There was a time when white men could say anything they wished with impunity. They could call someone a “N—-,” a “c*&t,” a “fag,” or a “kike,” and no one would say a word. Today, these men say these things and are shocked when people object, pointing out their racist, sexist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic rhetoric. “When did everyone get so over sensitive,” they ask. Well, people have not suddenly become sensitive to this type of language; they were always offended, but back in the day they had no way of expressing their offense. Mass media and social media, as well as societal shifts brought about by the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and LGBT Rights movements, have changed this calculus.
I recently tweeted this, pointing out that white men have not lost their freedom of speech but have lost their freedom from the consequences of their speech. The reaction was swift and rapidly became anti-Semitic. Of the tweets I received, one in particular stands out:
What caught my attention was the hash tag #MerchantSpotting, an obvious reference to The Merchant of Venice. What was also obvious was that the creator of this hash tag has never read nor seen a production of The Merchant of Venice. How else do you explain creating a meme to express the degenerate nature of Jews by using an example of how hegemony uses institutional racism to maintain its position and power?
When Antonio comes to Shylock to borrow 3,000 ducats, Shylock sees an opportunity to strike back at a competitor who has used his position as a member of the majority culture to collude with other lenders to create a business environment hostile to outsiders. He creates a bond with a stipulation so horrific that the courts will either have to enforce it, thus humiliating and literally wounding Antonio, or find in favor of Antonio, thus exposing their hypocrisy. What Shylock does not count on is the depth of anti-Semitism in Venice. Anti-Semitism is not only present in the individual members of the community but has been institutionalized in the legal system itself.
When Antonio defaults on the bond, the court awards Shylock a Pyrrhic victory: he can collect his pound of flesh but only if he can collect it without drawing any blood as blood is not included in the bond. The court then offers Shylock the opportunity to collect triple the bond in cash but only if he agrees to convert to Christianity.
Ironic, isn’t it. A presentation of a marginalized person being crushed by institutional racism being used as evidence of “Jewish World Domination.” Next time, think before you meme.