A guest post by Kenny Jean, marketing intern at Stanford University Press
There is a common saying: People fear what they don’t understand. Once a thriving community, by the late 1980s, 240,000 Jews had emigrated from Morocco. Today, fewer than 4,000 Jews remain. Despite a centuries-long presence, the Jewish narrative in Moroccan history has largely been suppressed through national historical amnesia and a growing dismay over the Palestinian conflict. Whereas an older generation was able to respect difference through the intimate sharing of resources and coexistence with a Jewish community, modern generations struggle to embrace those religious and cultural differences due in part to an oversaturation of stereotypical imagery coupled with a general lack of exposure to a Jewish presence. In a recent podcast for the Holocaust Memorial Museum, author Aomar Boum raised and addressed some of these issues more thoroughly discussed in his upcoming title, Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco.
What resonates strongly with me in this discussion is not only the current state of Moroccan-Jewish relations, but also Boum’s appraisal of education and increased exposure as being the appropriate means to address the universally widened gaps in relations across categories of race, sex, class, gender, etc. My personal experiences have caused me to understand stereotypes as being formed when a constant, linear, provocative image of a community is being presented to individuals who are simultaneously being closed off to members of those communities being depicted. Visual stimulus takes the place of physical, regular interaction. The idea that every person from a given community can be embodied by a single image or representation seems ludicrous on its face, but when that singularity becomes the routine and ordinary representation of a culture without spectators being able to experience other facets of those communities, generalizations are formed and misunderstandings are imminent.
As Boum acknowledges this inevitability, he points to the role and power of educators as being in a unique position to combat stereotypes and positively shift the recent progression of simplistic understandings of difference. By providing a more extensive depiction of history and how demographics have varied in communal spaces, educators can begin providing younger generations with an increased awareness of different histories and respect for perspectives across race, gender, class, sex, and so on. Educators may have little to no control over demographic landscapes themselves and who people socialize with at a young age, but the classroom can definitely become a space where multi-faceted information is presented, diversifying the intellectual information and stimulus that young generations receive and ultimately allowing them better to understand difference. Because Boum’s work draws attention to issues of subpar interaction and exposure that plagues communities all over the world, more works such as these are necessary to maintain conversations regarding how to better stringent relations that divide people who represent differing communities.
Kenny Jean is a marketing intern this summer at Stanford University Press. A rising senior at Williams College, he is majoring in English and pursuing a double concentration in Africana Studies and Legal Studies. He is interested in pursuing a career in Journalism or Entertainment. He lives in Brooklyn.