An article popped up in a group chat on Messenger.
The title read: “They yelled ‘Heil Hitler’ at me”.
I decided to open it up and have a read.
The article detailed the experience of two Jewish boys who’d been persecuted at Brighton Secondary College; the high school I had attended many years prior.
I am a young progressive Jewish woman.
I am what one would consider culturally Jewish.
I am a confident person, I speak my mind, I speak out against injustices – I like to think so anyway.
As I read through the suffering that these two brothers had endured, it felt all too familiar.
I began to go through each experience that was detailed in the article as if it were a checklist.
‘Yep, I’ve had that said to me; yep, I’ve had that thrown at me; yep, I’ve been called that before’ I thought to myself.
It became clear to me that my experience at Brighton Secondary College was not all that dissimilar to the experience of these two brothers.
Some of the occurrences I recall included:
- Having coins thrown at me.
- Having coins thrown on the ground to see if I would pick them up.
- Being referred to as a Jew (not to acknowledge my religion or ethnicity but rather in instances where I wouldn’t willingly share my lunch or lend a friend some of my lunch money).
- “Don’t be such a Jew!” they would say. This would regularly be used as an insult to even those who weren’t Jewish. Just to highlight when a student did not give another student what they wanted.
- The words ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewish’ were used as synonyms for words like stringy, tight, or frugal.
- Peers telling me they’ll put me in the oven if I said something that bothered them.
The biggest epiphany I had whilst reading this article was that reflecting on my experience at Brighton, I never felt as though my friends and peers were ever being racist towards me, I truly never considered any of it to be antisemitism.
Many of them were my friends, and I’m ashamed to say this but I genuinely found it amusing at the time (so I thought), and so I laughed with them so I wouldn’t be laughed at.
You see, I never saw those comments and the behaviour for what it truly was and the adverse impact it had, not only on victims but also on the contribution to the culture of Brighton Secondary College.
Teachers were aware of what was going on, the comments, the behaviours, all of it.
I never reported it, as I said I didn’t consider it to be a problem.
I was grossly unaware and completely ignorant of the implications.
I didn’t connect the historic suffering of persecuted people with ‘light-hearted’ comments made in today’s world.
This doesn’t just apply to Jewish people but rather every group of people who have ever been victim to systemic racism, generational trauma, or harassment and bullying of any kind.
What we needed was the school to incite a healthy discussion around what our words and behaviours actually meant.
The impact they have and so much more.
“Zero-tolerance policy’ means nothing if you’re not comprehensively educating ALL students on the problem.
Brighton Secondary College failed me, like many students before and after me.
While I got after school detention for wearing white socks with my winter uniform, my peers, who threatened to put me in an oven never even got the opportunity to understand why their comment was so abhorrent, let alone detention.
We owe it to our future generation to do better, our education system can be instrumental in preventing experiences like mine and of these two boys.
Looking back, I don’t know if it was apathy or blatant antisemitism that led the teachers and administrators of the school to turn a blind eye but they cannot deny that they did, and evidently continue to.