“Heil Hitler” on a bathroom wall. What could it possibly mean?

A reader responded to my article about American University’s seeming uncertainty about the meaning of a swastika on a bathroom room wall by pointing to a similar case of bafflement from Georgia. At two suburban Atlanta high schools, a swastika and the phrase “heil Hitler” appeared on bathroom walls.

According to our reader, the principal at one of the schools worked out that this was “hateful language,” but in a letter to parents about the incident did not call it anti-semitism. Does anyone imagine that if the hateful language had been directed at Blacks, the principal would have declined to label it racist?

The Atlanta Constitution, in its article about the incidents, suggested that the language is anti-semitic, but remained on the fence. It put quotation marks around the label.

The headline of its story is: Cobb students accused of ‘antisemitic graffiti’ to face disciplinary charges. The opening paragraph reads:

The Cobb County School District recently brought disciplinary charges against students believed responsible for “antisemitic graffiti” in bathrooms at two high schools, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said at Thursday’s board of education meeting.

(Emphasis added)

The principal’s decision not to call the swastika and the “heil Hitler” language anti-semitic looks like an attempt to cover up the existence of that phenomenon at the school. By contrast, public schools, including this one I’m pretty sure, aren’t shy about instructing students that anti-Black racism is a defining feature of life in America. The Atlanta Constitution’s story indicates that the school district has been criticized for diversity initiatives and the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

What explains the Atlanta Constitution’s use of quotation marks? Was the author, Alia Malik, not fully convinced that the swastikas and “heil Hitler” phrase, which appeared during the Jewish High Holidays, were expressions of anti-semitism?

Maybe she or her editors think, implausibly, that the perpetrator might be a Jew indulging in a hoax? But the expressions are anti-semitic no matter who scrawled them and why.

To me, the paper’s use of quotation marks looks like reluctance to acknowledge blatant anti-semitism. And to bang the same drum again, consider me skeptical that the Atlanta Constitution would have put quotation marks around the word “racist” if the language on the bathroom walls had been anti-Black or if something resembling a noose had been found.

I’m okay with principals, school boards, and newspapers — especially newspapers — giving less play to stray incidents of hate graffiti. My view is that too much is made of them.

I object, though, to playing up anti-Black graffiti and the like, while being shy about characterizing similar behavior directed at Jews as anti-semitic.

The double standard says something ominous, I fear.

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