There’s a difference between being an anti-Semite and being culturally insensitive. Lebron James has recently made headlines for tweeting controversial lyrics from a 21 Savage song: “We getting that Jewish money. Everything is Kosher.” Many have decried James as an anti-Semite, calling his apology insincere. Some have waved off the controversy, ignoring the negativity that emerges from the ideology that Jews only care about money and materialism.
Disclaimer: I do not personally know Lebron James. And although I am a Lakers fan, I have no insider knowledge about his feelings towards Jewish people, or any people for that matter. My only stake in this conversation is that it becomes a conversation and not another instance of one side claiming to be more right than the opposing side.
Many Black Americans (and others) do not view 21 Savage’s lyrics as bigoted or racist because getting money is not seen as a negative thing. Historically, Black Americans have been actively prevented from economic success by institutionalized racism. Because of this, there are many of us who view succeeding economically as something to aspire to, not to look down upon. That being said, Jews are intimately aware of how economic success has been used as a negative trope against us historically and currently. There are politicians, citizens, and the like who use the perceived economic success of the Jewish people as a way to further spread their conspiracies of Jewish cabals running the world. This is one reason why speaking in the manner that 21 Savage did about “Jewish money” is at best, culturally insensitive.
The conversation to be had is not whether Lebron James is an anti-Semite because of his tweet, but rather why those lyrics are controversial AND why some may view them as inspirational. My hope is that this leads to a cross-cultural conversation on the power of stereotypes and how they leave some groups feeling targeted and others confused by why they are offended.