Opinion: Anti-semitism was given a hall pass at our school, here’s my story

In the United States, 57.6% of the hate crimes that occur are against individuals in the Jewish community. I am part of that 57.6%. 

On Valentine’s day during my freshman year at San Marin, a student in my grade took an image off of my Instagram account and put it next to a photo of Adolf Hitler with the text “damn shawty are you Jewish because I am trying to gas you up.”  In the caption and comments of the Instagram post they felt the need to clarify its description by saying “oops did I do that? U get it cuz she’s a jew.”  It was not until I was at school and the post began to spread around my P.E class that I found out about it. Students approached me to ask if I had seen it, and when I had, I felt like the room was spinning and I could not hear the people around me. 

I couldn’t register what had just happened, but I knew I would have to respond.  In that moment, I understood that if I spoke out about it there would be a chance that I would receive retaliation from students who were friends with the perpetrator or from the person themselves. The fear and anxiety were so overwhelming that I silenced myself, and shut myself off from the emotional damage the incident had caused.

I hid what had happened from my parents for weeks because I was scared of the reaction they would have. I felt that if they knew, they would want to go to the school and that would just lead me down the retaliation path again. Eventually, they did find out about the post from another parent–and that was exactly what happened. I was called into the office to discuss the incident and was asked by administrators whether I wanted the student to be suspended, and how they should go about solving the issue. They then proceeded to tell me that if I had a private account on Instagram then perhaps these things would not happen and could be avoided. Suddenly it was my fault: I brought about someone else’s anti-semitism with my existence and choice to not be private on social media. The burden was now placed on me, a 14 year old student, who did not know what the standard procedure for these situations would be. I told them I did not know what the consequence should be for such actions and that I did not want to receive retaliation by deciding such things. My family wanted various actions to be taken whether it was involving the police because it was a hate crime, expulsion, or suspension. We left it in the hands of the school,  but due to the school’s mindset of victim blaming, and placing the burden of the decision on a young student, they decided the only action that needed to be taken was the perpetrator messaging me via Snapchat an apology. The school assumed that this solution would cease any tension between us, but as I had anticipated all along, retaliation against me by students that were friends with the perpetrator ensued. Despite the nature of their “punishment”, I was now a “snitch” and “dramatic” simply because my parents went to the school to seek action. As I now acknowledge what has happened to me, I have come to believe that it is vital that we collectively recognize that racism, bigotry, and discrimination are not uncommon in our community. 

My eyes are now opened to a greater issue: at San Marin High School, in the extremely wealthy, affluent county of Marin, people are still turning a blind eye to these occurrences. It is easier for a school with a reputation of being white and affluent to victim blame rather than own up to the reputation it has long perpetrated and fostered. We live in a county where racism, discrimination, and anti-semitism are taboo and instead of actively trying to eliminate these tendencies, our school is sweeping them under the rug in an attempt to paint a pretty picture of how they want outsiders to view them. We support protests and calls to action against bigotry and discrimination, but when the opportunity is at our front door to squash it, we turn our backs. It’s too ugly to bare– if we acknowledge it then we’re complicit, so let’s just blame the victims and move on. How are students expected to speak up and report these heinous acts when they know that they will not receive support from the authority figures in their communities? We as a school need to do better. We as a school need to acknowledge the many xenophobic, racist, and discrimatory agendas that exist and create our own anti-hate stance to better support our students in any way that is needed. Our students deserve better than an “I’m Sorry,” they deserve to be treated with respect and know that the actions taken against them were unacceptable. 

This attack on my religion had a massive effect on the person I was then, and the person I am now, especially since I did not receive support and was told it was my fault. I decided at that moment that I did not want to be around anyone in school and started to close myself off emotionally from those around me. I threw myself into school as a coping mechanism and have been an “overachiever” ever since because I saw school as a way to prove myself to be more than what was in that dehumanizing post. Since I was harassed due to my religion, I believed that there was something wrong with me and that I was the problem because I was being singled out. I now know there is nothing wrong with me. I hope others who have experienced hate know there is nothing wrong with them. We deserve the same respect and empathy that we show others. We do not bring these instances upon ourselves for just existing. It’s clear that as a society we have a long way to go, and that our administrators have much to learn about condemning hate and supporting victims of hate. 

Going forward, administrators should not leave it up to the student to provide ideas for consequence, and it should be a standard procedure to support the victims instead of blaming them for the actions of others. If our school had standards that actually served justice, students would feel safer coming forward about actions that were discriminatory instead of fearing the repercussions from their peers.

Author: Stefania Bitton

Stefania Bitton is a senior and the Co-Editor-in-Chief for the San Marin Pony Express. You will most likely find her singing and rocking out to any song that is playing. Ironically she doesn’t know how to sing but somehow she always knows the lyrics.

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