Alas, not every trip we take is one we want.
I was sitting on the couch one night when I opened Twitter with a lethargic swipe of my index finger. I did a double take when I saw the number of notifications in my mentions.
“Did I say something witty that went viral?” I thought. “Probs. No big deal.”
I clicked on the bell-shaped icon to have a look. Suddenly, a stream of messages came pouring in––many of them calling me out for being Jewish. But, you know, with a negative connotation to it. They screenshot my Twitter bio, where I mention (among other things) my bylines with @JewishFood.
“Surprise, surprise,” was the gist. “He’s one of them.”
I appreciated the affirmation of being a member of the tribe. Though as I’d soon learn, it wasn’t exactly the group I wanted validating my identity.
Looking at a handful of the profiles, I saw anime avatars, obviously fake names, and bios pledging some sort of allegiance to the white race.
“Ah, great…” I thought. “Nazis.”
In that moment, I hadn’t a clue as to how I drew the ire of white supremacists. My writing isn’t the kind of thing I would think they have an eye on. And if it was the Jewishness they found so offensive, I hadn’t written anything explicitly Jewish in recent weeks. (That said, I’ve got a BBQ bourbon kugel recipe I bet they’d love!)
After a bit of sleuthing, I tracked down the impetus of it all. Salon.com republished a story I wrote for Food52 on the cuisine of the Sámi people. A white supremacist account with a significant following simply retweeted the article as if to say, “Go get him.” Their following took to the bait like a pack of basement dwellers to the conspiracy theory du jour. (Today, the election was stolen! Tomorrow? Alien probes are real! That’s why I walk funny.)
Their beef? The headline referred to the Sámi as mainland Europe’s only indigenous people. At the time of writing, I did think maybe I could explain a bit about how the Sámi are considered indigenous since most U.S. readers have likely never heard of them and presume that indigenous folks are exclusive to the Americas and the countries of Oceania.
But, I had also read books about how Sámi have long been forced to justify their indigenous roots. I didn’t think it my place to explain or justify their identity, especially when, more importantly, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs already does that better than I ever could.
So I left it out, sharing instead a bit of history before diving into the cuisine––the focus of the piece. But apparently the white supremacists stopped at the headline. Color me surprised that white supremacists would be the type to yell about an article they didn’t actually read.
By calling the Sámi Europe’s only mainland indigenous peoples, I was apparently saying that white Europeans have no ancestral claim to anywhere they live. They get bupkis and that’s that. Bonus points for evidently feeding into a harebrained Jewish conspiracy that Jews are replacing white people with, I guess, non-white people?
That’s why I found myself inundated and tagged onto other messages with strangers digging through my writing to find more evidence of my Jewishness. I learned the phrase “early life check,” referring to the “Early Life” section of a Wikipedia page that often describes someone’s heritage. So I’d see messages like, “I’m gonna need an early life check here.”
(Okay, I know it’s beyond the point, but is it really a need? Is knowledge about whether or not I’m Jewish really on par with food and shelter? I think not, but that’s just me.)
Some went through the effort of pulling up a photo of me in a Hanukkah sweater a few years ago.
“LoOk WhAt I fOuNd!” went the refrain anytime something came up, as if I were trying to hide the writing listed in plain sight on my bio and eponymous website.
If ever there were a time for an, “Oy vey,” this was it.
A mishmash of annoyance and paranoia flushed through my body. I notified my editor and immediate family, just in case someone went extra bonkers, and I went quiet on social media. I’d only pop back in to block the Nazis tweeting about me. Eventually, and thankfully, they faded away once it was clear I wouldn’t take the bait and engage with them.
The point of this site is generally to inspire travel and try new things. In this case, don’t feel inspired. I do not recommend white supremacist Twitter. Go someplace else. Anywhere else. Zero stars.