victory in the 2008 which clearly highlighted the diminishing influence of racism in America.
He won the presidency by gaining a substantial majority of African American, Asian American and Latino votes and a considerable proportion of white votes (Okamara, 2011). If racial prejudices had been prevalent in America, it would have been impossible for Obama to win the election due to hi Black American background.
The legal victories achieved by African Americans in the 1960s through the civil rights movements played a monumental role in abolishing racism in the US. Members of all minority groups in the USA today have numerous opportunities and achievements that their ancestors did not have (Perlmutter, 2009).
Race may never be transcended and the idea of getting “beyond race” may remain a utopian objective. However, racism can and is being combated by the government and communities and the racism problem in America is at a historically all time low.
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Opinion polls indicate that popular racial attitudes in the country have changed significantly in the past four decades with most American’s adopting a non-racial stance.
Jews in the USA enjoy similar rights as all other citizens and they are not subjected to any of the political, social, or economic barriers that traditionally define anti-Semitism. This is in contrast to the suspicion with which some Jews are treated in many European countries.
Dinnerstein (2004) notes that in many areas of American society, Jews are accepted and they are not regarded as a “minority group” in need of societal assistance or governmental protection.
The Jews have been able to thrive both culturally and economically in the US which is an indicator that anti-Semitism tendencies are low. Interfaith marriages for Jews and Catholics are about 50% which demonstrates how integrated Jews are becoming into the American society (Perlmutter, 2009).
The opinions expressed by a country’s political elite often serve as a gauge of the population’s attitude on specific topics. This is because the politicians seek to popularize themselves by aligning themselves to the popular views.
In past two elections, politicians have identified themselves with Jews in a bid to publicize themselves and hence gain greater votes (Dinnerstein, 2004). If politicians viewed anti-Semitism as a significant factor in the US, they would seek to disassociate themselves from the Jews.
The fact that many of them are currently trying to embrace and identify with Jews in the US demonstrates that anti-Semitism is growing to insignificant proportions in the US.
Public opinion towards Jews has in the past decades become favorable with the ethnic group being viewed more positively today than it was in the pat decades. In polls conducted in 1945 where the question “Do the Jews have too much influence and power in this country?”, 67 percent of Americans answered in the affirmative.
By 1962, only 17 percent of Americans shared this view. The figure fell to a mere 13 percent in 2009 (Baum and Shimon, 2011).
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which is an outspoken defense organization that responds to anti-Semitic acts and statements records that there were 104 anti-Semitic cases reported in police departments in 2011 which was a decline from the 134 incidents reported in 2010.
Arguments that Racism and Anti-Semitism are major Problems
The concept of race which is denounced by some post-racialist scholars as “a crude anachronism… that is now an outmoded idea”, continues to exist in modern day America (Okamara, 2011, p.134). The claims that racism is not a problem in the US are negated by the stark racial inequalities in employment, education, healthcare, wealth, political representation and other socio-economic measures.
While many academics and media spokespersons continue to argue that the civil rights movements achieved racial justice and the US is a post-racial society, racial equality is yet to be achieved (Okamara, 2011).
Racism still continues to be used as a tool for advancing the economic interests of the white population in the US. Wallis (2007) asserts that racism originates in “dominance and provides the social rationale and philosophical justification for debasing, degrading, and doing violence to people on the basis of color” (p.198).
The heart of racism was and continues to be economic in nature and as such, the economic inequality between whites and minority groups is an obvious sign of the propagation of racism in present day America.
In terms of income, “the median for white Americans is $48,500 while that for African Americans is $31000” (Wallis, 2007, p.199). This combined with the fact that African Americans suffer from poverty rates that are twice as high as that of whites is a sure sign of economic inequality.
There has been an upsurge of anti-Israeli sentiments since 2000 and this are said to result in anti-Semitism. Today’s popular media has become more critical of Israel’s actions against Palestinians with Israel, and by extension the Jews being painted as the aggressors The Associated Press (2012).
Americans have therefore begun viewing Jews with suspicion and hate due to their perceived cause of the Palestinians suffering. This is in spite of the fact that most Jews in America do not necessarily support the actions perpetrated by the Israeli government against Palestinians.
Anti-Semitism continues to occur in America with incidents of violence which is fueled by hate for Jews being perpetrated. Specifically, there have been incidents of violence directed against the Jewish community in many locations all over the USA.
Earlier on the year, two Synagogues in New Jersey came under firebomb attacks (The Associated Press, 2012). This arson attacks were aimed at the Jewish worshipers by an individual who held strong anti-Semitic views. This is a clear indication that anti-Semitism still exists in the US.
While it is true that inequalities exist in employment, education, healthcare and other social economic measures, this cannot be attributed primarily to racism. It is a fact that the lowest economic paradigm has a high percentage of minorities (African Americans and Latinos); however, this is no real proof that racism exists since white Americans are also included in this lower tier.
Perlmutter (2009) states that minority groups, which were once victimized by racism, have reaped significant benefits in terms of employment opportunities and education in the course of the past decades. There is a growing class of middle-class blacks and other minorities which shows that racism is not to be blamed for the economic underachievement of the others.
Racism is note being used today as a tool to advance the socio-economic advantage of the white Americans. On the contrary, amendments for the effects of racism practiced by previous generations are being made by the government.
As can be seen from opinion polls, personal attitudes of many American’s have moved from embracing Racism to viewing each person on his individual merit in spite of his color. The structural forces that previously fostered racism have been abolished in the years following the civil rights movements and today laws exist that deter racism.
According to research, prejudices decrease as educational levels among a country’s population increases. This is because higher educational levels resulted in increase tolerance for cultural and racial differences. Perlmutter (2009) reveals that the measures such as affirmative actions and programs that target minorities have been initiated to ensure that resources are distributed in an equitable manner.
While it is true that the media is today more critical of Israel, this criticism does not hint at anti-Semitism. In the past, anti-Semitism was defined by political, social, and economic barriers imposed against the Jews. This view has changed and many Jews today equate any hostility towards Israel as an indicator of anti-Semitism.
As it currently stands, most of the claims that there is growing anti-Semitism in America are as a result of the stance that many Americans take concerning the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Many Jews fear that criticism of Israel and its policies vis-a-vis Palestinians automatically implies anti-Semitism.
Finkelstein (2005) suggests that there is great misinformation by Jewish Lobby groups with the issue of anti-Semitism being blown out of proportions.
For example, poll results which indicated that many Europeans felt that Jews still talked too much about the Holocaust was seen as sufficient indication of anti-Semitism among Europeans. However, Dinnerstein (2004, p.54) strongly asserts that “it is possible to be anti-Israel without being anti-Semitic”.
Without a doubt, there are some isolated incidents of anti-Semitism which occur in the USA. These incidents have in most cases involved the use of violence against the Jews as a result of deep hatred from the perpetrator of the crimes. The manner in which these occurrences have been reported by the media has led to an exaggeration of the problem.
The media has a habit of sensationalizing instances of anti-Semitism and giving them more attention than they warrant. As a result of this, the anti-Semitism issue in America appears to be escalating while in actual fact matters are improving.
To further compound the issue, whenever Jews hear of this incidents, they instinctively react as thought this incidents were widespread and indeed the rule and not the exceptions (Dinnerstein, 2004). This exaggerations paint a wrong picture of what is actually happening all over the country.
Perlmutter (2009) best articulates this by saying that while racism and anti-Semitism is not dead, it is nowhere what it was a century or a decade ago.
This paper set out to argue that while racism and anti-Semitism are still alive in the United States, they are not a problem. It has been highlighted that incidents of racism and anti-Semitism have greatly decreased in the US over the past few decades.
These decreases can be attributed to the recognition by citizens and the government that racism and anti-Semitism have had degenerative effects on the society. The country has therefore made significant progress in addressing the problems of racism and anti-Semitism with great success.
The alleged rise in anti-Semitism and racism is therefore more a perception than a reality since the facts indicate that there has been a decline in both racism and anti-Semitism within the US.
Even so, the paper has been kin to point out that these two vices have not entirely disappeared and there are still individual bigots who hold racist and anti-Semitic views and members of extremist groups who continue to be outspoken racists. The country should therefore continue to be vigilant so as to completely eradicate the racial and anti-Semitic problem that has plagued the nation for generations.
Baum, S. and Shimon, S. (2011). Anti-Semitism Explained. NY: University Press of America.
Dinnerstein, L. (2004). Is there a new anti-Semitism in the United States? Society, 23(3) 53-58.
Falk, A. (2008). Anti-Semitism: a history and psychoanalysis of contemporary hatred. NY: ABC-CLIO.
Finkelstein, G. N. (2005). Beyond Chutzpah: on the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. California: University of California Press.
Okamara, J.Y. (2011). Barack Obama as the post-racial candidate for a post-racial America: perspectives from Asian America and Hawaii. Patterns of Prejudice, 45(1), 133-153.
Perlmutter, P. (2009). The Decline of Bigotry in America. Social Science and Public Policy, 46(6), 517-521.
The Associated Press (2012). Firebombing at 2 Synagogues in New Jersey Lead to Arrest. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/nyregion/arrest-in-firebombings-of-2-nj-synagogues.html?ref=antisemitism
Wallis, J. (2007). America’s original sin: the legacy of white racism. Cross currents, 23(3), 197-202.