On December 16, in response to the murders in Jersey City, I posted about anti-Semitic violence in the New York metropolitan area. On December 31 I spoke about the conflict between certain elements of the transsexual community and radical feminists. There is a connection: angry people tend to strike out at whoever is lower in the pecking order, or seen as physically weaker and less able to retaliate. They rarely punch upward.
The pecking order is determined, of course, by both cultural and economic factors. I’ll begin with culture and discuss economics later. From earliest childhood we imbibe century-old and even millennia-old assumptions. We are taught to be subservient to those above us and cruel in a myriad of ways to those below—and to regard our behavior as natural, if we think about it at all (we mostly don’t). Members of racial and religious minorities, gays, women, and transpeople endure a steady rain of abuse, from casual put-downs and Hollywood stereotyping to catcalls and sexual harassment (if you’re female) to being followed around by store security (if you’re Black) to being passed over for employment or promotion, paid less, charged more for a mortgage loan or denied housing altogether (true for all categories). And this rain of abuse creates an atmosphere that justifies assault, rape, or even murder.
On occasion, however, the categories—lower status or physically weaker—cross. Most recently (between December 13 and 3), the New York City police reported eight more hate crimes against Jews—and that’s just within NYC. Those figures don’t even include the stabbings in Monsey, a suburb 33 miles north of the city. Although most of those charged with anti-Semitic hate crimes in the United States have been white men, in these most recent, widely publicized incidents, the attackers were African-American. Blacks are lower than Jews in social status, while Orthodox or Hassidic Jews are perceived as unable to defend themselves.
The news media has been in an uproar about this, though they haven’t been quite so exercised about the violence against certain other groups. To understand why, we might consider an upcoming report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, as cited in the New York Times, which states that anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — the nation’s three largest cities—are higher than they’ve been in any year since 2000. Jews have consistently been the most victimized group in New York. In the three cities taken as a whole, they “are now targeted as frequently as gay men and African-Americans.”
In other words, attacks against gays by straights and against Blacks by whites are normalized in our culture. What hasn’t been normalized is black violence against Jews—a transgression of the pecking order.
As I indicated above, from earliest childhood we are bombarded with messages about our place in society. Sometimes we accept them, in whole or in part. Sometimes we in the lower strata resist those messages and make loud demands for justice. Unsurprisingly, members of the upper ranks fight to keep their privileges. Women are raped because they enticed men. When Blacks are arrested in much larger numbers and given longer sentences than whites for the same crimes (e.g., possession of drugs), this is taken as proof of their inherent criminality.
The rhetoric spouted by our Tweeter-in-Chief and his administration is a major weapon in their war to restore the social hierarchy. According to an article in the Washington Post, counties that hosted a Trump rally in 2016 saw a 226% increase in hate crimes.
People within the lower ranks are set against each other, often deliberately. Jonathan Tobin, a neoconservative and Trump supporter, writes in Haaretz that most American Jews don’t care about violence against the ultra-Orthodox, and casts blame on liberal Jews. A blatant lie—the truth is that Jews of all stripes, including the most secular, have risen in support of the Hassidim. Tobin’s isn’t the only such article—I’ve read similar pieces by right-wing Jews slamming left-wing ones.
This brings me to the transsexual/radical feminist conflict. In my previous post I stated that the murderers of transwomen are heterosexual men, not radical feminists. But we don’t see transwomen activists going after men. Unfortunately, an angry and vociferous minority have gone after women who disagree with their politics, even to the point of physical violence. A reader who witnessed the incident at the San Francisco Dyke March corrected my previous account: the year preceding that march, certain transwomen activists put on a display at the S.F. Public Library, including a t-shirt splotched with red paint and bearing the legend, “I punch TERFs.” (For those who missed it, TERF stands for trans-exclusive radical feminist–and is a slur, comparable to a racial epithet.) At the Dyke March the following year, a small group of older lesbians carried signs objecting to the use of hormone blockers on preadolescents. A group of transwomen menaced them and assaulted one of the lesbians, knocking her to the ground. They also blasted the rest of the lesbian group with megaphones. I’m not sure who is lower on the social scale here, but people born female are likely to be physically smaller than people who were born and raised in male bodies–in other words, a safe target.
Feminists are divided on trans issues as well, even attacking those who disagree regarding the inclusion or exclusion of transwomen from events such as women’s music festivals, athletic competitions, and the like.
These have been dark times. Still, we’ve seen attempts to break through the barriers. In New York, members of both Black and Hassidic communities have had public meetings decrying the violence. Although the authorities have called for an increased police presence, leaders in both communities are opposed to this, pointing out that the police have a history of abusing Blacks and Hispanics, from “stop and frisk” laws to incidents such as the police murder of Eric Garner for selling loose cigarettes on the street. In Jersey City, Black and Hassidic groups cooperated to organize a food and toy drive during the holidays. These are good beginnings, but as positive as they are, it will take years to build good relationships.
Now to economics: I think of them as the skeleton of the tyrannosaurus, and the cultural factors as its flesh. Both are necessary for the creature to survive. Yet there has been very little discussion of the economic factors behind the violence in New York. What I’ve gleaned is that Hassidim who’ve been priced out of the city have moved to New Jersey or other outlying areas, while Blacks in those areas are being pushed out or bought out, or getting hit with rent increases. A similar gentrification process happened in Harlem.
Of course this isn’t just happening in New York. During the real estate bubble that preceded the 2008 crash, Black and Hispanic communities were targeted by banks, particularly Wells Fargo, for subprime mortgages. When the bubble finally burst, the borrowers lost their life savings—the money they’d used for down payments. Minority communities (and many poor whites as well) were drained of their wealth. The banks made a killing. Newly-elected President Obama bailed out the financial institutions and put the bankers in charge of the economy. He did nothing for the people evicted from their homes. None of the defrauded would-be homeowners stormed the gated communities where Wall Street CEOs live, not with torches and pitchforks and certainly not with the kind of weaponry used in Jersey City. Going after someone on the next block or a subway stop away is much easier.
It’s no surprise that the increase in hate and the ramping up of the culture wars coincide with a vast increase in economic inequality. We need to tackle both the flesh and bones of the tyrannosaurus to bring it down.