I’ve wanted to write this article since I came back from a party this New Year’s. I never expected to end up having to spend my New Year’s arguing with a Neo Nazi. However, I in no way regret experiencing that encounter.
The Neo Nazi knew I was Jewish. I had met him before on campus, and had shared a course with him before. The topic he was most interested in was my Jewishness. That was what the bulk of what the conversation was about — him going off about “Jewish privilege,” evil Jewish plots and Jews secretly controlling the country. You know, typical New Year’s talking points.
Other people there in the room were understandably horrified by his remarks. A few asked why I was bothering to even talk to him at all. One person asked me how I wasn’t just furious due to listening to him. Another person asked me a question which mirrored a statement I heard from a guest scholar at UW Tacoma last year, in which the scholar informed me that there is no benefit to having a discussion with a bigot. I disagreed with that statement when I first heard it, and I rejected it even more when I actually got the chance to converse with a bigot myself.
For me, though, as weird as it might be to say this: I enjoyed that conversation. I’m not going to claim that I wasn’t upset at any point, but overall, I was fascinated by the entire exchange I found myself in. I got to experience a lengthy discussion with someone who legitimately hates Jewish people, and was able to hear from his own mouth why he hates them. It was a visceral experience that reading about Anti-Semitism online simply couldn’t hope to represent. I will never be sorry I had that experience.
As would most likely be assumed, I didn’t stay in that conversation with the intent to have my own mind changed about the “Jewish problem.” Neither did I expect to change his mind on the matter. Instead, both he and I were able to speak our minds about the issue. He was able to voice, to a Jew, exactly why he hates Jews. For me, I was able to explain to a Neo Nazi — to his face — why I believe his perspectives are skewed. We both got to be completely transparent. The conflict was not suppressed, nor was it forced to live in shadows. It was out in the open for others to see.
That is how I believe — whenever possible — contentious beliefs and bigoted beliefs should be discussed. Unless it presents a real safety concern of some kind, it can be beneficial to allow these discussions to manifest, and to not immediately shut them down. Change is unlikely to occur without discourse, and discourse can’t exist if it is perpetually squelched. Sometimes, transparency is the best method of bringing issues into the light.