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Another act of disrespect

Melvin B. Miller
Another act of disrespect
“The only way to avoid racial and religious conflict is to treat everyone with respect.”

There is no humor in genocide. The oppression and slaughter of others simply because they adhere to a different religion or belong to another racial or ethnic group reflect the nadir of human development. Nonetheless, arrogant students from the Harvard Lampoon, the college humor magazine, decided to challenge civilized sensitivity for a joke involving Anne Frank.

Anne Frank has become an inviolable symbol of the Holocaust. She was born in Frankfurt am Main, but she moved to Amsterdam with her family after the Nazis invaded Poland. When the Germans then invaded the Netherlands her father created a hiding place for the family in his work space. Anne was captured and ultimately sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she died at the age of 15. Her diaries were later published, thus creating an extraordinary account of her life under the Nazis.

The purported Lampoon joke was to place an image of Anne Frank’s face on the body of a bikini-clad mature woman with the text above “Gone Before Her Time: Virtual Aging Technology Shows Us What Anne Frank Would Have Looked Like If She Hadn’t Died.” Below the text “Add this to your list of reasons the Holocaust sucked.”

The common reaction of those who saw the picture is that it was tasteless and vulgar. According to the Boston Globe, Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg, the executive director and chaplain for Harvard Hillel, protested in a letter to the Lampoon in which he stated, you “effectively join yourselves to the obscenity of the Nazis themselves and carry it forward.”

Robert Trestan, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New England office, was even more critical when he stated, according to the Globe report, the Lampoon is “using humor as an excuse to trivialize the Holocaust, and it’s deeply offensive, as well as anti-Semitic.” While the students are indeed guilty of gross insensitivity, their offense does not reasonably include anti-Semitism. There is no evidence of a hatred of Jews, a denial of the Holocaust, or the attribution to Jews of offensive characteristics. The incident primarily involved disrespect for a historically significant symbol.

It appears that the ADL has established a more refined standard for what constitutes anti-Semitism. In the interest of religious and racial equality, such a standard of decorous treatment should apply to all groups. Surprisingly, the ADL did not find it offensive or inappropriate for David Jacobs to assume the right to use the title “The Boston Guardian” for his local newspaper. “The Boston Guardian” is an iconic publishing title for Boston’s black community. Established in 1901, The Boston Guardian became the voice of its editor, William Monroe Trotter, Harvard’s first black Phi Beta Kappa, class of 1895. Trotter emerged as a significant national black leader, and by his death in 1934 The Boston Guardian was established as an icon of black efforts for racial equality in America.

Subsequent black publications joined the Guardian’s battle for civil rights, but out of respect for Trotter none infringed on Trotter’s historically preserved reputation by alienating his exclusive right to the name of his paper. Even the Bay State Banner that followed in Trotter’s footsteps would not callously presume rights to the Guardian title.

Just as it would be disrespectful to use the term “Anne Frank” outside its historical reference, so is it inappropriate to entitle a newspaper “The Boston Guardian,” especially when its subject matter is totally unrelated to the standards of justice and racial equality established by Trotter. While it might be legally permissible to breach such decorum, from the perspective of many blacks this continuing insult is even more offensive than the profane display of Anne Frank by the Harvard Lampoon.

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