On Hatred and Continuums: DeSean Jackson and GK Chesterton

July 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Apparently Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receiver, DeSean Jackson, said something stupid on satellite radio last week, using homophobic slurs to shut down a caller. He later apologised on Twitter, but followed that up with a stupid comment about himself being the victim of people trying to take him down, though he has since deleted that tweet and replaced it with more apologies.  Big deal, right? Well, sort of. See, Jackson has done a lot of good work in the world on behalf of bullied children, and bullying a belligerent caller makes him, well, a bully and therefore a hypocrite.

But the larger issue is the gay slur. Dan Graziano of ESPN comments that this hardly makes Jackson a homophobe, it just makes him stupid. “Gay” is a multi-faceted term, and is often used as a putdown or a dismissal in much the same way “sucks” is. That doesn’t make it right, however. In fact, it makes it offensive. For sure, Jackson wasn’t thinking of the deeper significance of the slur when he used it, but the very fact that “gay” is used in a negative connotation to note something sucks is problematic. “Gay” is a negative term in this sense, and that, I would argue, connects it to homophobia, even though it might not actually be homophobic. Either way, there is a continuum here.

I read all of this this morning after having read the most recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement I have received, due to the Canada Post strike.  It’s dated 10 June.  Anyway, the feature review is a discussion of two recent works on G.K. Chesterton (it’s behind the Times’ paywall, so I haven’t linked it here). I am no expert on Chesterton, in fact, I have never read him, nor am I all that likely to do so in the future, so take this for what it’s worth.

In discussing Ian Ker’s new biography of Chesterton, G.K. Chesterton: A Biography, reviewer Bernard Manzo discusses the charges of anti-Semitism against Chesterton.  First, let it be clear that Chesterton lived during a time when anti-Semitism was fashionable in the European and North American world. Second, anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism.  Both Ker and Manzo attempt to downplay Chesterton’s anti-Semitism, to qualify it. I’m not so sure.

Both Manzo and Ker point out that Chesterton did not believe Jews to be capable of being Italian, English, French, etc., due to the simple fact that they were Jews, and that “Jews should be represented by Jews and ruled by Jews” and that they should have their own homeland. Indeed, Chesterton argued that all Christians should be Zionist, though, ironically, he also argued that no Christian should be an anti-Semite. Ironic because he was one.

Chesterton also argued that those Jews who lived in other countries should be sent to homelands, not unlike that imagined by Michael Chabon in his novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Or perhaps, more to the point, not unlike the “homelands” for black South Africans during the Apartheid era, or reserves for aboriginals in Canada, or, ghettos for Jews in Nazi Europe. But Ker (and Manzo) think that this could not have been the logical outcome for Chesterton, who was “perfectly sincere” in his suggestion that Jews be excluded from mainstream society.

Both Ker and Manzo play down this anti-Semitism, arguing that it needs to be cast in light of Chesterton’s deep abhorrence of Nazism and its vicious anti-Semitism in the years before his death in 1936. I remain unconvinced. Certainly, Chesterton’s anti-Semitism did not advocate the extreme ends of Hitler and the Nazis. But that doesn’t make it ok. It doesn’t mean that Chesterton was not an anti-Semite. Qualifications such as that made by Ker and Manzo are problematic, in that they simply point to complications  of character.

Certainly, we are complicated creatures, we have internal contradictions and ambiguities, that’s what makes us human. But it should not let Chesterton off the hook anymore than noting that he lived in an era when anti-Semitism was fashionable.  Daniel Jonah Goldhagen has argued that Nazism was the logical outcome of this pan-Atlantic world anti-Semitism (he is less successful in arguing Germans were complicit in the Holocaust). If this is indeed the case, then Chesterton belongs on the continuum of Atlantic world anti-Semitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And attempts to discount it like those of Ker and Manzo are simply intellectual gymnastics and reek of intellectual dishonesty.

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