Extreme eyeball rolling was the common and correct response to a recent online petition demanding that the Trader Joe’s grocery chain “remove racist branding and packaging from its stores.”
The “harmful stereotypes” at issue were the chain’s humorous use of “Trader Ming’s” to brand its Chinese food, “Trader José” for Mexican foods, “Trader Giotto’s” for Italian food, and “Trader Joe San” for its Japanese cuisine.
That 5,000 people signed the petition means only that there are 5,000 people sitting at computers or playing with their smart phones with nothing constructive to do.
That was a fact the company eventually realized. After a too-hasty response pledging to address its insensitivity and rebrand any offensive packaging, saner minds prevailed and Trader Whoever’s insisted that its labels were not, in fact, racist and that its customers (my wife and I among them!) actually like the creative branding.
Similar silliness was evident (and sadly, more successful) in the case of the renaming of the Washington Redskins football team (to the scintillating “Washington Football Team”—meh); Quaker Oats’ Aunt Jemima brand (no new name announced yet, but “Uncle Tom” is likely out); and Eskimo Pie ice cream bars (no, I have no idea, either).
Hypersensitivity in such matters, other than to the hypersensitive, is risible. There are racists in America, of course, and racism, ethnic bias and anti-Semitism, unfortunately, infect various institutions. But imagining it where it isn’t only serves to distract from the fact that true bigotry exists.
A recent case of overwrought reaction to a perceived expression of anti-Semitism involved a North Carolina congressional candidate named Madison Cawthorn. Someone dug up a 2017 Instagram post that Mr. Cawthorn had sent when he was 22 years old from the Eagle’s Nest mountaintop retreat in Bavaria, where Nazi leaders met during the Third Reich, and which Hitler, ym”s, visited a number of times (although he disliked it because of his fear of heights). It is currently a tourist site with a restaurant and beer garden.
In the 2017 post, the candidate referred to the place as “the vacation house of the Führer” and wrote, “Seeing the Eagle’s Nest has been on my bucket list for a while. It did not disappoint.”
At first read, pretty disgusting, to be sure. But Mr. Cawthorn continued by saying, “Strange to hear so many laugh and share such a good time with my brother where only 79 years ago a supreme evil shared laughs and good times with his compatriots.”
Now, granted, few of us would put a visit to a Nazi lair on a bucket list. But it is pretty clear that Mr. Cawthorn was only expressing awe at the historical significance of the site, not sympathy for what it once represented.
That didn’t stop the Jewish mayor of Asheville, North Carolina, Esther Manheimer, to find the post “very concerning” and to refer to how “the last several years, since Trump has been elected president…white supremacists are emboldened and are publicly making their positions known.”
“To elect someone to office,” she continued, “who openly throws out dog whistles like this, it just makes me really sad…disappointed, worried.”
The leader of an Asheville Reform temple, Batsheva Meiri, noted similarly that items like the posting at issue “are signals, and they don’t play well with Jewish hearts and minds, whether or not they were meant to.”
Mr. Cawthorn, who has been confined to a wheelchair since becoming paralyzed in a car accident in 2014, reacted to the criticism by noting that his opponents and some media were trying to “affiliate a disabled man like myself with a movement that would have had me exterminated.”
As for Mr. Cawthorn’s sympathies, he has written a position paper that calls Israel an “ideal ally,” supports military aid to Israel, and rejects BDS.
There are real racist monsters out there, people like Tom Metzger and Richard Spencer, and, in the anti-Semite realm, Louis Farrakhan and the more subtle but no less appalling Linda Sarsour.
There’s no need to conjure imaginary ones.