DeSean Jackson’s Anti-Semitic Social Media Posts Don’t Empower Black People
In case you missed it, DeSean Jackson, a wide receiver with the Philadelphia Eagles, posted anti-Semitic content on his social media, including a quote that’s been misattributed to Adolf Hitler, which said, in part, white Jews “will blackmail America. [They] will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.” He was excoriated and apologized, after denying he was anti-Semitic. Stephen Jackson leapt into the fray to defend him for “speaking the truth” and took to his Instagram to speak about the issue.
The naked anti-Semitism was shocking coming from people with quite a lot to lose, but it’s deeper than that. The statement that set this all off was so irrational, so bizarre, so idiotic, such obvious conspiracist nonsense. Why did DeShaun Jackson believe it and share it, and why did Stephen Jackson defend it so vociferously?
The genre of fake quote DeShaun Jackson shared is something of a staple in certain parts of the internet. The quotes are disinformation that’s been deliberately created. The irony at the heart of these campaigns to expose non-existent conspiracies is that they are the conspiracy. In this case, it is to spread propaganda scapegoating Jewish people. This information is targeted at people who aren’t well-informed and don’t have the knowledge or tools to assess the quality of the sources of the information they receive. DeSean Jackson appears to be such a person. It’s not just about poor media literacy, though. Sharing that quote as something positive is deeply troubling. This wasn’t a dogwhistle. Words that were attributed to Adolf Hitler explicitly targeted Jewish people of European descent as a group, assigned nefarious motives to them, and pitted them against Black people. What does “blackmail America” even mean? It’s all too vague and inflammatory to even make sense. That’s how this style of propaganda works, though. The inflammatory invective riles people up, and they’re primed to accept the vague, unsubstantiated “facts” presented as the truth.
Other questions are: why did DeSean Jackson feel comfortable sharing this content, and why did Stephen Jackson feel compelled to defend the posts as “the truth”? The Overton Window on discussions of systemic racism has moved a lot over the past several weeks. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” has been embraced (some reasonably say co-opted) by people and institutions you wouldn’t have expected. NASCAR’s role and leadership in this evolving world has been particularly surprising. Mass protests and civil unrest drove this change, and it’s provided cover. DeShaun and Stephen Jackson may have overestimated the extent of that cover and assumed it would protect their anti-Semitic speech. Of course it didn’t. And it shouldn’t have.
Stephen Jackson’s close personal ties to George Floyd allowed him to speak about Floyd’s killing with an emotion and passion that moved listeners. He was emerging as a leader. That may have been derailed, even though he told CNN’s Don Lemon that he “used the wrong words” to defend DeSean Jackson. One of the ironies of this situation is how often Stephen Jackson talks about “common sense” and how lacking it is in society. Tagging yourself in after watching someone getting rightfully dragged for anti-Semitic speech that’s been attributed to Adolf Hitler isn’t exercising common sense. Neither is jumping on Instagram Live to freestyle hotep madlibs about the fallout.
We live in a world where wealth is venerated. Having access to the power of wealth has positive connotations. Not everyone realizes that when they discuss Jewish people’s perceived connections to wealth, particularly through banking, they are giving life to very old and harmful anti-Semitic tropes. They don’t know the history. That’s not what happened here, though. Jewish people of European descent were demonized and scapegoated as a group through words attributed to Adolf Hitler. This is what DeSean Jackson tethered himself to, but somehow, he was shocked that the people descended from those who survived the Holocaust might not take it well. It’s the arrogance of the obliviousness that’s most upsetting about all this. It’s not plausible to me that DeSean and Stephen Jackson didn’t know this would hurt Jewish people. They didn’t seem to care. And they can miss me with the “It was taken the wrong way; I don’t hate anybody” pablum. They wouldn’t accept it in cases of anti-Black racism, and they shouldn’t expect Jewish people to accept it in response to anti-Semitism.
Progressive Jewish Americans have historically been among Black Americans’ most reliable allies in the fight for civil rights. That is complicated by anti-Blackness in the Jewish community. There are difficult conversations to be had about these matters. People like Louis Farrakhan, whom DeSean Jackson praised in his posts, derail these conversations. I heard a radio address of Farrakhan telling women their place was to learn to cook and sew when I was a teenager and dropped him like a hot rock. The ideal world he described wasn’t one I wanted any part of. Years later, learning that Farrakhan refers to Jewish people as termites cemented that decision as right in my mind. I don’t understand the insinct to minimize using that kind of language against any group, much less people who were the target of genocide in living memory and have to face down depraved white supremacists destroying their cemeteries and shooting up their synagogues. I often wonder why these aren’t bright lines for other people. DeSean and Stephen Jackson aren’t the only ones to blame here. Incredibly harmful anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have been normalized in certain circles. That may help explain the casual manner in which DeSean Jackson tossed out those posts. Perhaps he expected them to be received in the same manner. I’m glad they weren’t. Anti-Semitism isn’t part of any reasonable response to anti-Blackness and will do nothing to empower Black communities.