When Judging Anti-Semitism, Should We Accept Ignorance As An Excuse?

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 10: Meyers Leonard #11 of the Portland Trail Blazers reacts against the Sacramento Kings in the third quarter during their game at Moda Center on April 10, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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On Monday, Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard appeared to direct an anti-Semitic slur towards another player while streaming a “Call of Duty” game on Twitch.

“F***ing cowards. Don’t f***ing snipe me. You f***ing k**e b**ch,” Leonard was heard saying during the stream.

In response to the almost immediate backlash, Meyers Leonard posted an apology to his Instagram account.

“While I didn’t know what the word meant at the time, my ignorance about its history and how offensive it is to the Jewish community is absolutely not an excuse and I was just wrong,” Leonard wrote.

“I am now more aware of its meaning and I am committed to properly seeking out people who can help educate me about this type of hate and how we can fight it,” he continued. 

“I acknowledge and own my mistake and there’s no running from something like this that is so hurtful to someone else. This is not a proper representation of who I am and I want to apologize to the Arisons, my teammates, coaches, front office, and everyone associated with the Miami Heat organization, to my family, to our loyal fans and to others in the Jewish community who I have hurt. I promise to do better and know that my future actions will be more powerful than my use of this word.”

In what is now a familiar routine, Leonard was placed on “indefinite” leave by the Miami Heat, and his various sponsors announced that they had terminated his contracts, effective immediately.

Such instances, especially in the context of the broader subject of “cancelation,” are often lumped together as binary judgements of bigotry, where all that matters are the words or actions used. All other factors, such as context, intent, or timing are dismissed.

However, Leonard’s doubtlessly anti-Semitic statement — and his latter apology — does raise an important question. Should ignorance be accepted as an excuse when partnered with genuine regret?

Yes. Yes it should.

In a sensible world, intent is a necessary component of bigotry. For example, there’s a clear difference between a Jewish comedian telling a Jewish joke with the goal of making a satirical statement about anti-Semitism and a company’s director telling that same joke during a corporate conference. This isn’t to say that they are not both examples of bigotry in some form, but that such bigotry lies upon a scale of severity.

Given the existence of this scale, let’s look at an even more extreme example. Is there a difference between a child who says “k**e” and an anti-Semitic propagandist who uses the same word? If your answer — as it should be — is yes, then ignorance itself should be a relevant factor when judging the use of such anti-Semitic slurs.

It’s more than possible that Meyers Leonard is telling the truth, and that he didn’t know that k**e was an anti-Semitic slur. After all, we are all guilty of using various non-politically correct terms without fully understanding their etymology. Even as a Jewish person, I didn’t learn about the word k**e until well into my late teens, which indicates that a young non-Jewish basketball player could easily have never been exposed to its true meaning.

Ultimately, if we are to unite over the rejection of bigotry, it’s imperative that we do so understanding that other factors should first be considered. When ignorance is a reasonable factor at play, it should at least be considered as an acceptable diluting force upon the gravity of the linguistic offense.

Otherwise, how will we ever grow? Otherwise, how will we ever forgive?

Ian Haworth is an Editor and Writer for The Daily Wire. Follow him on Twitter at @ighaworth.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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