A swastika on a bathroom wall. What could it possibly mean? [UPDATED]

Anti-semitic graffiti has popped up at American University in Washington, D.C. It was discovered in a dormitory bathroom. The graffiti consisted of a swastika, a pair of SS lightning bolts, and a Star of David crossed out with an “X.”

This sort of thing is offensive, obviously. However, on a campus the size of AU in a city the size of D.C., it’s not surprising that racist and/or anti-semitic graffiti appears from time to time. We’ll never be able to stamp it out. And as long as no one is being physically attacked because of race or religion, I don’t consider offensive graffiti cause for serious alarm.

The response of American University troubles me, however. When school officials notified students of the graffiti, about a week after it was discovered, the email said there were reports of “possible” anti-semitic drawings.

“Possible”? A swastika and a crossed out Star of David?

As one student complained, if these drawings are possible anti-semitism, what does blatant anti-semitism look like?

Imagine a noose being found in the same bathroom. Would the AU administration call this “possible anti-Black racism”? Of course not. Yet, it deemed the most obvious symbols of hatred against Jews possible anti-semitism.

AU’s president, Sylvia Burwell (Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Obama) explained that she wanted to be “cautious” in her communication because the investigation of the graffiti was in its early stage. I guess she didn’t want to rule out the possibility that ten million monkeys with markers had descended on campus and one of them had randomly drawn a swastika, a SS symbol, and a crossed-out Star of David.

Digging the hole deeper, Burwell said, “Regardless of the intent of those responsible for the graffiti, its existence caused pain and trauma for members of our community.” Apparently, she still hasn’t figured out the intent behind drawing a swastika.

The problem with the graffiti isn’t that it “caused pain and trauma” for AU students. These days, almost anything — the election of a Republican president, a picture of Thomas Jefferson, a woman being called “her” — can cause pain and trauma in students.

The problem with the graffiti is that it’s blatantly anti-semitic. But a former U.S. cabinet member hasn’t worked that out — or pretends she hasn’t, for some reason.

Strange, unsettling times.

UPDATE: A reader suggests that maybe Burwell talked of “possible” anti-semitism to take into account that the possibility that this case was a hoax, like some instances of anti-Black writings and images that turned out to have been perpetrated by Blacks.

Maybe. But as I noted in my post, I doubt that Burwell or any other contemporary college administrator would apply this sort of skepticism to images that are facially anti-Black. And if, by some chance, Burwell had done so, she probably would have prompted protest rallies and maybe a takeover of her office.

Responses