Recently, Lebron James posted a video on his Instagram story of him singing along to “ASMR” by 21 Savage, captioned with one lyric in particular: “We been getting that Jewish money. Everything is Kosher.” The idea that Jews love money has persisted throughout time and is now one of the most common anti-Semitic tropes.
21 Savage apologized for the lyrics, saying that “The Jewish people I know are very wise with [their] money so that’s why I said ‘We been gettin’ Jewish money…’ I never thought anyone would take offense, I’m sorry if I offended everybody.” Lebron took a similar route in his apology, saying, “Apologies, for sure, if I offended anyone. That’s not why I chose to share that lyric. I always [post lyrics]. That’s what I do. I ride in my car, I listen to great music, and that was the byproduct of it. So, I actually thought it was a compliment, and obviously, it wasn’t through the lens of a lot of people. My apologies. It definitely was not the intent, obviously, to hurt anybody.”
In their apologies, both 21 Savage and Lebron James indicated that they had thought the lyric was a compliment. Whether or not they were actually unaware of the implications of the phrase is beside the point; what is more important is the fact that major influencers are posting anti-Semitic content without doing proper research about the meaning of their words. Furthermore, they are issuing apologies that serve as a band-aid rather than using the situation for education. Instead of focusing on how they will better themselves in the future, 21 Savage and James are normalizing anti-Semitic comments that, though they may be rooted in ignorance rather than hate, still perpetuate dangerous ideas.
A simple comment about the relationship between Jews and money may seem harmless, but it reinforces a toxic narrative, particularly when popular figures with millions of social media followers are the ones making the comments. As history has shown, perpetuating this dangerous narrative with words eventually spurns harmful action. While it is problematic that James and 21 Savage considered the words to be complimentary, that problem is much more deeply rooted in society and needs a systemic solution.
In this case, the apologies of James and 21 Savage were nonproductive; for them, they got the job done and ensured that the debacle would be buried in the news cycle, preventing a collective outrage. However, instead of moving the discussion forward, this type of apology quashed any potential conversation. Instead of trying to understand why they believed that the stereotypes about Jews and money are complimentary — what materials they were reading, what conversations they were having, what biases they were holding and how to combat those dangerous narratives in the future — they merely stated that they were present.
These apologies teach fans of the stars that words are enough. Fans learn that actions are not as important as a well-timed statement, that burying a controversial remark is more important than learning from it, and that there is nothing more important than one’s own reputation.
Making mistakes is the best opportunity to learn. After misunderstanding a stereotype about the Jewish people, James and 21 Savage should have educated themselves on the implications of harmful stereotypes about Jews. They should have conveyed this message to their fans, in turn hopefully preventing others from making the same mistake. Lebron James and 21 Savage still have the opportunity to rectify their mistake: hopefully, they will make the correct decision and do so.
Madison Hahamy is a senior at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, Ill. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.