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The Effects of Myths on Societal Racism

Myths are a part of society even today. As a child you are told that the boogieman lives in your closet, that Santa Claus brings you Christmas presents, and that the tooth fairy brings you money for your teeth. Yet as soon as children grow up and start questioning the world they soon realize that these are just made up stories used to control young minds and behaviors. But what would happen if the adults believed in the myth? What would a society be like if everyone thought that the boogieman was real or that there really was a monster that lived under the bed? Between 1890 and 1930 was a time when a group of people did believe in legends similar to Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster. People believed that there were legends of Jews murdering Christian children and drinking their blood during the feast of Passover (Mosse 260). This was not just an innocent story, like Santa Claus, but a horrible legend believed by thousands. During this time, there were no less than twelve trials of Jews for ritual murders, (Mosse 260) for these people who were thought to be participating in this legend. This myth caused an extreme separation between the Jews and the rest of society out of fear that the legend was true. The second myth of the time was that of the wandering Jew, which was thought to be symbolic of the cursed fate of the Jewish people (Mosse 261). It was believed that the figure of Ahasverus appears in the legend as a Jew who sped Christ along to his crucifixion and refused him comfort or shelter (Mosse 261). The wandering Jew, or sometimes referred to as the wicked Jew, is thought to wander Earth, neither dead nor alive, without a home, despised as rootless and disinherited. This myth only added to the separation of the Jews because they were though to be like gypsies, homeless and rootless. Both of these myths were thought to be real and had a profound affects on the people living in this time, as seen in their attitudes towards the Jews. But how could there be such a strong myth against one group of people in a society? I believe all legends are created to explain events. Some might have originated from a grain of truth, but their main goal is to make sense of the unexplained. Both of these legends offered an explanation and coherence in a world of industrialization, instability, and bewildering social change (Mosse 261). The Jews were also blamed for famines, sickness, and all manner of natural catastrophes (Mosse 260). This group of people had been an outlet of blame for a long time and this gave the legends

that much more believability. Although legends can explain horrible events, they only work if society is willing to go along with them. In this case if enough of society disagreed, or just did not believe, the myths would have not had such an impact, and would have just died out. But this act of not believing or simply questioning takes courage. People have to be willing to stand up against the legend, which could mean risking being a target, themselves. And for most people, even today, that is not an option. More people would rather disagree quietly than voice their opinion and possible be the next target. This is where I believe racism in a society comes from. I believe social racism is born from quiet compliance. People are not loners by nature. We are driven to gather in groups, live in families, socialize in communities; the perfect place for racism to exist, grow, and flourish. Dont get me wrong I believe people individually can be racist, but I think that for a society to be considered racist there has to be a belief against a group of people, and a group of nonbelievers fowling the belief silently. For example these legends or myths did not make this society racist, but the fact that no one would stand up against it makes the group collectively racist against the Jews. It would be the same concept if a group of people saw a murder and no one said anything, they are guilty as well. In order for a person to not be racist in a racist society they would have to openly go against the norm, which is hard. Social conforming is a strong component of community, valued deeply here in the modern world as evidenced by all our cultural norms embedded in most organizations that support and defend such ideas. Take into consideration public education. We raise children from 4.5 years old to follow the rules, be obedient, stand in line, circle up, single file, desks in rows, bells at 9:05 sharp, dress codes, citizenship grades, etc. All which are designed to indoctrinate our obsession with conforming. We reward our youth by being good followers of such norms; good students get the awards. We prey on their desire to please the authority figure. The fear of stepping out of the norm is so strong that most dont dare, and this is how a society can become silent and let a few raciest people lead them into remaining silent while following them. Although society should have stood up against these myths I also believe that under the surface they had an impact. They allowed nonbelievers to stand by and watch horrible things happen to the Jews because they were indoctrinated to hearing and seeing it happen. These legends would have desensitized them, in my opinion. It would be like growing up in a household where parents swear. The child would be less likely to think anything of it if he or she swore in public.

The child might know its wrong but he or she would also believe that it was normal, leading them to believe on some level it is an acceptable action. This desensitization is one major factor in being able to lead the silent sheep into social racism. Along with this desensitization I believe that these myths were the seeds of prejudices. Its like what Fanon said in his book Toward the African Revolution, Racism is therefore not a constant of the human spirit (pg. 41). Here I believe he is talking about how racism is not meant to be apart of the human spirit from the beginning, but once a seed is planted, no matter how small, it will grow. This seed of prejudice grew from these myths into the horrible acts to follow: the Holocausts. Fanon also says, A society has race prejudice or it has not. There are no degrees of prejudice (pg. 41). Here I also believe he is talking about the same idea of the raciest seed. Once a society has the notion of prejudice- a myth- then that will grow and possibly lead to actions, as it did with the Jews. Although legends do not directly lead to societal racism, I do believe it has an impact. It provides the desensitization needed to lead the brain washed followers. But I believe if individual people had the courage and the ability to break out of the group, to stand up against the hatred then there would be a lot less racism in the world that we live in today.

Works Cited Fanon, Frantz. Toward the African Revolution; Political Essays. New York: Monthly Review, 1967. 31-44. Print. Mosse, George L. "The Jews: Myth and Counter-Myth." Theories of Race and Racism: a Reader. Ed. Les Back and John Solomos. London: Routledge, 2000. 260-70. Print.