Written by Yosef Hershkop
The Jewish community woke up this past Sunday morning to yet another case of a famous person posting something offensive about us on their social media account to their millions of fans. What is different about this case is that the offender is basketball star Lebron James who, besides for being a star on the court, is also known as a big-time philanthropist and savvy investor with many ties to the Jewish community. He has no history of speaking about or posting inappropriately about us. Mr. James posted the following lyrics from an old song “We been getting that Jewish money, Everything is Kosher.”
He has since apologized for any offense and he explained further that he thought it was complimentary. In order to show remorse, his public relations team may recommend he visit the closest Holocaust museum or that he stitches Magen David stars on his sneakers (and possibly even launch a line with that design). James will be invited to the apology circuit checking all the boxes; he will meet with the federation leaders and council of presidents, and perhaps he’ll be invited to a Manischewitz wine summit.
While these are nice first steps, they do not display a genuine sense of remorse. I suggest that James should just be himself and take a more personal approach. In addition to being the greatest basketball player of this generation he’s also a good dad and community leader, and people love that about him. James should further his persona of being relatable by visiting lower middle-class Jewish neighborhoods and schmooze with the locals. He can visit their shops (thereby generating some extra business) and get a first-hand look at the array of economic lifestyles that Jews live in.
On his next trip to New York City he can hop over to Brooklyn, which is the mini city that’s home to the most Jews and African Americans. Brooklyn is an especially great place for him to see and gain further understanding that Jews are on all levels of the economic scale. James may even meet Jews who do not know who he is, giving him the opportunity to have more authentic interactions and, hopefully, to have a more realistic picture of the Jews as a whole.
Just as James’ being a wealthy man does not obviate the dire poverty and housing conditions experienced by many black people, so, too, does Jewish billions not define the experience of many Jews, who fall on a similar financial spectrum. Sure, we have our billionaires but we also have plenty of people who genuinely struggle. Although the lyrics that he posted could be looked at as a joke or friendly tease it’s still wrong for non-Jews to say blanket, and derogatory, statements. Similarly, in the African American community, there are certain words and phrases that are acceptable for black people to say to one another but would be inappropriate for a person who’s white to say.
I feel strongly that Lebron James being pressured into the oh-so-typical apology tour will be harmful in a few ways: it will make a much bigger deal out of his one-time small error than necessary, it will lead to a whole ridiculous competition of which organization and leaders should get the privilege of ‘educating’ Mr. James, and it can even indirectly lead to real Jew hatred since many people will feel that the ‘powerful’ Jews twisted their favorite player’s hand and forced him to bow down to them. This last point is a concern that we shouldn’t take lightly.
Ultimately, when a prominent figure such as Lebron James makes an error through writing or speaking demeaningly about anyone the best path is to follow his lead and apologize. In my opinion, the apology should be followed by finding opportunities to engage the offended community in a way that you would feel natural and as opposed to feeling forced into displaying remorse. The goal would not be to create added resentment or to make a mountain out of a molehill, but to provide a more positive enlightenment.