Minneapolis, MN '13
Being an upper-middle class white kid from Southwest Minneapolis, I've never really encountered a lot of prejudice in my own neighborhood. Even when I travel abroad, I find that people tend to look on Americans with a certain amount of pity, rather than outright disgust. This doesn't mean that I'm incapable of sympathy towards those who have suffered at the hands of others. Like most, hopefully all, of you reading this, learning of the persecution of a select group of people, any group of people, fills me with a certain loathing for those who carry out these hate-based actions.
While here in York, we scheduled in a visit to Clifford's Tower, a fortification that sits at the top of a large hill just inside the walls of the ancient city. I had passed the structure a few days before we learned of its history and commented to a friend that placing the tower on hill wasn't that great of a defensible decision; were the rest of the area around the tower to be captured, those inside would basically be trapped and left to starve. Of course, this would necessitate an enemy force occupying the whole of the city of York to be true, so it wasn't all bad.
After reading The Prioress' Tale, an installment in Geoffrey Chaucer's massive work The Canterbury Tales, we discussed how many Christians felt threatened by an all-too familiar cultural scapegoat: the Jews. The Jews, long portrayed as corrupt and manipulative due to their connection with the business of money-lending, found themselves in a difficult situation in the latter half of the 12th century. Anti-Jewish riots rocked the country, many headed by those who were ineligible to go on the Crusades and so decided to "help out the cause" at home. The new bishop of York had yet to take his seat of power in the town, and the King had moved back to London. All power in York rested in the hands of the local sheriff, whom many of the local Jews did not trust. In order to protect themselves, the Jews fled to a place of sanctuary: the castle at York, specifically Clifford's Tower.
The sheriff then began to siege the tower, and it was not long before the rioting crowds saw the siege engines as official approval for their actions, and joined the assault. Finally, over 150 Jews decided that they would rather commit suicide than let themselves be overrun by the angry Christians just outside their walls. The few that chose to live agreed to be baptized if they would be allowed to walk away freely. The townspeople agreed, but the moment the doors opened, the mob flooded in and killed all who were left.
And there we were, walking along the ruined outcropping, looking out on what was now green grass and happy families enjoying ice cream next to a strange man in a chicken suit. I barely noticed the breeze as I was too busy looking at the grounds below, imagining floods of angry villagers calling for blood. This time the thought experiment had become reality; an enemy force occupied the whole of York, and those in Clifford's Tower were beset on all sides by a brutal siege. As I trekked back down the winding spiral staircase (which I wryly noted turned the wrong way, another defensive blunder), I couldn't help but wonder if such an event were impossible in our time. I would certainly like to believe so, but the historical evidence keeps piling up, and the story is always the same: group is seen as different, group is persecuted, group dies. Hopefully, with burgeoning support for anti-hate groups all across the globe, we can arrive in a state of happy co-existence. Then we can work on actually accepting one another.