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When prejudice jokes spoiled my evening coffee
by Thanos Kalamidas
2010-10-25 09:40:23
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To be honest I have no idea how many books, essays or articles I have read the last decades about fascism, prejudice and racism and I had the unfortunate chance to see all three in full practice through my travels, experiences and in my everyday life. After this time I have come to the conclusion that fascism – I think this word includes the other two and many more – and fascists are not identified by their ideology and theories but because their acts. And sadly I have met fascists that ideologically belong to the most liberal sides of the political spectrum and fortunately democrats that belong to the most conservative sides of the political spectrum.

The worst part of the words fascism and fascists is that the last decades they have been identified and connected – partly correctly but only partly – with Nazism, with Hitler, Mussolini and more recently with Stalin making it easy for anybody to say that they are not fascists because they hate the above stars. So you are not racist because you hate Hitler, you are not a fascist because you hate Mussolini and you are not prejudice because you hate Stalin. And of course I haven’t discover suddenly the wheel and I’m not going to prove how much the contemporary fascist, racist and prejudice parties use the above despite the fact that they dare call their party with totally prejudice names like the True Finns but something happened tonight that made me feel really sad and come with all those thoughts.

After a very tiring day including the radio show that drains me physically and mentally and a series of small and big hassles with the house I move I decided to end my evening with a cup of coffee at the local café, read my paper and have a few minutes of quiet relaxation. Unfortunately for me in the next table three young people in their mid-twenties, obviously students most likely exchange students in Finland started a conversation that was escalating louder and louder in a way that after a few minutes it was becoming more and more difficult not to listen. In the beginning I tried to avoid listening but one member of the trio obviously had just returned after a visit to Poland and he was describing the polish people using …Polish jokes the ones that travesty the intellect of group of people and I suppose we all have heard about different ethnic groups.

The think with those jokes is always the way you tell them and the way the people receive them and it will be a lie if any of us says that we never laughed with a similar joke or perhaps we never used one an evening after a couple of pints including the ones about blondes. But the trio had become really loud and the two who were listening the jokes had to add their “opinions” on the stupidness of the polish people making gradually or better forcing everybody in the same room listen to them. Oddly the trio feeling the silence in the room thought that they had become the entertainment of the evening continuing with more prejudice jokes and comments.

As most of the people who know me know in cases like that I find it difficult to keep my mouth shut so I asked the young man as calmly as I could if he had read the history of Poland before visiting the country, if he had any idea what this country had gone through the last century at least and if he had any sense on how prejudice even racist he sounded. The boy was taken aback from my interference for a moment but then he asked me if I’m from Poland missing the whole thing. And he continued apologizing if he insulted me still thinking that I’m Polish. I explained to him that I’m not Polish and that I didn’t have to be Polish to be insulted but another member of the trio came to support him saying that they are not racist or prejudice and they use those jokes casually to …laugh at the racism. I wanted to finish this conversation here and then because I could see that all of them were missing the point making one last remark that the next time they visit Poland it will good if they also visit Auswitch! Mea culpa, since the third member of the trio said quietly that I am a …Jew!!!

I put on my coat and I left wishing them goodnight and thanking them for spoiling my night. Something remarkable that I hadn’t notice till then but I noticed on my way out, while this exchange the customers in the other two tables had left!

Hours after I still wander how you could explain to these young people that their attitude was racist, prejudice – oddly they were even prejudice to me first asking if I was insulted supposing that I’m Polish and then thinking that I was a Jew – and they acted like fascists. I have to admit that I’m still numb and keep questioning myself if it would have been better if I had just shut my mouth and left the café just like the others had done before me. And I’m worrying, really worrying because these kids become the thriving soil of the fascist parties doesn’t matter the name nowadays instead of the hope for a better future and all that the day we just celebrated the birth of the United Nations for the global peace and prosperity without prejudice and racism for the common good.

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Emanuel Paparella2010-10-25 12:19:15
One of the most striking observations of the late Tony Judt, who was a professor of history at New York University and wrote a brilliant book on post-World War II Europe, was that he detected an immense and ever-growing gulf of ignorance separating his generation from the one he was teaching. He pointed out that when he lectured in class he often could tell from the vacant stares on their face that what he had taken for granted had to be explained, so his lesson plans had to be revised and his lectures took twice as long as they should have. He detected an ominous lack of common metaphors and cultural references which would eventually lead to history being repeated.

I know exactly what he was describing. We have come to the point that we need to explain who was Hitler, and what was the Holocaust, and who was Shakespeare and Dante and Socrates, never mind any allusion to their poetry or philosophy. Yet, this same generation is continually texting (even in class or when driving) and placing all kinds of inanities on their face-book and twitters. But it is a misleading sort of pseudo- literacy. It is the literacy of those who carry a book tablet to school and feel they don’t have to buy and read books any longer; they are scholars for the mere fact that they carry a million books in a tablet weighing a few ounces.

Hegel had not envisioned the 21st century and had it somewhat wrong: not everything that goes forward historically in time is necessarly progress; some of it is regression and ignorance pure and simple. What we are already witnessing is the sad literacy of the ignoremus with a cellular phone in a cave in Patagonia who calls another one in a cave in Mongolia, exchanges a few confused and naïve grunts and deludes himself that he is now in very good communication with the rest of the world. Your anecdote Thanos must have Tony Judt turning in his grave.

Thanos2010-10-26 05:58:57
And my luck with this generation didn't stop there, a few hours later I met another bright star who really made my day!

Anyway I still hope! :)

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