When I hang out at Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning, I have a prescribed spot, in a corner, by the door.
This morning this woman came in scowling. She was deeply resentful about something. Once she got her order and began to head out, it became clear that the something had changed. Whatever she’d been resentful about before was no matter; what she resented now was my skin color.
Transference is the removal of emotions, normally negative, from connection with one idea or situation, and attaching the same to a different idea or situation. This incident this morning was an epiphany for me of how easily it happens, and how evil it can be.
Black Lives Matter is a big deal in my community and congregation. It’s crucial to grasp that the movement entails many different people saying many different things. For some, it became clear to me this morning, all the upset and uproar is all about transference.
There is never a convenient occasion for a shoelace to break. However, if it happens to a black person, he or she is (in fact)(*) worse off than if it happens to a white one; by virtue of racism. He or she could get angry about the shoelace itself. Or, he or she could get angry about racism — transfer the anger from the broken shoelace to racism — and then feel no anger about the shoelace. At all.
(*)(I make the same point in “Chaos overwhelms the poor.”)
Many years ago, once, I had a very hard day at work. Many different things had all gone wrong for me. On the bus home, I was extremely angry. I heard this thought pass through my mind: “It’s OK. I can just go to Messiah Truth and rip [name] a new a**hole.” At the time, I had no beef with Jews or Judaism; rather just with this one person. But the very fact that that thought went through my mind astonished me. I was astonished that I heard it. Normally the whole process is completely subconscious.
So I have a new view of anti-Semitism. Beginning particularly in the Middle Ages, where Europe was basically an ethnic block, any gentile, any day, could easily purge out from himself all the frustrations of the day, and of his or her life in fact, just by transferring all of it into hatred of the Jews. And then go about her or his life completely happy. Call it a coping mechanism.
There becomes a question for theodicy, of by what justice the universe, or the human psyche, is so constructed as to make this evil possible. Unfortunately, it happens, and it works.