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Snowflakes into avalanches: antisemitic “Jew” rat graffiti in Washington

It would seem that even an artistic take, on a road safety endeavour, is not immune from antisemitism.

In the Chinatown district of Washington DC, an art installation, based on the Chinese zodiac, was created to bring fun, interest and enhanced safety to the diagonal “Barnes Dance” pedestrian crossing.

On the zebra-crossing element of the scheme, the rat zodiac images were graffitied with the word “Jew” on the main body. The authorities were alerted and the graffiti removed, only to reappear up to three times in one week.

Why is it important to highlight these incidences? On it’s own, incidences like this are annoying thorns; a cheap casual reminder that antisemitic canards and invectives lie just beneath the surface and in this case literally beneath one’s feet. Often, people can brush them off but, it is the accumulation of these incidences which means that many people cannot carry out the most mundane of tasks, (like crossing the road), without feeling targeted. It can eat at you, very slowly eroding one’s sense of safety and belonging.

It is important that the ‘casual’ and ‘throwaway’ invectives do not become acceptable and normalised.

Another aspect of these types of incidences is where it can lead. Many peoples have been earmarked for dehumanisation; it is tragically standard fair for many human histories. For the Jewish experience, it spans generations: pigs, apes, vermin, cancer, octopi, frogs, snakes, worms, lice, spiders ad infinitum from ancient and recent history and current history . If you dehumanise and label ‘subhuman’ a group of people, it makes the next step of eradication more palatable and “accepted”.

The use of dehumanisation is the third of eight stages of Genocide, as first mooted by Raphael Lemkin in 1944 and later expanded by Dr. George Stanton in 1996.

Some commentators may describe this type of incident as petty, free-speech, freedom of expression. If this is accepted by default, then there is also the right to challenge; there is the right to say that people have a right to access to a ‘normal’ daily life without having to tolerate the drip-drip of degradation.

These incidences maybe just snowflakes, but we know that the true weight of a snowflake lies in its accumulation into an avalanche.