A funny thing happened in the week between Kyrie Irving tweeting a link to a movie with antisemitic themes, his suspension by the Brooklyn Nets for five games and his apology for the tweet: A lot of people turned up with advanced degrees I didn’t realize they had.
I haven’t seen these degrees up close, like hanging on the walls in their cribs, or seen them conferred via livestreams at their commencements. But they definitely exist. They must. There’s no other way to explain the number of subject matter experts who have appeared on my social media timelines putting forward various defenses for Irving’s behavior, not just in this instance but the numerous times when one of the most talented athletes on the planet somehow lost control of his extremities and ended up with his foot in his mouth.
In seven day’s time, I’ve learned that I know etymologists who are experts at breaking down the origins and evolution of the word “Semitic”—always to the conclusion that it doesn’t correlate to the Jewish people or culture, and therefore attaching the prefix “anti-” can’t actually describe Irving nor the film he linked to.
I also found out I know quite a few people whose occupations lie somewhere between cultural anthropologist and theological historian, with an emphasis on northeast Africa and the Middle East. These cats have boned up on the various emigration patterns, political conflict and wars over roughly 10 centuries that have shaped both ethnic identity and religious practice in the modern day. Again, all that information leads to the same conclusion where Irving is concerned: he can’t possibly have been anti-Semitic, because history is on his side.
All of it is, of course, pseudo-intellectual bullshit from people who haven’t cracked a history book since that one elective back in undergrad and have never been anywhere near a seminary or yeshiva. It’s an unserious discussion from people who, like Irving, think they’re smarter than anyone in their social media feeds by virtue of being contrarian and because they’ve “done their research,” which in this case consists of watching the trailer Irving linked to (but not actually paying $3.99 to watch and digest the entire film), screen-shotting the results to a few Google searches and cribbing half-lucid highlights from Ye’s recent greatest hits.
It’s disheartening but not lost on me that Irving’s most emphatic sycophants, at least in my world, are other Black men. That’s not an indictment along the lines of race and gender so much as an observation and acknowledgment that many otherwise reasonable, even well-educated dudes are repeating a longstanding pattern of latching onto conspiracy theories that help them rationalize the vacuum of political and economic agency that remains unaddressed in our community, particularly among men. If we lack safety in our own neighborhoods, control over our economic fortunes, capital with which to build our own businesses and political clout to forge or force policy solutions to address any of it, the thinking goes, it’s because someone is actively conspiring to take those things away.
And if you know anything about the facts of American history—chattel slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, redlining, COINTELPRO, police departments infiltrated by white supremacist groups, all sanctioned by this country’s government—then you understand why conspiracy theories aren’t difficult for many of us to latch onto, even while acknowledging the reality that anti-Semitism from Black people is real, and ugly and unacceptable, full stop.