Religious and educational officials say what some have characterized as derogatory comments made by two South Carolina Republican chairmen about Jews points to the negative impact of stereotypes regarding any race or ethnic group.
Bamberg County Republican Party Chairman Edwin O. Merwin Jr. of Denmark and Orangeburg County Republican Party Chairman James S. Ulmer Jr. of North have apologized for using what many have termed as a disparaging remark against Jews in an editorial column in support of Republican Sen. Jim DeMint. The piece was published in the Sunday, Oct. 18, edition of The Times and Democrat and at TheTandD.com.
They wrote: “There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy go that way not be watching dollars, but instead taking care of pennies and the dollars taking are of themselves.”
A few Jewish rabbis from across the state said they do not find the phrase complimentary…
Rabbi Hesh Epstein is executive director of The Chabad of South Carolina, a Columbia-based Jewish education organization. He said anyone — not just political leaders — should be careful about over-generalizing members of any race or ethnic group.
“We gotta be careful about stereotypes, putting people into any kind of category that makes them feel uncomfortable. Even if a person doesn’t mean anything negative about it, you still have to be very careful about how your words are perceived by those that are being discussed,” said Epstein, noting that a better understanding of Jewish history and culture is perhaps needed.
“It’s very important to be aware of what are the sensitive issues that people face. The issue is not political. It’s a human issue, one that will hopefully lead to understanding of various ethnic and religious groups, what their story and historical experiences are and what the hot button issues are that can lead to prejudice and misunderstanding,” Epstein said.
Epstein said stereotyping is a “dangerous” practice that affects not just the Jewish community but all races in a negative way.
“Nobody likes to be stereotyped no matter race, gender or ethnicity. Labels are for clothing and not for people. It would be good for people who use these phrases to do a little research. They might have a better understanding of why the Jewish community finds it so offensive,” he said.
Rabbi Doron Aizenman, executive director of the Chabad of Myrtle Beach, said while he has never personally encountered any stereotypical or derogatory remarks during his 23 years in the state, they are generally offensive. He says the people who use or reference stereotypes are in a class of their own.
“I usually look at is as a point of weakness. I look at it as an insecurity. I look at it as somebody that is trying to maybe not stand behind his action and his position and divert it to non-issues. Do your work and talk about the issues. Improve what’s good. Take away what’s not and we won’t need to hide behind any remarks that are not acceptable,” Aizenman said.
In his apology statement, Ulmer said that he “quoted a statement which I have heard many times in my life, truly in admiration for a method of bettering one’s lot in life.”
Dr. Roosevelt Ratliff Jr., a professor and assistant vice president of leadership development at Claflin University, said eliminating stereotypes has been his “life’s work.” He said education and training are the best way to attack them and their usage.
“On the general scale, all of us are victimized. Japanese-Americans for example. We fought a war with them. The war is over, so they are Japanese-Americans. They are not Japs. There are people that dislike Jews because they are part of the American economy through department store ownerships like Nieman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s,” said Ratliff, who said it’s not only uneducated people who engage in stereotypical thinking.
“A lot of educated folks think that way, too. I am familiar with well-known scientists who have written about the intellectual inferiority of the African-American. Many times free speech and the constitutional right of free speech is also misused to divide and polarize people. Rush Limbaugh is a good example,” Ratliff said.