On Washroom Stalls and Wimpy Swastikas

I have a strange hobby. I collect pictures of antisemitic bathroom graffiti. Swastikas, general hateful statements, the more juvenile and jarring the better. This all started the day I began an internship in Middletown, Ohio. This small town, halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton, actually has a long history of a Jewish community, however, it has dwindled and does not include the obvious, yarmulke wearing Jews in its demographic. I was going to be working with adolescents who were court ordered to therapy through a drug diversion program. On my first day out there, I stopped at a Kroger to get a very large coffee, with which I hoped to energize myself for what was sure to be a day of learning and adjustments. When I entered this behemoth of a grocery store, I found myself feeling suddenly self conscious about my yarmulke. I was sure that no one in Middletown had seen one and I was going to be heckled for my religious attire. I pictured myself like Princess Buttercup in the scene from the Princess Bride, walking down the aisles with my conspicuous head gear, drawing jeers from the locals. I then began to internally rebuke myself for being so narcissistic. Really no one cares about me or my religious chapeau. I made my way to the bathroom, I’m sure to unconsciously take refuge from my own internal conflict.

When I entered the stall, I was still distracted by the back and forth of my discomfort, and my discomfort about my discomfort. Upon turning around to close the stall I was slapped in the face by the following words etched into the door:


Two things hit me at that moment:

1) My fear of Jew hatred was confirmed

2) Racists have terrible grammar.

All joking aside, these bathroom scribblings are all over the country. I’ve seen them in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Kentucky. While these places having racists may not be a surprise, the ubiquity of racist wall art is thought provoking. Why does hate end up on bathroom walls?

Psychologist Jack Schafer, PhD, in an attempt to explain the psychopathology of hate, formulated a seven stage model of hatred. The first stage is to gather together and form a hate group. Why? Because, as Dr Schafer says, “Not all insecure people are haters, but all haters are insecure people.” They need the company of other people to avoid introspecting and recognizing that their hatred is really of themselves and not the group that they claim is the source of their misery.

What we see in bathrooms is the preamble to gathering. It is when the decision is made to not look within, but, to hate without. It is when the bat signal goes out from one person who is thinking to use one of the most immature defenses one can, to see if their call will be answered by others who are doing the same.  The fear is that if they were to display their obvious infantile behavior, the world would see them for who they are: people who have decided that rather than look within and grow, they look without and wither. They start in the most private of spaces, and then they expand to the most public, marching in our streets and displaying the signs and symbols of their banal ideas, recycled from others who are too afraid of themselves to journey through the pathways of their own soul.

Much has been written about hate groups over the past two years. Is there more hate displayed now than there was before 2016? I’m not much of a stats man so any opinion I would render would be anecdotal. However, I do think that hate is like a sociological snowball. It gains speed and mass as it rolls downhill. It is an alluring idea that one can avoid his or her insecurities and instead hate others.

What we can do is root out this tendency in ourselves. A close friend and colleague always tells me, “Hate like that must be taught.” We need to teach ourselves that avoiding our fears about ourselves and projecting them on others is weak. Strength is found in the idea that we are inherently good, no matter what we may find inside. 


About the Author
Binyomin Yudin is a psychotherapist in private practice in Cincinnati, Ohio Born in Harrisburg, PA, and raised in Baltimore MD, he attended several yeshivos after high school eventually landing at Ner Israel in Baltimore until his marriage in 2002. He spent several years learning at kollelim in Israel, and after a stint in the rabbinate in St Louis, settled in Cincinnati, OH, with his family.
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