I think it’s fair to say that I am not the most tactful person in the world – people who know me can attest to that. I am lover of very dark humour and I’m partial to very inappropriate jokes.
For years now I have been involved in a friendly tit-for-tat with a Jewish friend of mine about which people have it worse – and by people, I mean the Blacks and the Jews (there is a comedy series in there somewhere). And for years we have been pressing each other’s buttons to see how far from the boundaries of taste we can stray before we truly offend each other. The problem with these jousts was that we both seemed pretty impervious to insults based on our race/religion. He could call me a slave or use the N word as much as he wanted and I could make as many gas chamber jokes as possible and frankly it didn’t mean much – we just never bit the bait… until recently.
Now the jokes are being received differently than they were in the past– every joke has been met with an obvious expression of hurt. I’ll be honest, I found this strange at first. This is the guy that has been calling me Gary Coleman’s blacker twin for as long as I can remember. And my tired jokes of whether his mother used gas as a painkiller when giving birth to him was the same joke I’ve been telling from as far back as 2008, before the last Israel and Palestine war. It’s just jokes right?
At the core of our friendship is a simple understanding and acknowledgement of the shared experience of grave injustice that people of African heritage and Jews have endured. The fact that both ‘our people’ have been wronged made the jokes alright because they were coming from a place of understanding. But here is the problem – while there has been rumours that my great, great grandmother on my mother’s side (or something like that) was part white (German in fact, fancy that?), and so there is probably a chance that I have some slave blood, my friend’s grandparents lived the nightmare we joke about.
And so those jokes, as well meaning and playful as they are, seem unfair. The idea that once upon a time in many parts of the world, people with a skin complexion similar to my wife’s would consider black folks such as myself to be nothing more than cattle is an abstract thought – it almost sounds too outlandish to be true. I am not saying that racism doesn’t exist today, it absolutely does and I have experienced it, but racism to that extreme scale?
And to be fair, the persecution and mass killing of Jewish people sounds like an ancient biblical reference – but the problem is that for Jewish folks, the horrors from that dreadful period in the 30’s and 40’s are still alive and well. So as much as I disagree with Israel’s tactics in the current war against Palestine, I absolutely understand why millions of Jews consider the war as a form of self defense. Israel’s neighbours have directly threatened their existence and you don’t have to look far in Arabian politics to find anti-Jewish sentiments.
There is a little HBO film called Conspiracy (2001), which features Sir Kenneth Branagh, Colin ‘loved by every English woman’ Firth and that bloke from The Hunger Games (Stanley Tucci). I have always thought that this film is the most potent and most chilling movie I’ve seen on the subject of the Holocaust – and this is a film basically about a bunch of men sitting in a room having a meeting. The problem is the men sitting in the room are all Nazis and the meeting is about the ‘final solution’.
It is a film that brutally reminds you, in a matter of fact way, that not so long ago in Europe people thought Jewish folks were sub-human. They spoke of the Jews as if they were a disease and a problem that needed to be fixed, either by sterilization or driving them out of Europe or gassing them to death. I have no idea whether such a meeting took place, but I wouldn’t bet against it that is for sure.
I am not trying to say that the atrocities of the Second World War is reason enough to support Israel’s action against Gaza. I find a lot of Israel’s actions abhorrent and troubling to say the least. But I understand why Jews and Israel are not willing to belittle the threat they face from Hamas and most of their neighbours in the region.
Conspiracy is not as headline grabbing as the more well known Holocaust films, such as Schindler’s List, but in my opinion it is just as powerful. And serves as a reminder of how evil human beings can be – even when they’re just sitting around a table having a chat.