I was riding in the bus this morning, near my new home in South Tel Aviv. Out the window, I saw the following graffito*, which at first caused me to double-take, and then sent me off into almost an hour of rumination on the truth-seeking imperative and rhetorical brilliance of de-collectivization. It was:
After glancing at it a second time, I realized that it was sprayed by two different people (ie., the original, “Gays are Nazis and Nazis are Gays” was re-tagged and completely altered by the addition of two “Some”s). And I was minorly blown away.
Ok, sure, fine, I’ll explain.
I imagine most folks, especially those involved in political discourse but those less involved as well, encounter on a fairly regular basis statements describing entire collective social (ethnic/racial/sexual/religious/gender, etc.) groups.** Usually these statements are pejorative, like the one above, or like: “Palestinians are violent” or “Women don’t make good politicians” or fill in the “_____s are ____ ” blanks with a billion other collectivizations, really. Sometimes they are [seemingly] less pejorative: “Jews are rich” or “Black people are good at sports,” et cetera. But these latter statements, just like the former cluster, are equally dehumanizing: they claim that because someone is part of a certain group, then they must be a certain way.***
If we take even a moment to think about this, we realize immediately that such collectivizations cannot possibly be true: No social groups members are all a certain way. And yet, when we encounter these statements, I think many of us (or, at least I do (let’s de-collectivize)) often respond in kind:
“Palestinians are violent!”
“No, Palestinians are not violent!”
Even as we are trying to combat ignorance, stereotyping and collectivization, we end up doing the same thing, and making statements that, despite their best intentions, are untrue, and in some cases even absurd: If I respond to someone who tells me that “Palestinians are violent” by saying “Palestinians are not violent,” I end up saying something that isn’t true, faltering rhetorically and allowing myself to be dragged down to the level of collectivization.
The addition of a single word, as in the graffito above, radically changes the entire discourse, using accuracy and truth (and, in this case, humor) to unveil the absurdity of the original statement. Refusing to angelify any demonized social group, refusing to give legitimacy to a certain type of discourse. Let’s try it out:
“Palestinians are violent!”
“Some Palestinians are violent. So are some Israelis.”
“Fine, most Palestinians are violent!”
“Have you met most Palestinians?”
“Fine, many Palestinians are violent!”
“Have you met many Palestinians?”
So, in sum, I loved this graffito and its lesson on the brilliance of the “some.” With that, I might have taken this one a bit farther:
*I realize that using the correct Italian singular form of “graffiti” may make me sound like a complete tool (“Well, I do say, Quinton, did you perchance happen to notice the scandalous graffito outside of our mansion?”). And yet, I can’t not: it is an unbearably charming and pleasing word. And yes, I would love a panino.
**Social groups as contrasted to political groups or ideological groups, ie., I think it would be way less problematic to say “KKK members are racist” or “Politicians are corrupt,” and even in those statements, the group is being described not as being a certain way but as acting a certain way: KKK members have the option and the capacity to stop being racist (in this case, by forgoing membership).
***Rather than behave a certain way. Saying: “Settlers are hateful” is wrong, collectivizing and absolute unverifiable. Saying “Settlers are benefiting from a system which separates and discriminates between national groups” has a better shot at hitting on truth.