Jews, Girls and Saving the World

by Elsa Lilja Gunnarsdottir

Have you ever wondered why prices are often listed as 9.99 or 99.99 instead of just 10 or 100? The seller will round it up and make you pay the full dollar, so what is the point of listing the price like that if it’s not the price you’re actually paying?

It is widely claimed that Jews came up with sales trick. People think of things as cheaper if it says 99.99 dollars instead of 100 dollars because their minds automatically block out whatever is behind the dot.

The fact is, Jews are probably not the source of this pricing strategy. According to many articles, the concept of the odd number pricing strategy originated in the late 1800’s, invented by newspaper publisher Melville E. Stone. There has been some debate about why he chose this strategy, but the most popular beliefs are either to make his own newspaper, Chicago Daily news, more competitive or to prevent theft by employees.[1] Where the rumor that Jews invented this concept originated, however, is unsure. There are few records of Stone’s religion; his father was a Methodist, but his mother’s religion is unknown. While is a common belief among many elders and chat forum discussions that Jews invented this psychological pricing strategy, there is no proof that this is a fact.

Pink was originally a color for boys. In the early 1900’s people decided that the two colors blue and pink should be assigned to children by gender. There was a debate as to which color should belong to whom, but in 1918 an editorial in the magazine “Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department” claimed that pink was a” stronger more determined color” (like blood) and blue was more “delicate and dainty”. Therefore, pink should be the color an infant boy should wear, and blue should be for girls.[2]

The idea that Jews are “greedy” wasn’t something that happened in the “anti-Semitic” years of World War II. This idea actually emerged in the 11th century in medieval Europe. This idea was somewhat due to the fact that Jews were legally restricted to work as usurers, a practice which Christians weren’t allowed to participate in.[3] Usurers were people who lent out money with excessive interest rates. Or in other words, making money for lending money. Jewish financers soon became very wealthy. Christians, who were lended money from Jews in this fashion, lost a lot when they had to pay them back. They reacted with uprisings, imprisonment and expulsions of Jews.

A disagreement arose in 1927 as to which gender should be designated the color blue, and which should be designated pink. Different stores advocated which color they thought was coherent to which gender. In 1940, for no apparent reason, pink was designated for girls. No questions asked.

Although the massive genocide that occurred during World War II is perhaps the most commonly known massacre of people of Jewish heritage, it is far from the only violent attack this religious group has experienced. In fact, violent mob attacks against Jews has been given their own definition: pogroms. This term originated in the 19th and 20th century to describe attacks on Jews in the Russian Empire, often condoned by mobs, state police and even military.[4]

It is hard to believe how frequently killings of Jews have occurred. There are several instances throughout history: the First Crusade in 1096 when peasants from France and Germany attacked Jewish communities[5], massacres of Spanish Jews in 1391[6] and, who can forget, The Holocaust. But the expulsions and harsh treatment of Jews did not end with the Holocaust. From 1948- around 1973 during the Arab-Israeli war, nearly 1 million Jews were expelled from their homes in Arab countries.[7] In 1953 Soviet dictator Josef Stalin falsely accused Jewish doctors of plotting to poison and kill the soviet leadership. [8]They were captured and tortured, but after Stalin’s death they were revealed as innocent. Although it is difficult to know exactly why he accused them of this, deliberate poisoning by Jewish doctors was an accusation commonly made by anti-semites in medieval times. They blamed Jews for causing the “Black Plague” by poisoning wells in Europe.[9]

Crying used to be a sign of manliness. In the culture of ancient Greece, men were expected to cry as a sign of honoring their family. This wasn’t only in Greece; crying as one of the greatest signs of manliness was an idea in many cultures through the Middle Ages to the Romantic Movement. A man crying was celebrated as a sign of honesty, integrity, bravery and strength. Japanese samurais and medieval heroes often cried after their battles.

When it comes to ideas and images that people have of one another, stereotypes that exist about ethnic groups, gender, religious groups, and even appearances and clothing style, I often wonder, how did these labels emerge? Some blame biology. For instance, man is stronger than woman. But does this “rule” always apply? What if we compare a female body builder to a slender boy who has never seen the inside of a gym in his life? Are they comparable? That should prove that although our muscles are built differently, there is an exception to every rule.

I read an article about common, well-known gender stereotypes that used to be exactly opposite. It was interesting to see how these stereotypes all of a sudden shifted for no apparent reason, and remain this way today. Some stereotypes may have less of a root in reality, and are mainly judgments based on a few people. Like for instance, when did Asians become such bad drivers? In what century did blondes become stupid? Who invented the term “nerd” and decided that it should be a derogatory term for those who strive to do well academically?  

In middle school, there were trends of swear words that became popular. For some reason, calling someone a Jew was one of those. Some older people have told me that in the youth of their generation, calling someone a Jew was the same as calling someone greedy. But in middle school, when someone would call another a Jew, it had nothing to do with being greedy. It was just considered funny. Although I assume that their intention wasn’t really to discriminate (just an odd sense of humor), it can be interpreted as quite offensive. Personally, I just felt it was unjustified, and because of the war and brutality against Jews, it may have been a bit unfair to rip up the wounds. I thought it was time to bury the hatchet and stop patronizing Jews.

On March 5th 2012, a video was launched on Youtube and various other social networks and media channels. The video went viral over night, and as of now, has over 100 million views on youtube and vimeo.[10] The video was made by an organization called “Invisible Children Inc.“ whose purpose is to create awareness around the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA is a militant group, lead by Joseph Kony, operating in northern Uganda and near, known for abducting children and forcing them to do brutal things.[11] The point of the video was to order for Kony’s arrest, and the video claims that due to the attention this campaign has created, the U.S. has agreed to send troops to help capture him. Although I sincerely doubt anyone would say that that Kony and the LRA are a good thing, the solution that this video suggests has been called somewhat questionable. Evidently, an enormous amount of people responded to this video with the intention of supporting the campaign and helping people that had been affected – saving Uganda. Many people believed that they were doing a great thing by giving financial support to the Invisible Children and buying a so-called “action-kit” containing a t-shirt, bracelets among other things that had the label “Kony 2012” written on them. However, many disagreed. In fact, many Ugandans posted video responses to the Kony 2012 video claiming that they were sceptical to the campaign.

A while after the video was launched, many people living in Uganda had not yet heard of the campaign, even after about 17 million other people around the world already had. When a charity organization arranged a screening in Northern Uganda, the response wasn’t as positive as it had been in the West. Many natives and people who had been directly affected by Kony and the LRA didn’t understand why they weren’t told first, and why no one had asked if they needed the help before launching this campaign.[12] Others claimed they supported the campaign for Kony’s arrest, but that some of the solutions the Kony 2012 video proposed were not quite right. “If people in those countries care about us, they will not wear t-shirts with Joseph Kony’s face on them for any reason, that would just celebrate our suffering,” claims a man who lost his arm and many of his friends due to landmines as they were trying to escape the LRA. Others were angry and did not understand why there were mostly white men in the video and little depiction of what actually happened to their people. Many Ugandan video bloggers, either living in the States where the campaign was launched or in Uganda where the terror was happening, claimed that this campaign is about 6-10 years late. Many said that Kony hasn’t struck for a long time and that they see no reason why this campaign should be launched in 2012.

Another critique about this campaign is that it is very typical of Western states to see themselves as the heroes that need to come and save the “poor Africans.” In an article in the Huffington post regarding the Kony 2012 campaign, The Atlantic’s Max Fisher states that the campaign “Subtly reinforces an idea that has been one of Africa’s biggest disasters: that well-meaning Westerners need to come in and fix it.” Many Ugandans have claimed that they have become offended by the campaign, because they say it makes it seem like they are helpless.

Ugandan blogger Rosebell Kagumire claims the campaign simplifies the story of millions of people in Northern Uganda and that it creates an image of Uganda’s situation as hopeless, that the people of Uganda can only be saved by people from other continents.[13] Further she explains that there are many local initiatives doing something about the problem, and that it is a much more complex war, it is not just an evil man out there killing children. She says in her Youtube video that they have seen this story multiple times, Western people coming in and trying to save African children while they don’t really assure a long-term solution for stability. She claims that there must be made some more intelligent campaigns geared towards creating policy shifts to prevent these kinds of things from happening in the future. It is clear by that, that the Kony 2012 campaign’s solutions are far too simple.

Kony himself, in an interview, has claimed that the Ugandan government are blaming their own actions on the LRA.[14] Some agree that this is all a conspiracy to blame someone else, so that the President will not lose support. Others have posted videos on Youtube condemning the Kony 2012 campaign’s support to the Ugandan army in tracking down the LRA, because they claim that the Ugandan army itself has been guilty of brutal war crimes, and like the LRA, consists of many child soldiers as well.[15][16] That would mean that supporting the Ugandan army would be contradictory to the Kony 2012 mission to stop the recruitment of child soldiers and war crimes. The LRA began their atrocities in the late 1980’s, according to BBC. The army was built on the purpose of opposing the Ugandan regime and President Museveni, whom according to Ugandan news online, the Uganda Correspondent, has been accused of commiting war crimes and crimes against humanity.

So who are really the bad guys here? The Kony 2012 campaign wants to support the Ugandan government in tracking down and arresting Kony, but is the government really any better than the LRA?

It is clear that there is a much larger issue at hand than what the Kony 2012 video portrays. The situation in Uganda has been ongoing for years and it appears that it is much more complicated than what the Youtube propaganda video suggests. Many have claimed that the video is an oversimplification of a very complex problem.

And that’s what my point about stereotypes is. By putting a group of people based on characteristics such as hair color, skin color, religion or style all in the same category, you are forgetting that there is a lot more to a person than their superficial attributes. That’s why judging by a narrow story about something without really knowing, or even trying to figure out what it is really about, is probably not such a good idea.

Just like the people in Northern Uganda, that the Western civilization felt so sorry for, became offended and angry, so do people that are labeled for little or no reason. In my own experience, I’ve dealt with quite a lot of different stereotypes throughout my life, and all it took was a change of hair color or dressing in a different style of clothes. I quickly realized how pointless these labels are, and have been careful not to see others in this way. Even though stereotypes are usually not a good thing, they can actually be intended well. The people who wanted to help those in Northern Uganda had good intentions, but since the problem was so oversimplified in a Youtube video, it became more like ridicule to some. The campaign unintentionally confirmed a stereotype about the people of Africa; that they are helpless and that the Western countries need to come in and save them.

This has been a very popular image of Africa for a long time – little children in Unicef commercials with flies on their eyes, because they are too weak and starved to remove them. Yet that doesn’t represent all of Africa in the right way. In the same way that there is a lot more to Africa than starvation and desperation, there is a lot more to each individual than the way they look. Like the Kony 2012 campaign was seen as an oversimplification of something much more complicated, stereotypes also oversimplify a person that has a lot more to them than their heritage, their religion or the clothes that they wear.


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