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Casual Antisemitism
December 24, 2009 11:20 PM   Subscribe

Do we really need to promote, tolerate, celebrate ethnic slurs on MetaFilter? I don't think mocking someone because they are a "JAP" represents a quality post on MetaFilter.

What with the recent blood libel threads, and some of the comments in the "Arbeit Macht Frei" thread, I find that MetaFilter tends to tolerate casual Antisemitism.

Then again, maybe I'm being too sensitive, and I wonder what other MeFites think about this.
posted by KokuRyu to Etiquette/Policy at 11:20 PM (333 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I find that MetaFilter tends to tolerate casual Antisemitism.

I'd say the opposite is the case. We regularly delete threads, comments and give people time off from the site for it. That thread today is here because people are saying it's anti-semetic while many at the college are saying it's no big deal. The "blood libel" thing started many long threads on metatalk and the main site discussing the controversial nature and we deleted several threads in an attempt to make this not such a hot button issue on the forefront.

On MeFi we tend to generally move through difficult subjects in lumps, fits, and starts. It seems each month there's some thorny issue that gets posted about several times and we talk about it to death, and right now that seems to be anti-semitism. As jessamyn said in an earlier thread, we mods all have ties to jewish roots and take this pretty seriously. I don't think we tolerate much casual ethnic slurs at all.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:30 PM on December 24, 2009


I don't think we tolerate much casual ethnic slurs at all.

Agreed.

More to the point, then, why isn't the "JAP thread" deleted? It does not add value to MetaFilter.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:34 PM on December 24, 2009


As a person of Jewish ethnicity, I don't believe "JAP" constitutes a racial slur. Can we move on now, and can autoclavicle please calm down in that thread?
posted by nasreddin at 11:36 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


(Or an ethnic slur, for that matter.)
posted by nasreddin at 11:38 PM on December 24, 2009


As a (secular) Jewish dude, I can say that I don't think "JAP" is a slur per se. It's not terribly polite, but it's on about the same level as, say, WASP.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:45 PM on December 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


why isn't the "JAP thread" deleted?

It's an interesting news story about a midwestern college with students that are kind of tone deaf about their somewhat anti-semitic remarks in a song. The thread raises issues around that, it's not here to mock jews.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:45 PM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, the phrase "JAP" doesn't even show up until the tenth comment or so, so I wouldn't call it "The JAP thread" exactly.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 11:47 PM on December 24, 2009


KokuRyu: "I find that MetaFilter tends to tolerate casual Antisemitism."

I've noticed this a bit, especially lately, and it bothers me.

It's been interesting, because I feel like as a community, we've come really, really far in understanding the complexities of sexism and how to curtail that. It's occurred to me several times recently (and I've made a point to consciously note this when it's occurred to me) that I've wished that we could have the same tolerance and understanding when it comes to antisemitism. We're just not there yet.

I don't think I'm overreacting. But I do find that, for whatever reasons, I'm a bit hesitant to post this. I fear that my views will be instantly dismissed, especially given the first 7 comments here. I guess we'll see what happens.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:19 AM on December 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


We're just not there yet.

There is no anti-semitism being celebrated in that thread, or even being dismissed in this one.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:20 AM on December 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's a thread about the use of 'JAP', among other things. A post about sexism isn't necessarily sexist, a post about racism isn't necessarily racist, and this thread - though about anti-semitism - isn't anti-semitic.
posted by twirlypen at 12:24 AM on December 25, 2009 [13 favorites]


Also, casual antisemitism:

When I arrived at my east-coast college (fresh out of California) and heard people saying "jap this" and "jap that" I was so deeply horrified. I didn't figure it out for like a month. I spent the whole month just aghast at the horrible racism so openly displayed against poor, innocent Japanese people.
posted by prefpara at 9:29 PM on December 24

A guy (from North Dakota) I was in grad school with went to Brookhaven National Lab (Long Island) to run some samples. He told me about going to some club where he ran into a girl who identified herself as a jap. He of course had no clue what she was talking about, so I explained the only way I knew how: telling him every joke about japs that I knew (i.e. how do you know when a jap has an orgasm? She drops her nail file).
posted by 445supermag at 10:08 PM on December 24


Now, prefpara's comment is kind of interesting, because I do get the impression that it's meant to be a lighthearted joke, and not representative of an underlying negative attitude towards Jews. However, the premise of the joke (by play on the word JAP) is that the Japanese people are being subjected to horrible racism, unjustly. All is clear though, when one realizes that the horrible racism is supposed to be directed at another group of people, possibly not so poor or innocent? Yeah, funny.

And that's the thing about casual [whatever]. It's ingrained deep within the structure of the discourse, reflective of an understanding of what's acceptable to say publicly. It often doesn't get noticed. Except mostly by people who are (maybe too) sensitive to it.

That said, I might be a little too sensitive right now. I don't know. I'm going to give a rest for tonight, go to sleep, and wake up to a Brand New Day and see how I feel about it all.

Gah! After preview, also, dismissive:

I guess I might feel differently if I were Jewish, but the people objecting to this strike me as exceptionally thin-skinned.

as i watched and waited for something really offensive, and in my mind it didn't come, i thought, "oh fucking waaaah"

posted by iamkimiam at 12:41 AM on December 25, 2009


All is clear though, when one realizes that the horrible racism is supposed to be directed at another group of people, possibly not so poor or innocent?

I read it as a joke about prefpara's ignorance of a particular bit of bigotry. I needed someone to explain the JAP stereotype to me as well.
posted by fatbird at 12:44 AM on December 25, 2009 [9 favorites]


"why isn't the "JAP thread" deleted?"

It's an interesting news story about a midwestern college with students that are kind of tone deaf about their somewhat anti-semitic remarks in a song. The thread raises issues around that, it's not here to mock jews.


This is basically what I came here to say. It was a post/thread describing a controversy, not promoting one side of it. Do you think it should be deleted despite that?
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 12:54 AM on December 25, 2009


Twirlypen appears to have put it as succinctly as I could hope to have put it myself.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 12:56 AM on December 25, 2009


As a (secular) Jewish dude, I can say that I don't think "JAP" is a slur per se. It's not terribly polite, but it's on about the same level as, say, WASP.

This was how I've always seen it, too. I mean, both terms seem to describe a set of behaviors and way of presenting one's self not limited to a ethnic concept. But this thread has got me wondering ... are they both ethnic slurs?

Also, I didn't know "Jewish American Princess" had an abbreviated version. In fact, I think the only time I've even encountered the phrase outside of looking it up was from a customer at a former job who described herself as such. After which came the looking it up part.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 1:08 AM on December 25, 2009


I (Jewish, American, female) don't really see it as an ethnic slur. But I also kind of hate JAPs. A lot.

JAP-pyness is more or less a lifestyle choice. A poor one.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:15 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I've always thought that 'jap' is an ethnic slur if you're referring to a japanese person, but not really a slur when used in the other (jewish-american princess) sense. I mean, it's not a term of endearment either, but it's not the same level as a word like 'kike.' I generally always had the impression that most jews see it that way too, and wonder whether a vocal minority who sees it as worse than impolite isn't skewing the perception in these threads?
posted by axiom at 1:20 AM on December 25, 2009


As a Bosnian who entered college in America not too long after arriving here, I too was utterly confused by the term "JAP," which seemed both horribly offensive and weirdly admiring at the same time. That's because I understood it to refer to someone who was Japanese. (At my university, there were pretty many Japanese students.)

So I'd hear someone say something obviously demeaning about "JAPs who spend three hundred dollars a week getting their hair and nails done," which made absolutely no sense at all, since all the Japanese girls I knew had very modest haircuts and didn't even use nail polish.

On the other hand, there was a group of girls who'd high-five each other and scream "JAPs rule!" at the top of their voices whenever their level of spastic enthusiasm reached a certain peak. I'd heard (of course) white frat guys use black slang to refer to each other - homeboy and that sort of thing - but this weird desire to link themselves to a group of people who tended to be (within the confines of my school) quiet, studious and somewhat shy was way beyond my ability to comprehend, especially in light of their zealous boisterousness.

One day while shopping with a friend, she justified her purchase of a really expensive handbag to me by saying, "I can't help it, I'm a Jewish-American princess!" And at that moment, it all clicked.

I'd say that 90% of the time I hear the term "JAP" it's from a Jewish woman who's using it in a humorous way to refer to herself. But you know, I've also heard it used in ways that were clearly intended as slurs. I wouldn't use the term myself, even to a friend who referred to herself that way, for the simple reason that many terms which seem fine when used self-deprecatingly just don't work at other terms.

I don't think the guys who made the video were conscious of how it would be perceived by a lot of people. The term mathowie used, "tone deaf," pretty much describes it to me. I'm going to assume they'll grow out of it; my general belief is that most college students are pretty idiotic.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:26 AM on December 25, 2009 [12 favorites]


I think JAP is in a grey area of social acceptance, like a lot of words and terms that refer to a specific group of people (nationality, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, economic status, etc.) Some people self-identify with these terms, some people reclaim these terms, some people are oblivious to their meanings and/or origins, some people use these terms as slurs, and so on.

I don't think JAP in particular is a big taboo. It's not an absolute, "we can say this but you can't," sort of a thing. I don't think it would be a fireable or fineable offense for someone to say it on TV for instance.

Like with all such terms, however, I think intent is really important. Sometimes intent can be lost on the internet as it is a primarily text based communication. None of the uses of JAP that I've seen so far in thread have read as racist or sexist.

And, honestly, when someone is being antisemitic on MeFi it's kind of obvious and way beyond using the term JAP (and usually shut down pretty quickly either by other comments or the mods).
posted by tinatiga at 2:00 AM on December 25, 2009


I have a story similar to others here about moving from Missouri to Philadelphia, and assuming that everybody had some sort of deep-seated racist opinion about the Japanese.

I also don't think it's exactly an ethnic slur. If it had been, the minority-hating rednecks back home would have used it. They knew all the ethnic slurs, and certainly hated Jews.
posted by Netzapper at 2:11 AM on December 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm just going to toss my two cents into the bowl of not caring about the term JAP. I'm speaking as a Jewish American woman of the upper middle class DC area from a fairly wealthy New York City-based Jewish family. It's similar to WASP, for me; in fact I learned them both at the same time (4th grade, when I started Hebrew school, I remember explaining them to my Presbyterian friend on the playground) and consider them similarly rude, but not an ethnic slur. I have at times identified with this term and been disgusted with the people who personify it, but I've never considered it on-par with things like kike or spick or fag. It's about intent - most women I've known who identify as Jewish American Princesses are self-deprecating sarcastic wealthy people, who like the "princess" part of the term more than anything else.

Metafilter's been iffy about the conflation of antisemitism and antizionism lately, but that thread is fine by me - I had to figure out why KokuRyu felt the need to capitalize JAP; was it to emphasize his outrage at the Japanese people being slurred? Why was mathowie talking about Jews in the first comment? It took me a bit to remember the thread from earlier, so I guess it hadn't even registered as a blip on my Outrage Radar.
posted by Mizu at 2:19 AM on December 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I thought the FPP itself was fine, although I'm kind of embarressed that I actually took the time to watch that stupid video. What bothered me was all the commenters who don't think that JAP is a slur just because they hear Jews using it. To those people, I would say this -- think of it like the 'n word.' OK for people inside the group to say it, not okay for people outside the group. Oh yes, I'm so damn sorry that a few words are off-limits to whites and not-Jews. World's smallest fucking violin, etc.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:48 AM on December 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


(non-Jews)
posted by Afroblanco at 2:51 AM on December 25, 2009


I would be happy if no one ever used the term JAP again. It's a neat repackaging and redirecting of antisemitic stereotypes(obsession with money, greediness, selfishness etc) against Jewish women, making it both antisemitic and sexist.

In my opinion it's nasty and insidious, and another example of individual members of minority groups being used to represent some supposedly inherent group characteristic, as opposed to being individuals. 
 
In any case, the in group that can use it in a self directed way that outsiders can't and can't easily criticize shouldn't include men, even if they're Jewish.

For what it's worth I am a Jewish woman who grew up in America. 
posted by Salamandrous at 3:31 AM on December 25, 2009 [16 favorites]


Here's another Jewish woman chiming in to say I HATE the term and do find it offensive. I remember how heartbroken my mom was to have to explain to me what it meant when, instead of the "don't worry, be happy" shirt she requested, she received a "don't worry, be jappy" shirt where the happy face had a bunch of shopping bags (ah, the early 90s). We were both really hurt that, as Jewish women, we'd be forever stereotyped as snotty, clueless women obsessed with shopping and designer labels and whatever else the term entails.

There are plenty of people in the world who act that way, and I've never been glad it's singled out as a Jewish thing.

That said, the post itself--drawing attention to the casual anti-semitism at UW--was fine. Some of the comments were totally lame though.
posted by leesh at 4:42 AM on December 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Some of you have apparently never been to Long Island or New Jersey.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:04 AM on December 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


Mizu: It's similar to WASP, for me; in fact I learned them both at the same time (4th grade, when I started Hebrew school, I remember explaining them to my Presbyterian friend on the playground) and consider them similarly rude

Wait wait wait... WASP is rude?
posted by Kattullus at 5:05 AM on December 25, 2009


I don't think there was antisemitism in the Arbeit Macht Frei thread.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:15 AM on December 25, 2009


Of course it's a slur, based on resentment of perceived, or preconceived, flaunting of wealth and social status. Coming straight from the "jews and their money" font of endless bigotry.

But I read the post as more of a "underexposed midwesterners discover jews exist" kind of thing. Just sheltered kids who have had very limited exposure to different cultures, the same kind of kids who think that "white" is a nationality.
posted by Max Power at 5:16 AM on December 25, 2009


If 'JAP' is off limits, why is 'guido,' OK? Just saying.
posted by jonmc at 5:40 AM on December 25, 2009


Guido is very much a not-okay-thing-to-say in Rhode Island.
posted by Kattullus at 6:01 AM on December 25, 2009


I meant on MeFi.
posted by jonmc at 6:09 AM on December 25, 2009


I don't think there was antisemitism in the Arbeit Macht Frei thread.
posted by Pope Guilty


That is the mother of all eponysterical comments.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:10 AM on December 25, 2009 [18 favorites]


I'm kind of thinking that levels of offense to this must be a regional thing related to population density of Jewish people. Despite my parents telling me not to say "JAP," having grown up in Eastern Massachusetts this is the first time I've heard offense at it. I'm talking Jewish AND non-Jewish girls teaming up together to self-describe themselves as "JAPs," very much (as people have pointed out) like WASPs. But then, I guess nowhere is the stereotype of the drunken Irish-American more embraced than here, so maybe we're just attached to our slightly offensive labels.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:15 AM on December 25, 2009


As a Jew (non-practicing, but that doesn't mean anything to either my parents or anyone who sees my incredibly Jewish last name), my first impulse is not to get riled about jap, because I feel it's not representative of any Jew I've ever met living in the south, the Midwest, the east coast. However, if I take a moment to reflect on it, it does start to bother me a bit for precisely that reason. Jap as a stereotype has about the same grounding in reality as Asians being bad drivers, and it's more insidious, because the behaviors that make up jap-dom cut accross all religious and ethnic backgrounds, but there's no catchy acronym to describe anyone else.

It's an easy way to reduce a gender and a religious group to a set of not altogether appealing or accurate traits. And as for people self-identifying as japs, people self identify as sluts too, but that doesn't make calling people sluts kosher.

All that said, I don't really have a problem with the tenor of the discussion on the thread, and with the exception of a few heavily moderated tone-deaf people on the site, I am not seeing thr same anti-semitism of which you speak.
posted by orville sash at 6:25 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tone deafness and discomfort about the number of Jewish students at midwestern universities is not a new phenomenon. Back in the day the Ivy League schools had strict anti-Jewish quotas, so a lot of (mostly east coast) Jewish students ended up at the big public schools in the midwest and west that didn't have those quotas.

The discomfort over that influx was intense, and has persisted. It really manifests itself when the Jewish students act in ways that make them stand out -- conspicuous consumption in this case; or anti-war activism in the 1960s and '70s, for example. The toleration in the midwest seems to be very dependent on the outsider group keeping a low profile and not disrupting the social order.

All that said, though, I thought the FPP in question was pretty weak, and the comments (at least one of which I flagged and it was deleted) tended to be even weaker.
posted by Forktine at 6:39 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


right now that seems to be anti-semitism

I'll be glad when this passes for the next thing. I don't really enjoy finding out what everyone's opinion is on the subject.
posted by pinky at 6:43 AM on December 25, 2009


I first heard the phrase in a Louis Theroux documentary on Nazis and other white supremacists, so I always associate it with close-minded people who irrationally hate Jews.

However, from what I see in this thread, I guess it has milder connotations in other circles, and that it doesn't usually apply to every Jewish woman. It's not necessarily antisemitic or sexist, although it skirts the border. I wouldn't use it in a conversation, even with good friends who know me well.

Still, it's in poor taste. Clumping together a group of people just to make fun of them is pretty lazy humor. Besides, there's plenty of vapid, high maintenance people out there. I don't get what Judaism, or even being female, has to do with it. The fact that the saying is so specific worries me, as it almost implies that Jews and/or women are more prone to be that way. Upthread, someone said it's a lifestyle choice, but I'm not sure everyone who says JAP thinks that way. There are a lot of people who hold a lot of stock in the idea of race and ethnicity playing into a person's personality, and I think people don't always accept that it's mildly racist. If you want proof that it happens, just look at a low-budget sitcom.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:28 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


To clarify, I said: I guess [JAP] has milder connotations in other circles, and that it doesn't usually apply to every Jewish woman.

I meant that when people use the phrase, they only apply it to Jewish women who act that way. Not that it was a revelation that Jewish women are not all the same.

My awkward sentences and discussions on race/ethnicity are a very bad mix.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:31 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hm, the description of "JAPs" in that post/video (which I haven't watched) sounds just like what we referred to at my south/southwestern college as "sorority girls." Do they not have any girls in the midwest who aren't Jewish that dress and act like that? If so, I find that very weird.
posted by ishotjr at 7:36 AM on December 25, 2009


I've noticed this a bit, especially lately, and it bothers me.

For some reason, and I blame holidaytime, there's been a little more casual anti-semitism sounding statements on MeFi lately. Add to this that people are generally just keyed up [holidaytime] and ootchy [ditto] and I think there's a bad combination of borderline statements and people who are more annoyed at them than usual. My feeling on JAP is that it's always offensive if you're talking about a Japanese person [but used to be used more casually, not that that makes it okay] and that it's somewhat akin to bohunk or guido or, yeah as orville sash says, sluts. Problematic without context and pretty much nothing I'd personally say in polite company. Other people, obviously, feel differently.

So I didn't love that post but it was mostly because it seemed to be on a topic that MeFi has been doing badly lately and I didn't feel like being all nanny-state and saying "you can't handle this topic" so it stayed up. I think these posts highlight the ways in which the people who have been on the receiving end of anti-semitism personally or institutionally may have a really different relationship to the topic than the people for whom it's much more of an abstraction.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:38 AM on December 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's a little weird and uncomfortable whenever a thread plays, in part, the role of Place Where Folks Can Be Clueless Out Loud, but my feeling about that thread in particular is that it's operating at about that level: the premise of the post is fine, the discussion isn't bad, but there's some stupid stuff in there, some of which seems like it's born from people making lazy or lulzy Jewish- or JAP-culture jokes and some of it from folks who seem mostly to be encountering some of that cultural perception stuff for the first time.

There's almost certainly some regional—and certainly some individual—experiential cultural exposure stuff going on here driving that weird mix. I think the result is a lot less than awesome in some cases, but in the same sense that I think AskMe can excel at guiding people through explicitly requested aid in the face of their own cluelessness, mefi in general can do a decent job of throwing together some ad hoc education when this sort of stuff arises. Maybe that'll come out of that thread and this one somehow, as people who are doing the "a ha, so THAT'S what JAP means..." thing maybe soak up some of the nuance involved in folks' varied reactions to it.

Maybe hoping for too much, I don't know.

I meant on MeFi.

Did you actually read through your own search results, jonmc? I see a bunch of references to people actually named Guido, and a bunch of discussion of the word itself, and not much people-unselfconsciously-using-guido-to-describe-people. I wouldn't put it in particularly okay territory, in any case, but it doesn't seem to happen, either. Call it out next time you see it show up in a problematic fashion.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:39 AM on December 25, 2009


It's antisemitic. And sexist. It's a grotesque stereotype if Jewish avarice and shallowness and because some Jewish women actually live up to the stereotype doesn't mean it isn't a mean-spirited stereotype. There is nothing about the JAP stereotype that isn't also true of plenty of non-Jewish women (and, for that matter, men), but it neatly dovetails with some very nasty historic stereotypes about Jews, so it becomes a neat (and, frequently, accidental) way to identify Jews as having some uniquely mockable and unpleasant qualities.

Guido is also a deeply unpleasant stereotype. And the issue is that both superimpose a certain set of behavior on a specific minority ethnic group.

This is not to say that minority groups don't sometimes have uniquely tasteless expressions of fairly typical human misbehavior. But the JAP and Guido slurs are mechanisms of mockery, and their targets are minority groups, and it's the mockery that's a problem.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:46 AM on December 25, 2009 [9 favorites]


Did you actually read through your own search results, jonmc?

Yeah. Once you get a few pages in, there's quite a few rather casually nasty uses of it. Anyways, I wasn't saying it in an accusatory manner, more looking for consistency, I guess.

As to regionality, playing a role, well, I live in a place where diversity isn't theoretical, it's a fact of life. But ethic jokes and stereotypes are bandied about pretty casually, albeit in a halfassed, semi-sarcastic manner. I do remember a guy handing out a flyer for a comedy club that said that some guy called "The Redneck* Comic," was performing in my neighborhood. I remember joking that no matter who he chose to make fun of, there'd probably be 20 of them in the audience ready to be offended. "How 'bout those Mesopotamians?" "You got a problem, Pal?"

My point? I dunno, something about context.

*and, yeah, 'redneck' is a slur and a sterotype, too, I suppose.
posted by jonmc at 7:56 AM on December 25, 2009


Interestingly, Jews sort of are Mesopotians; that's where Abraham supposedly hailed from.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:08 AM on December 25, 2009


I hate it (I'm not Jewish). I grew up in town with a large Jewish population, and a lot of my friends used the term. Most of them were Jewish. It was okay to use it if you weren't Jewish.

And then I went to a college where there weren't a lot of Jewish students, and its use took on a very different subtext. The Jews I knew in college didn't use it, or not in mixed company. It felt less like "affectionate in-group insult" (because that's how I had seen it used in high school) and more like "insulting, sexist, derogatory, and anti-Semitic." Context mattered, I discovered.
posted by rtha at 8:13 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Huh, I was just thinking about this the other day. I am Jewish and grew up in an upper-middle-class, 90% Jewish neighborhood. "JAP" had a lot of baggage, but it was also used a lot by people describing themselves, too. I was actually musing that it was a little odd that there wasn't a male equivalent - but then, there wasn't the same kind of set of expected behaviors for men, either.

It's certainly not a particularly polite way to talk about people, but I also think there's an interesting conversation to be had about this phrase and ones like it that are used as much in a community as outside it.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:15 AM on December 25, 2009


I was actually musing that it was a little odd that there wasn't a male equivalent

In college my girlfriend was Jewish and she lived in what was then (20 years ago) a predominantly Jewish Queens enclave, it's now mostly Chinese and Korean. She described a male freind of hers as a JAP. When I gave her a cocked eyebrow look, she said "Jewish American Prince." She meant it as shorthand for 'spoiled, nuerotic, Mama's boy."*

She married my best friend from college, a Filipino Catholic guy. Yesterday, I got a Holiday card from her, featuring a picture of their toddler holding a menorah and wearing a Santa hat and a cockeyed expression.

*Last time we spoke in person, I learned that the friend in Question is currently in the booby hatch. It's an odd world.
posted by jonmc at 8:24 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


First callout! TODAY I AM A MAN.

Anyway, here's the story of this post. I'm Jewish, grew up in the East, and am now a very happy Wisconsinite of five years' standing.

"Coastie-ism" at UW is a very weird thing. Lots of folks here are very free with what read to me as Jewish stereotypes -- people will happily tell you about how "East Coast people" or "New York people" are loud, pushy, stingy have more money then sense, etc., without ever saying the word "Jew." And what's interesting is that I think many people here authentically don't KNOW these are stereotypes about Jews!

I found this video pretty striking in this respect -- it suggests that, at least on campus, people have learned to use "Jewish" as partial shorthand for this cluster of traits. Jokes about the Holocaust don't bother me, weirdly aggressive anti-Israel politics don't bother me, but this video bothered me, because it suggests something unpleasant about how students here perceive the real-life, close-up Jewish kids who sit next to them in class. When I was in high school in a heavily Jewish neighborhood I called girls JAPs all the time. In retrospect, I see that as of a piece with my high-school habit of calling things I didn't like "faggy" or "gay" -- in other words, not really OK.

The tone of the post was definitely not meant to be "Everybody dig this high-larious video" but rather "It's weird that kids in 2009 who are in many ways are probably quite nice don't get why this is kind of gross." But I couldn't really see how to work that into the FPP without making it too bloggy. And then once the thread got started it seemed plenty of other people were explaining it just fine.
posted by escabeche at 8:27 AM on December 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


As mentioned in the thread at least a couple times, there is nothing inherently "Jewish" in JAP....you can just as easily (if not more so) point out the Jersey Catholic girls who fit the attitude and wardrobe and spending habits, or the Texan born-again chicks. So I'd be happy if we could just drop the arguably anti-Semitic "J" altogether and just call them "APs".

[not Jewish, not a princess]
posted by availablelight at 8:31 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a line from an old Joe Jackson song that goes "So don't call me a faggot, not unless you are a friend." Sums the whole context thing up quite nicely, I thought.

It was a friend of mine who was gay that introduced me to the term 'screamer.' We were at a bus shack in Winnipeg, in November (think goosebumps) and one of his friends came up and launched into a stream of consciousness about everything on his mind, complete with hip tilts, vamping, squeals of delight and lots of winks. He asked a few questions, my friend politely yet reservedly answered, then the bus came. I couldn't help but notice my friend's awkwardness at his friend's behaviour. "Wow, that guy sure is animated," I said. "Who was that?" "That, HP, was ...a screamer."

MY point (and I do have one) is that there are some behaviours that get called out by the in-group, and for good reason: They're far from some accepted norm. If you're over-the-top flamboyant, you get labels like 'screamer.' It's natural; hey, you're different. It's a behaviour thing. Behaviours get labeled.

Labels don't define people unless people let them do that. And if the label is accepted in-group it's not the label that's the problem, it's the intention by those who use it.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:32 AM on December 25, 2009

As to regionality, playing a role, well, I live in a place where diversity isn't theoretical, it's a fact of life. But ethic jokes and stereotypes are bandied about pretty casually, albeit in a halfassed, semi-sarcastic manner.
Yeah, well. I grew up and have lived most of my life in places like that, where there wasn't a default religion or ethnicity. I'm now, I guess, a "coastie" in an overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly Christian Midwestern college town. And it feels really different. If someone makes a Jewish joke in a place where everyone is something, then you know you have the option of shooting back with an equivalent joke about whatever they are. You might or might not choose to do it, but you have the option. But in a place where there is a default, there isn't an equivalent. I am a Jew, and they are normal people. I am an outsider, and they are insiders. What I am is slur-able, what they are is not slur-able. You can't slur the default.

It's not a tragedy, and certainly the casual racism in the town where I live is much, much, much, much worse than anything having to do with Jews. But it has made me aware of my difference in a way in which I haven't usually been aware in the past. And it's not a very good feeling.
posted by craichead at 8:34 AM on December 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


As mentioned in the thread at least a couple times, there is nothing inherently "Jewish" in JAP....you can just as easily (if not more so) point out the Jersey Catholic girls who fit the attitude and wardrobe and spending habits, or the Texan born-again chicks. So I'd be happy if we could just drop the arguably anti-Semitic "J" altogether and just call them "APs".

Would that then be arguably anti-American?
posted by modernnomad at 8:34 AM on December 25, 2009


craichead: I wasn't arguing with you, just making an observation.
posted by jonmc at 8:38 AM on December 25, 2009


For some reason, and I blame holidaytime, there's been a little more casual anti-semitism sounding statements on MeFi lately. Add to this that people are generally just keyed up [holidaytime] and ootchy [ditto] and I think there's a bad combination of borderline statements and people who are more annoyed at them than usual.

Yes, this time of year, every year, becomes an unwanted struggle of having to react or not react to ignorance and anti-semitism casually thrown my way. I am sure I'm not alone in this. And even mentioning it goes against my instincts, so afraid am I of looking like the anti-Christmas Scrooge-y Jew.
posted by amro at 8:39 AM on December 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


(And I am referring more to real life than MeFi, but I see it here too.)
posted by amro at 8:40 AM on December 25, 2009


WHAT'S WRONG WITH WEARING SPANDEX INSTEAD OF PANTS?!

NOTHING! NOTHING IS WRONG WITH WEARING SPANDEX INSTEAD OF PANTS!
posted by fuq at 8:45 AM on December 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm not really disagreeing with you, jonmc. I'm just using your comment as a jumping-off point.
posted by craichead at 8:46 AM on December 25, 2009


Datapoints:

I've never heard 'JAP' uttered by someone not of semetic heritage in any context. My experience is that it's about evenly split between deprecatory self-description and a mild slur.

I feel like I have heard 'guido' used by non-Italian-Americans but I can't think of a specific instance (not counting internet lulz). I've never heard it used positively, it's exclusively an epithet in my experience.
posted by Skorgu at 8:53 AM on December 25, 2009


why isn't the "JAP thread" deleted?

It's an interesting news story about a midwestern college with students that are kind of tone deaf about their somewhat anti-semitic remarks in a song. The thread raises issues around that, it's not here to mock jews.

This pretty much answered my question. So thank you.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:56 AM on December 25, 2009


Labels don't define people unless people let them do that. And if the label is accepted in-group it's not the label that's the problem, it's the intention by those who use it.

Yeah and this is what's so tricky. We at Team Mod try very hard to not have to be mindreaders when we decide what needs moderating. This is why, as the site has gotten larger, we're a little less tolerant of casual or ironic sexism and casual or ironic racism [the whole "I'm making an over the top comment to point out how silly and uncool the general sexist/racist attitude is" thing] because it doesn't fly in a larger community.

And as far as JAP in this context, I think the issue is that you're taking a behavior [the loudness, the brashness, whatever they're talking about] and equating it to a religion [Jewish people are like this] which then becomes sort of a negative comment about everyone in the religion which is much much less okay. And it's interesting contrasting it to WASP which is similar and yet different [there are no derogatory words in the acronym itself, it's used to refer to a group traditionally in positions of power in the US etc etc] and even then it's still a word that people aren't totally comfortable with if you're using it to casually dismiss a whole group of people.

Eleanor Roosevelt has the famous quote about people not being able to make you fee inferior without your consent and while I feel that's a very helpful starting point, it may be sometimes missing the point of how initial casual casting of "otherness" can, further down the line, become either much less casual institutionalized oppression or out and out discrimination and I think that's why people get so touchy. Looking to something that's more in the forefront lately, I think the more people realize that gay people are everywhere [at your workplace, in your family, in your social clubs, in your schools and whatever] it becomes much less acceptable to deny them not just general tolerance and acceptance, but actually necessary and essential to codify rights that people would, for whatever reason, deny them. Really we saw a big tirade against orthodox jewish communities in MeFi just the other day that was ugly and unpleasant and yet, at the same time, angrily justified in MeTa because it was true. Not okay for here. We're not thought police but we're okay saying that certain things are not okay here.

I know I'm way out on one end of this discussion in terms of how "polite" to be when dealing with other people if you don't already know their backgrounds and personal positions on such topics, but I don't see it as a bad place to explore these sorts of things from. amro's point about feeling a lot of pressure to not be "the bitchy jew on Christmas" really plays into my decisions on how to approach a lot of these topics at this time of year as well.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:10 AM on December 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Discussions like this one, to me sound like this one.

To alleviate the feelings they bring up, I like to sing along to this.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:17 AM on December 25, 2009


Was it your intention to be dismissive of this discussion? If so, why?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:34 AM on December 25, 2009


Because (assuming you're addressing me) I don't see it as a real problem on Metafilter. It is a real one out in the world, where our attention may be better focused.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:40 AM on December 25, 2009


And so your decision was essentially toock the discussion by linking to Alvy Singer expessing a famously paranoid sentiment?

Somebody above asked if there were any actual examples of people being dismissive. When people raise the issue of how a minority group is treated, I don't know that it's ever good form simple to say "we don't need to have this discussion" and then to link to a video that essentially calls them paranoid.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:49 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Toock should say mock. This is not about Candian hats.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:50 AM on December 25, 2009


Because this isn't really about how minority groups are treated. Any more than Alvy's discussion was. Any more than your remarks were about Canadian hats. Do you believe antisemitism is an actual unsuccessfully addressed problem on metafilter?
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:06 AM on December 25, 2009


Yes.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:07 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, now that I think about it, I think I'm almost as annoyed by the in-group usage of the term. It seems like any time somebody self-identifies as such, it's usually to excuse some vaguely atrocious behavior. I think I'd be happy to see us, as a culture, put the whole "princess" thing to bed, finally.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:15 AM on December 25, 2009


Specifically, I don't think it's a huge issue, but people have a weird habit of using Jewish-themed threads to make off-putting, LULZy Jew jokes, and MetaFilter is notoriously bad at discussing Israel, which is linked to a tendency to just dismiss any discusssion of antisemitism as a silencing tactic, among many, many other examples if tone-deafness on the part ofnon-Jews. Additionally, when the topic is broached, people don't seem to have any real interest in pursuing the discussion, which I don't attribute to malice, but merely to the fact that Jews are a very small percentage of the population, and tone-deaf comments aren't generally intended to be hostile.

Nonetheless, they are discussions worth having, because the tone-deafness issue is real, and it genuinely can be alienating. As can the dismissiveness.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:15 AM on December 25, 2009


I also find, Afroblanco, that male Jews who toss around the JAP phrase are sometimes expressing a real hostility to Jewish women that I really, really dislike.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:17 AM on December 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


I dunno, having grown up Jewish in Brooklyn, JAP was never a particularly offensive term. More observational, and possibly insulting, depending on who was saying it, but not something you'd get smacked for or looked at funnily. The school I go to now has a sizeable Jewish minority, and yes, many of the girls with the North Face/UGGs combo also have "I support Israel" thingies on their knapsacks. Lots don't. My take on it is that the human brain is a predicting machine, built to find patterns that it can use to predict behaviour, and stereotypes are just an epiphenomenon of the brain doing its job. That's not to say that they're justified, accurate, or impossible to counter, just that it's kind of an instinct that was probably useful way back when, but not so much now.
posted by greatgefilte at 10:30 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter is notoriously bad at discussing Israel, which is linked to a tendency to just dismiss any discusssion of antisemitism as a silencing tactic, among many, many other examples if tone-deafness on the part ofnon-Jews.

I think is grossly unfair. No doubt, there are reflexively irate anti-Israel posters here, just as there are reflexively irate pro-Israel posters. But this is no different than the reflexively irate posters on any given topic that happens to touch their personal bugbear issue (see for example, weight loss, same-sex marriage, Dick Cheney, hipsters, a US-centric view of the world, etc....).

I've seen many thoughtful comments on both sides in Israel-centred threads, along with the occasional lunatic. That's to be expected.

If having a large number of people disagree with your take on a particular issue, especially one that is almost always divisive (the issue, not your take), is equated to an entire community being "notoriously bad at discussing" it, you're going to be consistently aggravated when trying to function in a large and diverse online community.
posted by modernnomad at 10:36 AM on December 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


[I think THIS is grossly unfair. Sorry.]
posted by modernnomad at 10:37 AM on December 25, 2009


God, why does every discussion of Jews turn to Israel. One does not equal the other.
posted by amro at 10:38 AM on December 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Astro Zombie: MetaFilter is notoriously bad at discussing Israel

I can't think of an internet community that is good at discussing Israel. There's a listserv that I belong to that is full of Icelandic writers and the list pretty much died because of an argument about Israel/Palestine.
posted by Kattullus at 10:42 AM on December 25, 2009


Astro Zombie: "71I also find, Afroblanco, that male Jews who toss around the JAP phrase are sometimes expressing a real hostility to Jewish women that I really, really dislike"

Yes, this.

So, I've had some time to think about this and I'm not as outragey as I was last night. For the record, I never wanted the thread deleted. I think it could have been framed a little better, possibly pointing people to the Wikipedia page for "JAP", since there seems to be a lot of people who are new to the term, and possibly not convinced that yes, it's offensive. But I don't think the post should go away because of that.

We've got a lot of people jumping in saying, "Nope, doesn't bother me!" which is fine, but it'd be nice if there was some acknowledgment of how it might bother some and why. And maybe some restraint from those posting jokes and other types of comments that might unkindly poke some tender spots people might have.

I think the thing I'm reacting to the most, and more generally on MeFi lately, is the general lack of sensitivity about these topics. Especially during the holidays, which can be a very hard time of year for many people, regardless of background or religion.

This isn't just about the coastie thread. For me, the attitudes expressed in recent previous threads carry over into this, as one long chain of sentiment that becomes harder and harder to accept and reconcile. I guess I'm just requesting that people give it rest, at least for today, ok? And if you want to take that further, I could use a virtual hug.

Also, timing. I feel ridiculous that I'm spending Christmas day fighting feelings of alienation coming from one of the few places that's open and not blaring holiday music in my face.

Oh, and what amro said.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:45 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


My point, and I have made it before, is that when discussions if Israel start tipping into discussions of Judaism in general, and sometimes veer into historically thorny accusations about Jews, it can be especially difficult to tease this out, because a large number if people relexively react to any discussion of antisemitism during a discussion if Israel as though it's only function is a silencing tactic.

Grossly unfair? You must be reading different Israel threads than me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:49 AM on December 25, 2009


God, why does every discussion of Jews turn to Israel. One does not equal the other.

I don't think even He has the answer, though if anyone does find out, please let me know. My last date with a girl who was also Jewish went disasterously after she started complaining about "that self-hating Jew, Naomi Klein."
posted by greatgefilte at 10:54 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I also find, Afroblanco, that male Jews who toss around the JAP phrase are sometimes expressing a real hostility to Jewish women that I really, really dislike."

Yeah, I agree with this.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:57 AM on December 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

As mentioned in the thread at least a couple times, there is nothing inherently "Jewish" in JAP....you can just as easily (if not more so) point out the Jersey Catholic girls who fit the attitude and wardrobe and spending habits, or the Texan born-again chicks. So I'd be happy if we could just drop the arguably anti-Semitic "J" altogether and just call them "APs".
You would? But why? There's also nothing inherently "American" about the profile.
posted by Flunkie at 11:06 AM on December 25, 2009


Aren't the Chinese restaurants open yet?
posted by jonmc at 11:08 AM on December 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


For me, the key to understanding the JAP stereotype is that it is, without exception, a collection of negative assumptions: frigidity, shallowness, materialism, vanity, greed, etc.

When you start defining people based on exclusively negative charateristics, you're in bad territory. And people will say, oh, but there are Jewish women who are like that -- a lot if them!

No there aren't. There is no group of people who deserve to be defined only by their negative attributes.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:08 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Didn't think too much of the take-away food reference in the title of the recent thread about the behaviour of the Chinese delegation at Copenhagen, if it's 'airing of grievances that fall a bit short of hanging offences' time. Think on, beloved posters.
posted by Abiezer at 11:13 AM on December 25, 2009


Aren't the Chinese restaurants open yet?

Oh, man, the new Afghan restaurant down the street was open last night. It was awesome - very friendly vibe, lots of the owners' family stopping in, excellent dumplings with the perfect amount of hot and mint. I think I have a new Xmess Eve tradition.

And if they're open tonight, a new Xmess Day tradition, too.
posted by mediareport at 11:34 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aren't the Chinese restaurants open yet?

Jews can dislike their families just like WASPs, you know.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:12 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some of us bring our iPods to eat Chinese.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:14 PM on December 25, 2009


This is why I quit saying "Motherfucker." Because I didn't want to offend people who fuck their mothers.
posted by waraw at 12:18 PM on December 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hey, I ate at an Afghan restaurant last night, too. mediareport. Yum.
posted by amro at 12:37 PM on December 25, 2009


We went out for Christmas dim sum. Since the restaurant was at the far end of a long commercial strip, we bided our time on the drive by counting which establishments were open.

Among chain stores, Starbuck's, 7-11 and all the drug stores were open. As was a Dunkin Donuts, which we stopped at on the way home but they had no donuts.

Almost all the Chinese restaurants were open.

A smattering of Indian and middle eastern restaurants and groceries were open.

Dim sum couldn't be beat, and for afters we stopped at a bakery and got an opera torte. The bakery was named Opera Pastry but our choice was purely coincidence, I swear.

And we're neither Jewish nor Chinese, but I have no idea why delicious dim sum or a platter of crispy duck should not pass as a traditional Christmas dinner, because it's better than anything I could make.
posted by ardgedee at 12:38 PM on December 25, 2009


ls it really a Dunkin' Donuts if they're open but don't have donuts?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 1:05 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a WASP who has worked at several Jewish non-profits for over nearly a (gasp - so long?) decade - I've always considered JAP one of those terms that can only be appropriately used among people of the same ethnic group. My Jewish friend calling another chick a JAP may get a giggle out of me - but it's not something I can turn around and tell another Jewish friend about - because it's not my term to use. To do otherwise is at best utterly tone-deaf - but really does smack of racism to me.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:05 PM on December 25, 2009


In borderline situations like this, where there's lots of back and forth debate over whether or not something is actually offensive, I have a handy little trick I use. If the people who the word actually affects, in this case, Jewish females, regardless of how they dress, say it offends them, I don't use it. Easy peasy.

Disclaimer: I am a Jewish female, I don't use the term anyway, nor do I spend much time thinking about it, since it's a non-issue in my own life. But damn is it ever annoying to have a bunch of people who will never ever ever be called a JAP waltz in here and say "oh, but I don't think it's offensive."
posted by Ruki at 1:20 PM on December 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey: ls it really a Dunkin' Donuts if they're open but don't have donuts?

There's a sports arena in downtown Providence called The Dunkin' Donuts Center. The laws-of-space-and-time bending tradition of H. P. Lovecraft is alive and well in his hometown of Providence.
posted by Kattullus at 2:46 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Back in the day the Ivy League schools had strict anti-Jewish quotas...

'The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton' by Jerome Karabel.
posted by ericb at 3:02 PM on December 25, 2009


> ls it really a Dunkin' Donuts if they're open but don't have donuts?

There were about a half dozen customers at tables, sipping at coffee and sadly chewing on their Christmas bran muffins, faces blank -- the disappointment of people able only to dwell on past Christmas wishes unfulfilled.

They were surrounded by many bright and color-saturated pictures of donuts. Apparently mint flavored donuts would have been on offer, if they had not been so unfortunate.
posted by ardgedee at 3:08 PM on December 25, 2009


I feel like I have heard 'guido' used by non-Italian-Americans but I can't think of a specific instance (not counting internet lulz). I've never heard it used positively, it's exclusively an epithet in my experience.

And the use of "guido" on the new MTV reality series 'Jersey Shore' has stirred up controversy and questions.

Italian Americans and the G Word: Embrace or Reject?
Certain words cannot be said out loud without setting off a series of complicated psycho-cultural explosions: the N word among African-Americans, the F word among gays; the C word among Chinese-Americans. Italian-Americans have a similar relationship with a two-syllable word beginning with G that is actually a man's name. And their feelings burst out loud when MTV began promoting its new reality show Jersey Shore, which an off-camera announcer declared would feature the "hottest, tannest craziest Guidos" in New Jersey's beachside communities. Wait, did MTV really just say "Guido" on the air?

Most people on the east coast easily recognize the word as a slur against Italian-American men of a certain class and swagger — and there was MTV just letting it rip. As the ramp up to the show continued, Italian-American anti-defamation groups started their drumbeat and the commercial was tweaked ever so slightly: the word "Guido" was replaced with "roommates" — which is more generally the premised cast of the reality show. But that was not the last we heard of Guido, well, because it's all over the show. Indeed, in the first episode of Jersey Shore, the eight housemates wear the Guido and Guidette badge proudly.
posted by ericb at 3:22 PM on December 25, 2009


From here on in, I'll only be referring to the slit on a circumcized penis as a Jap's eye. I'm gonna have to find another euphemism for that opening on the gentile genitalia.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:45 PM on December 25, 2009


Aren't the Chinese restaurants open yet?

Yep. And not just for the Jews on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra.
posted by ericb at 3:48 PM on December 25, 2009


Astro Zombie: MetaFilter is notoriously bad at discussing Israel

Well, you're threadshitting performance theatre on the topic certainly helps with that, doesn't it?
posted by rodgerd at 4:41 PM on December 25, 2009


Care to point to an example? I'm not generally comfortable with my commentary, which is generally meant in earnest, being referred to as "threadshitting," especially as I almost never participate in Israel threads, so I am curious as to what you are referring to.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:26 PM on December 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra.

That scene always bugged me for this reason:

"l" is a phoneme in Chinese, but "r" isn't; "r" is a phoneme in Japanese, but "l" isn't.

Hence the Chinese loanword "aspilin" (aspirin) and the Japanese loanword "terebi" (television).

So it makes no sense--a native speaker of any Chinese dialect I can think of would have no trouble with "holly" or "la la la" because those sounds are frequent in Chinese.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:30 PM on December 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


Well, and "r" isn't even a phoneme in Japanese except for the purpose of romanization. What it actually has is an alveolar flap, which is closer to how we pronounce unstressed d (like in "ladder", for example) than it is to either of the English liquids l and r.

Which is why it presents a challenge for ESL speakers. And English-native JSL speakers tend to fuck it up pretty badly in the other direction, too, though we have the advantage of just having to learn the one new phoneme instead of learning to make a phonemic distinction that doesn't exist in Japanese.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:10 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't think of an internet community that is good at discussing Israel.

You know, my husband (anti religious, hated being raised Christian fundamentalist) and I (Jewish) can't discuss Israel. It is one of the few topics off limits in our marriage.

As for the word JAP, I second AZ in saying it is indeed offensive to me both as a Jewish person and as a woman. It didn't used to offend me, but I think the acceptability of the term is as dated as a lot of the other ethnic and gender oriented humor I used to laugh at in the 1980s.

Finally, here's a Guido reference that somehow came to mind as I read this thread.

Life is Beautiful is a 1997 film about an Italian Jew - Guido - who helps his son [Giosué] survive the Holocaust by pretending it is all a game.. . . . The following quotes are taken from the official English subtitles. . . .

Giosué: "No Jews or Dogs Allowed." Why do all the shops say, "No Jews Allowed"?
Guido: Oh, that. "Not Allowed" signs are the latest trend! The other day, I was in a shop with my Chinese friend and his pet kangaroo, but their sign said, "No Chinese or Kangaroos Allowed," and I said to my friend, "Well, what can I do? They don't allow kangaroos."
Giosué: We let everyone in our shop, don't we?
Guido: Well, tomorrow, we'll put one up. We won't let in anything we don't like. What don't you like?
Giosué: Spiders.
Guido: Good I don't like Visigoths. Tomorrow, we'll get a sign: "No Spiders or Visigoths Allowed."

posted by bearwife at 6:17 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I dunno, having grown up Jewish in Brooklyn, JAP was never a particularly offensive term.

Try living as a Jew in a small town in the Southwest. I did for a while as a kid, in a town that was mostly Baptist, with some Catholics. One reform temple and very few Jewish families. Antisemitism was rampant. It was used as a casual antisemitic slur, along with phrases like "I Jewed him down," or "Christ-killer."

I grew up Jewish in New York City and Texas. The slur is absolutely racist and antisemitic. If it wasn't, it wouldn't be Jewish American Princess. Perhaps that's a perspective that becomes more apparent when one hears it directed at themselves by a non-Jew outside of a Jewish community comfort zone.
posted by zarq at 8:17 PM on December 25, 2009


It's not necessarily antisemitic or sexist, although it skirts the border.

Bullshit. It's the equivalent of someone saying, "She's such a JEW."


...and not intending it in any way as a compliment...
posted by zarq at 8:26 PM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie: MetaFilter is notoriously bad at discussing Israel

Astro Zombie, could you link to examples of Israel threads you have in mind? It seems like I always hear a lot about how poorly they go, but I never really see them myself -- I think partly due to some of them being nuked because they seem likely to go poorly, and partly because I gloss over threads about detailed political policies that I don't feel super-strongly about. I'd actually like to see a standing thread where people did discuss Israel recently.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:41 PM on December 25, 2009


There were three nuked just this week. Actually, it was the same post, posted three times. The whole discussion is here.

But I don't want to get fixated on the whole Israel thing; I have a memory of it deteriorating into a discussion about a select passage from the Talmud some time ago, and I think the recent one definitely had a Blood Libel element to it that nobody really wanted to talk about. I'm more concerned with the fact that people don't recognize that JAP is a slur because a) they aren't offended by it and b) there really are JAPS. To me this demonstrates that a lot of people are unfamiliar enough with antisemitism to no longer be able to recognize it and to not know when they are participating in it. Which I suppose might be read as a good thing, if I believed that we were in a post-antisemitism world, and so people have simply forgotten what it is like to hate Jews. I don't believe that though, and so I think it is worth pointing out when somebody is participating in denigrating Jews, even when they don't mean anything by it and aren't aware they are doing it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:11 PM on December 25, 2009


My take: I always put "JAP" in the same category as, say "fratboy" or "guido", in that it describes a set of lifestyle choices rather than any racial/ethnic traits, although it's sort of ethnic-related ("fratboy" = white Anglo/Saxon male, "guido" = Italian-American, "JAP" = Jewish female). It's not something you'd call anyone you like, but it's not really offensive either.
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:41 PM on December 25, 2009


Well, what I'm not clear on is how "Jewish" or "Italian" get lumped in with "lifestyle choices."
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:02 PM on December 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


Astro Zombie: Well, what I'm not clear on is how "Jewish" or "Italian" get lumped in with "lifestyle choices."

Y'know, like being gay.
posted by Kattullus at 10:05 PM on December 25, 2009


How is this complicated? "JAP" is an icky word and a stupid stereotype, and so is "guido", even if some Jewish women say the first and some Italian-American men say the second.

We don't say "beaner" or "wetback" on MeFi, even though Carlos Mencia has made a lucrative career out of doing so.

I would love to see "redneck" and "cracker" go, too, despite Jeff Foxworthy's vast empire of shlock.

Getting laughs by using slurs is pretty hapless. (Mocking the use of slurs can be funny, but fewer people can do it aptly than think they can.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:18 PM on December 25, 2009


Yeah, but is there anyone who actually fits the stereotype that would be offended by it? All I've seen are several of Jewish people saying it's not particularly offensive, lots of people with anecdotes about people they know that describe themselves that way, and lots of people who (I'm guessing) aren't Jewish girls being offended on behalf of... who?
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:30 PM on December 25, 2009


I'm a Jew and I am offended by it Do you have to actually fit a stereotype for it to be meaningful? I don't have a hook nose or clutch a bag of diamonds either, and I find that image offensive.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:37 PM on December 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


Jewish and American are not lifestyle choices; "princess" is. And really, I think it is the princess-y-ness that is the deciding factor in whether someone might be called a JAP. I believe I've heard JAP used to describe people who are not Jewish, or not American, but never for people who don't fit the "princess" part.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:00 AM on December 26, 2009


There is no such think as a word that is a slur on an ethnicity, a group of people, or anybody - just like there is no word that is an insult, no word that is affection, and no word that is a tree. Can people start to recognize this, please? It's very, very important. A slur is a denigration or insult toward a group of people or an ethnicity - that is, an instance of denigration. When Q-Tip raps about "sucka niggas," the word "nigga" is not a racial slur - people within or without the African-American community can argue about whether it's a good word to use, but everyone agrees that Q-Tip is not insulting or denigrating black people.

A slur is an intended bit of malice expressed by a word. But words are just words, and they can mean a lot of different things to different people. We can argue all day about whether this whole "coastie" song thing is a slur (I happen to think it's a typical obnoxious better-than-thou slur indeed) but the word or phrase on its own is not a slur.

Witness: this thread. Some people say, "well, I'm x, and I'm not offended by it." Other people say, "well, I'm y, and I'm offended by it." These people are silly, I think. They seem to be offended by words. Words are not offensive. Words are just words. People are offensive.
posted by koeselitz at 12:07 AM on December 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Der iz no sutch think, ja?
posted by koeselitz at 12:09 AM on December 26, 2009


I think I am seeing a trend of non-Jews deciding that an anti-Jewish slur can't possibly be offensive because they personally are not offended by it, and this strikes me as both bizarre and problematic, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised; we repeatedly saw the same thing happen in the boyzone threads, with men rushing in to tell women that they shouldn't be offended by stuff that seemed sexist women, because, to the men, it didn't seem sexist at all, or, if it was, it just wasn't that big a deal.

I've made the case, and a number of other people have as well, that the phrase is offensive. That's it's a collection of mean-spirited negative descriptors that neatly dovetails with a number of classical antisemitic ideas -- as well as sexist ideas -- and its only function is to target a minority group for scorn -- even when it is applied to non-Jews, it essentially says "you're negative behavior is being called out because it is similar to the steretypical behavior of certain Jewish women." And yet the only case people seem to be able to make that it isn't a slur is that, hey, who is really bothered by it, and is antisemitism really that big a deal, and nobody really means anything by it. Is there some other argument for its use that I have overlooked? Is there a good reason for using a phrase that undeniable heaps contempt on a historically despised group?? Or is this just another example of people in a privileged majority rushing to protect any privilege they have, no matter how mean-spirited or small-minded?
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:12 AM on December 26, 2009 [9 favorites]


seemed sexist to women, rather.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:13 AM on December 26, 2009


Come on now, lads, those windmills won't tilt at themselves!
posted by Burhanistan at 12:26 AM on December 26, 2009


Well, Burhanistan, I've been tilting at my family all day, but when I tilted so far that I fell over, they finally figured out that I'd been drunk the whole time. So they put me here in front of this computer to let me work it out.
posted by koeselitz at 12:37 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


God. I'm starting to understand why women would regularly dump MetaFilter during the BoyZone threads. I couldn't feel less welcome here right now -- I have made a series of comments that I think clearly map out why a phrase like JAP isn't a very nice one, and I am being met with waves of dismissiveness and, in a few instances, outright hostility -- or apathy, which is even more heartbreaking.

You have to understand -- half of MetaFilter is female, so the MeFi boyzone threads could explode into longboats. But there just aren't very many of us Jews here, and we really, really do not want to have to walk into a room where there are two of us, and 98 non-Jews, and when something seems odd or ill-considered, have the pleasure of being shouted down by non-Jews who are all too ready to tell Jews what is antisemitism and what isn't. The usual rule for dealing with minorities about thorny subjects -- which is to try and talk less than you listen -- seems permanently suspended on Jewish subjects, and this is the issue I have, and I just don't see any fucking resolution to it at all. It's driven me away from threads about Israel, now I just don't feel like putting my head into threads about Jewish subjects, despite the fact that I think I have something to offer on the subject, and, if it keeps up, I might just not feel comfortable on MetaFilter at all, because, you know, fuck if anybody feels welcome in a place where their own experience is not taken seriously.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:41 AM on December 26, 2009 [11 favorites]


When Q-Tip raps about "sucka niggas," the word "nigga" is not a racial slur - people within or without the African-American community can argue about whether it's a good word to use

In fact, I'm told that other niggas in the community think it's crummy, but he don't.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:55 AM on December 26, 2009


I'm a Jew and I am offended by it

Alright then, it's offensive. Seriously, if you're offended by it, then it's more offensive than I realized. Didn't mean to be a dick, I really never thought that term was that offensive.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:58 AM on December 26, 2009


Also, I always kinda thought antisemitism is dumb even as prejudices go. I mean, of everyone I've known who's Jewish, I couldn't even point out anything that's "different" about them. What's even there to be threatened by?
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:05 AM on December 26, 2009


Astro Zombie: “God. I'm starting to understand why women would regularly dump MetaFilter during the BoyZone threads. I couldn't feel less welcome here right now -- I have made a series of comments that I think clearly map out why a phrase like JAP isn't a very nice one, and I am being met with waves of dismissiveness and, in a few instances, outright hostility -- or apathy, which is even more heartbreaking.”

For what it's worth, the nog has indeed flowed too freely through me today, and rereading my last comment, I realized instantly that it sounded exactly like I was dismissing you and others who try to voice that they have a concern with people using the word. I've been trying to come up with a better way of saying what I meant coherently.

What bothers me most isn't the people who worried about the word - honestly, it'd be nice if people paid attention to themselves and what they're saying more. What bothers me is the casual attitude that lots of people seem to have about racism and bigotry in general - that it's a game of avoiding the offensive words. It's as though people picture an absolute ranking of words, from most offensive to least offensive, and feel as though the goal is just to use the words on their absolute ranking that aren't on the offensive end. That's why I think people have this silly, nonchalant reaction when someone brings up the possibility that there's racism in something that someone said; they shrug, yawn, and say "well, I don't find 'J.A.P.' offensive - it's not like 'kike.'" And thus, because people think "this word is offensive, that word is not offensive," we don't actually deal with the very real and insidious prejudice behind the words - that is, we simply go from a generation of racists who say "kikes" to a generation of racists who say "J.A.P.s." The strangest, most ridiculous manifestation of this is the fact that, when I hear people use racist slurs now, it's almost always simply the standard name of the race that's used. I think the most obvious example is "Mexican;" when I moved to New Mexico, I had to struggle against my own hesitation to even use the word to describe people, and it sort of alarmed me when I realized why - because I was so used to hearing people say the word as a slur. People do this with "Jew" all the time, too - without realizing that it's often actually worse, I think, than calling somebody a "kike" or a "J.A.P." - because people say "he's such a Jew" enough times, a lot of well-meaning people start to avoid using the word "Jew" because it sounds kind of like an insult to them. We're trained to cut out the words from our speech and not the actual prejudice - that's the problem.

The key is: it's just a word, and it doesn't matter if any one given person thinks it's "offensive," which tends to be a pretty vague and blanket term anyway. What matters is if a person, any person, feels as though they or their race or their friends are being cut down by the person saying the words. And the problem is compounded even more if a whole group of people start to feel that way. The internet makes this worse still, because in text-only communication there can be no subtexts of affection or friendship. So people begin to feel more and more that they can inject prejudice and racism into their interactions with others simply because they're cutting out the words that are racist slurs. The thing is: they're not.

Anyhow, that's what annoyed me most about that thread - that so many people came and shrugged, saying "eh - I've heard that word in a non-racist context, I don't think it's racist." But the question of whether a single word is racist isn't even answerable - much less pertinent to the situation at hand! What matters is: does this hurt someone? Could it potentially hurt someone? What matters is: if you say it knowing that some people will find it offensive, and knowing it might hurt someone, you're dangerously close to racism, no matter what words you're using.

All that to say: I'm on your side on this, AZ, and I'm sorry you've been made to feel unwelcome. You're right that it's a bit scandalous that so many people can nonchalantly dismiss the pain and injustice caused by racism.
posted by koeselitz at 1:15 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Astro Zombie, I just read back through this page, and can't find any non-Jew weighing in on its offensiveness other than their observations of Jews using the term.

Personally, the only reason I didn't consider it either racist or sexist is that it clearly doesn't apply to every Jewish woman. I did consider it offensive, but on a personal level, in the same way that calling somebody a "pointy-haired boss" or "BMW-driving execudroid" might be. Like "guido" and "redneck", it only applies to people who actually fit the profile. You can easily be Italian and male and from South Jersey, but not a guido; and you can be poor and melanin deficient from the sticks without being a redneck. And, I had thought, you could be female and Jewish without being a JAP. [Although, unlike "guido" and "redneck", I don't think I've ever referred to anybody as a JAP.]

But, I can see your argument that it aligns with existing stereotypes that are (incorrectly, obviously) applied to all Jews. I hadn't considered that. I shall now consider it ethnically offensive.
posted by Netzapper at 1:22 AM on December 26, 2009


I am going to try and calm down, and it is not my intention to dominate this discussion. Instead, I am going to try to contribute by adding voices other than my own, in the form of links.

"JAPs are stuck up, snobby, cliquey, stupid, and materialistic;" ... Some people, like freshman communications major Rachel Anderson, go as far as avoiding any contact with perceived JAPs at all. “If I see them in an elevator, I always wait for the next one.”

At Cornell and elsewhere, students wear T shirts reading SLAP-A-JAP! and BACK OFF BITCH, I'M A JAP-BUSTER! "Anti-Semitism masked as sexism is more socially acceptable," says Rabbi Laura Geller, director of the Hillel Jewish Center at the University of Southern California, "because, unfortunately, sexism is still an accepted form of bigotry."

Spencer discovered that nasty comments about "JAPS" led to more generally anti-Semitic graffiti that said among other slogans, "Hitler was right!" "Give Hitler a second chance!" and "I hate Jews." He also discovered that there were certain places in which Jewish women --JAPS -- were not welcome: for example, certain cafes where Jewish women were hassled if they entered. He also found that certain areas of the University were considered "JAP-free zones" and other areas (particular dorms) that were called "Jew havens." At The American University in Washington, D.C., largely Jewish residence halls are called "Tokyo Towers," making the racial overtones of "JAP" explicit. But let the parallels to Nazi occupied Europe not be lost upon us. Under the Nazis, movements of Jews were sharply restricted: there were many areas which Jews could not enter, and others (like ghettos and concentration camps) that they could not leave.

Anti-Semitism and misogyny directed towards the “Jewish American Princess” resulted in several outrageous events at Cornell University. (PDF) At a Cornell college fair, signs that read, “Make her prove she’s not a JAP, make her swallow” were posted at various booths. This is in sync with the stereotype that the Jewish American Princess is sexually reserved, and not inclined to perform any sexual acts, in this case fellatio, unless it is to her advantage. Again at Cornell
University, a student newspaper printed a cartoon (created by a Jewish man) that presented its
readers with advice on how to “exterminate” “JAPs.” The cartoon suggested that one should set up a truck that offered “bargains.” This would catch the attention of “JAPs” (due to stereotype that the Jewish American Princess is materialistic and loves to shop). Once the “JAPs” were in the truck, they would be caught and then dumped off a cliff.

I've spent my whole adult life running from that label, the one bequeathed me in adolescence just because I wore designer jeans and hung out with very rich girls, had strong opinions and voiced them, was overeducated and well-traveled. And just because I was all those things and I was Jewish. To this day, I'd rather be called any number of four-letter words than "JAP," that biting, sarcastic, pejorative acronym for "Jewish American Princess."

By the 1980s, the JAP had gone from being a quirky ethnic sketch to the presumed identity of nearly every Jewish woman, a trend that reeked of anti-Semitism and misogyny. Galvanized by a slew of incidents at college campuses-including anti-JAP graffiti, ''Biggest JAP on Campus'' contests, and housing ads that warned ''No JAPs''

[T]he JAP symbolizes, in part, Jews’ perpetual otherness: not quite white, not quite POC; always straddling the line between races – and always eager to exploit whatever and whomever they have to in order to get ahead. The Jew – and the JAP – is deceptive and conniving, and her ability to sneak back and forth between categories makes her a very real threat. Controlling her identity is essential to controlling her, whether it’s by dictating her race or shaming her when she acts out her stereotype.

Some argue that the Jewish American Princess does not, in fact, exist. As Riv-Ellen Prell writes, “The JAP representation of Jewish women took on the appearance of reality because ‘she’ appeared in print and because legions of experts suggested that ‘she’ was real” (188). People mistakenly believe in the existence of the JAP, according to this view, due to the propagation of this anti-Semitic stereotype that projects the conspicuous consumption and material obsession of Americans onto Jewish women. The JAP stereotype conveys an image of a female who exhibits specific negative character traits that, though they could be possessed by anyone, are labeled “Jewish.”
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:29 AM on December 26, 2009 [28 favorites]


And all those very useful links, Astro Zombie, remind me of one more thing I'd meant to say:

That, while I don't find the phrase J.A.P. offensive, I've never once in my life heard it without being chilled to the bone because of what the person saying it clearly meant. And the fact that it seems to be on the rise is, I think, a strong indication that a kind of P.C. anti-semitism which uses words and phrases that are supposed to be safe enough to pass the censors is becoming more and more common in the US, especially on college campuses. The coy 'gotcha' effect which resides in the fact that it's disguised behind a word which in the past was used as a very bitter insult against Japanese people is just another layer of armor for these people - "no, silly, I don't mean Jap! I mean Jewish woman - see? Not offensive at all!"

And the rising trend of anti-semitism among young people in the US is something I think we should be very worried about.
posted by koeselitz at 1:42 AM on December 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


98 non-Jews would be an awesome name for a band or a song. Sort of like 4 non-blondes. If it were Welsh and Google translations are to be trusted it would be named 98 Iddewon nad ydynt yn. (So much for Mrs. Baker and 'sometimes' vowels.) Philipino is 98 hindi Hudyo, Irish is 98 jews neamh, Yiddish is (impossible to paste and comment simultaneously because of right to left, I like this). 98 נאַן אידן
As is Arabic here. 98 غير اليهود
Icelandic: 98 ekki Gyðingum. Ekki is 'non' obviously and onomatopoeically perfect whatever the context.
Vietnamese has way too many characters, 98 không phải người Do Thái, and makes me wonder if the root experience of Vietnamese people with Jewish people is from Thai Jews.
Swahili sounds nice and casually unconcerned to this ear: 98 wasio Wayahudi.
Galician, 98 non xudeus, manages to communicate a surprising amount of information in few words.

But yeah, what koeslitz said above. Words are only that, context (ha) and intent are everything*. I can build a house with a hammer or tear a house down with a hammer. So, you know, please be careful with hammers.

*In my world charitable interpretations prevail, perhaps incorrectly, but I sleep better and am more the person I'm trying to be because of this.
posted by vapidave at 3:03 AM on December 26, 2009


I grew up in NYC in the 80's and went to a private school that was 75% Jewish and went to a summer camp that was 98% Jewish. I think one thing that may be missing from this conversation is the cultural context the JAP phenomena fell into at the time. This was the era of The Official Preppy Handbook (1980) and The Official Yuppie Handbook (1984). There were also similar trends and publications for sub-cultures, because of course "preppy" and "yuppy" were taken to mean both white and non-Jewish, natch.

So we also got The Jewish American Princess Handbook, sub titled "Oy vey, now it's our turn" and The Buppie Handbook for yuppies of colour.

And certainly in the world in which I resided, JAP was not anti-semetic nor was it a slur. It was something girls in my social group aspired to and a term that was happily used to self-describe. We passed the book around and shared all kinds of "Are You a JAP?" quizzes we had made up or gotten from somewhere and wanted high scores. (The only questions I can remember were about how often you went to Bloomingdales and how much Benneton was in your closet; the rest escapes me.)

So now it's 25 years later and I certainly do not use that term because yes, I do find it offensive - pooling any set of people together and ascribing attributes to them based on religion and/or gender is stereotyping, which I try not to do. But I also don't see it the same way a lot of people do, simply because I was part of a group of people who embraced that culture and never - not once - heard it used pejoratively in what is still statistically the largest Jewish community in the world. And, you know, it's was the 80's - there was a lot of money around, and we had not yet reached post-consumerism and nobody was thinking particularly critically about $100 sweaters, restaurant dining, or plastic surgery and cultural identity.

Granted, I was not reading the NYT at 12, so no doubt any critical commentary and hullabaloo passed me by, but still: my JAP memories are, for what it's worth, all positive ones.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:17 AM on December 26, 2009


I'm usually one to argue that we can only think well about the meaning of language by looking at examples of its usage, but in this case I think the opposite in a way. And I don't think this point has been made quite this way yet: "JAP" is structurally a slur, in that it links perceived negative traits to elements of identity. We can talk all we want about how it does or doesn't make us or our friends feel, or about "reclaiming" it or using it somehow innocuously in an in-group, but those are instances of irony or re-purposing, and it doesn't change the structure of the term.

I've lived in Madison for a couple of decades and I think that video and the whole anti-semitic tinge of Sconnie resentment of Coasties is reminiscent of a history of suspicion of "outsiders" that probably goes back to the anti-Vietnam War movement or earlier. Not my favorite thing about the midwest, love the place though I do. (But I'm from the south originally, so I know it could be worse...)

One other thing I might put out there for those who don't know Madison, though, is that Jewish presence here is woven into almost everything that makes it a great town. Just sayin'. I suspect we could say the same for Metafilter.
posted by Mngo at 5:44 AM on December 26, 2009


Papers I wrote in College and finally found a place to argue here in Metafilter.
PICMe.
(not you mngo, just an observation)
and yeah, grumpy, sorry.
posted by vapidave at 6:38 AM on December 26, 2009


I am female, Jewish, and from New Jersey. I think that qualifies me to say that I find the term JAP offensive.
posted by amro at 7:24 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know about the other languages, vapidave, but the Icelandic translation is wrong.

Oh, and I've only heard JAP said out loud once, it was in France in 2000 by a young white American woman who was bitter about her social status in her old high school even though at this time she had graduated from college. I thought it was a weird term then but I didn't really give it much thought until now. I've never heard it said in Rhode Island. And yeah, the conflation of sexism and antisemitism is bad enough for me to probably give someone shit about it if I saw them wearing a button or t-shirt that had an anti-JAP message.
posted by Kattullus at 8:20 AM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is the first time I have ever heard the term JAP (white male from Minnesota, not very tuned in I guess). Reading through this thread and looking at the offered definitions, I find it surprising that people would not detect the inherent slur-iness of this term. When you label someone, and that label carries a load of negative images, and that label ties those images to a group of people, is that not the definition of a slur? And really, knowing what we know about antisemitism, how could someone feel comfortable associating these classic Jewish stereotypes - rich, entitled, undeserving, etc. - with a derogatory word for Jewish people?

If there was a word that tied these classic stereotypes - lazy, dumb, violent - to black people*, no one would be defending the use of this word.

*I'm sure there are any number of slurs for this, but I don't want to dive down that rabbit hole.
posted by Think_Long at 8:23 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


an anti-JAP message

So... You're pro-JAP?
posted by amro at 8:43 AM on December 26, 2009


Pro-JAP? I've been in the foxholes with JAPs.
posted by Kattullus at 9:11 AM on December 26, 2009


AZ, I understand your outrage, but you seem to be willfully ignoring the fact that a substantial number of people saying "I don't find it offensive" in this thread are Jews. I agree there's too much casual antisemitism around, even on MeFi, but I don't think the original thread was antisemitic, just an interesting link that unfortunately attracted some ignorant comments. And obviously the people who made the video are ignorant, but I don't think they're antisemitic in any serious sense; Dee had their number when she wrote (way up there):

I don't think the guys who made the video were conscious of how it would be perceived by a lot of people. The term mathowie used, "tone deaf," pretty much describes it to me. I'm going to assume they'll grow out of it; my general belief is that most college students are pretty idiotic.

I happen to be reading one of the best books I've ever read on Russia, Zhivago's Children: The Last Russian Intelligentsia by Vladislav Zubok, and it has heartbreaking accounts of Russian Jews, who loved Russian culture and saw themselves as just as Russian as anyone else, discovering the visceral antisemitism surrounding them that didn't become apparent until the authorities made it clear that it was open season on Jews. Ain't nothing cute about antisemitism, folks, and if members of a group tell you a term is offensive, it's offensive, period, even if other members of that group are OK with it.
posted by languagehat at 9:15 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


I suspect the reason a lot of Jews don't find it offensive s because they use it, and also because they have been separated from contexts in which its truly hurtful. I'm sort of a glad to be in a world where Jews sometimes don't recognize antisemitism when it's self-evident, but JAP really is a terrifically hurtful stereotype.

I don't know that it's the case in this thread, but I have met Jewish men who use the phrase JAP who really, really despise Jewish women, and I have met Jewish women who self-apply the phrase to excuse some monstrous behavior. I think Jews would do well to let that particular phrase drop, in part because it's sort of a permission-giving device for some unforgivable in-group behavior, and in part because it gives non-Jews a sort of antisemitism-lite that they can feel safe about using, and use without a thought as to what it means, or what's its history is, because it supposedly fairly describes an actual group of people.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:28 AM on December 26, 2009


God damn you, biological Irish parents. I was supposed to sped Christmas drinking, but you had to put me with a Jewish family for adoption.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:34 AM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


accounts of Russian Jews, who loved Russian culture and saw themselves as just as Russian as anyone else, discovering the visceral antisemitism surrounding them

Yeah, unfortunately that's been the story almost everywhere in the world.
posted by amro at 9:52 AM on December 26, 2009


Many people find "Jewish American Princess" to be offensive. Is it that hard to NOT say JAP?
posted by Daddy-O at 11:03 AM on December 26, 2009


I understand your outrage, but you seem to be willfully ignoring the fact that a substantial number of people saying "I don't find it offensive" in this thread are Jews.

Languagehat, several of us Jewish people have piped up on this thread to say the term is offensive to us as Jews. And a few of us have added that it is sexist too. I also appreciate Think_Long's thoughtful, and AZ's extensive explanations of why it is offensive. Do we have to have a majority vote of people of Jewish heritage, or of people who are women, to agree on the unacceptability of a term that is deployed by some with hateful intent -- examples appear above -- and makes some of us feel demeaned?

To quote you,

Ain't nothing cute about antisemitism, folks, and if members of a group tell you a term is offensive, it's offensive, period, even if other members of that group are OK with it

And finally, for those who say words mean nothing, it is all about the intent of the speaker, I have some quotes to offer:

Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs. --Pearl Strachan

Speech is the mirror of the soul; as a man speaks, so he is. --Publilius Syrus

By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever harmed his stomach. --Winston Churchill

When you have spoken the word, it reigns over you. When it is unspoken you reign over it. --Arabian Proverb

It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn --Robert Southey

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. --Mark Twain

Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent. --Dionysius of Halicarnassus

Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall. --Oliver Wendell Holmes

Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill. --Buddha

Never miss a good chance to shut up. –Will Rogers

posted by bearwife at 11:33 AM on December 26, 2009 [5 favorites]


"I don't know about the other languages, vapidave, but the Icelandic translation is wrong."
Dang it, I was hoping the machine would bridge my spectacular lack. Oh well and thanks.
posted by vapidave at 11:50 AM on December 26, 2009


And obviously the people who made the video are ignorant, but I don't think they're antisemitic in any serious sense;

Languagehat, we're discussing casual antisemitism. (See the title of this post.) The use of the term to stereotype all women who act a certain way as Jewish is an excellent example of it. And yes, casual racism, casual sexism, and casual antisemitism all perpetuate nasty, dangerous stereotypes by cloaking them as sentiments that are acceptable to express in "polite" society.

Overt or casual, it's fucking offensive.
posted by zarq at 12:03 PM on December 26, 2009


I just spent four hours writing a comment which I've deleted, because I don't think posting it would come to any good. I'll just say this, and try to walk away.

- I am a Jewish man from the midwest.
- I used the term "JAP" often as a teenager and college student.
- It was reasonable, descriptive, and accurate. I didn't feel bad about it then, and I don't feel bad about it now.
- If I thought that I had to worry about what everyone found offensive before I spoke or wrote, then I would definitely kill myself.
- I had never heard the term 'coasties' before today (I guess I'm too old, and I left the midwest too long ago) but I love it, love it, love it.
posted by bingo at 12:08 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just spent four hours writing a comment

Seriously?? Step away from the computer, man.
posted by amro at 12:14 PM on December 26, 2009


I used the term "JAP" often as a teenager and college student.

Me too.

I didn't feel bad about it then, and I don't feel bad about it now.

It's never too late to start.
posted by escabeche at 12:44 PM on December 26, 2009


If I thought that I had to worry about what everyone found offensive before I spoke or wrote, then I would definitely kill myself.

Now, see, this is what gets me. Because you know what? You are already doing this. Every human being with functioning social skills carries out a massive, lightning-fast computation before every single utterance they make: Who's listening? How will what I'm about to say be perceived? What kind of person will it make me look like?

But somehow people get all offended about the suggestion that one of the thousand things in your "Should I say this?" mega-flowchart might be "is this a lazy-ass stereotype which I'm deploying in order to assert the shared in-group membership of me and my bros?"
posted by escabeche at 12:51 PM on December 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


I had never heard the term 'coasties' before today (I guess I'm too old, and I left the midwest too long ago) but I love it, love it, love it.

You know what? I kind of love it too. But I found myself thinking "I worry that some people are lazily identifying "Coastie" with "obnoxious, entitled Jew." But maybe I'm being too sensitive and it's all in my head." Then I saw this video which offered depressing confirmation that it wasn't all in my head. And so I posted it.
posted by escabeche at 12:54 PM on December 26, 2009


But somehow people get all offended about the suggestion that one of the thousand things in your "Should I say this?" mega-flowchart might be "is this a lazy-ass stereotype which I'm deploying in order to assert the shared in-group membership of me and my bros?"

I'm not offended at all. And, yes, of course I have internal filters like everybody else. And when I apply my "Is this a lazy-ass stereotype etc." filter to the JAP question, the answer is: Nope.

Interesting that you're the one accusing me of jumping to conclusions without thinking them through. Is it really outside your realm of consideration that I know exactly what I'm saying, that I've thought the whole thing through very carefully, and merely come to different conclusions than you have?

I first heard the term "JAP" in a Jewish youth group workshop in the early 80s. The whole point of the workshop was to show that it's an example of subtle antisemitism, that we should be on the lookout for such things, that we should never ever say it ourselves, etc. There were quotes from rabbis and academic researchers, and we did some role-playing, and geez I'm getting bored to tears just thinking about it.
posted by bingo at 1:22 PM on December 26, 2009


It seems screamingly obvious to me that it's just a continuation of the old money-grubbing Jew stereotype. The thing that always made me the most annoyed about the whole 'jap' label is the girls who embraced it. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! Why the hell do women participate in this?
posted by desuetude at 1:23 PM on December 26, 2009


You know what? I kind of love it too. But I found myself thinking "I worry that some people are lazily identifying "Coastie" with "obnoxious, entitled Jew." But maybe I'm being too sensitive and it's all in my head." Then I saw this video which offered depressing confirmation that it wasn't all in my head. And so I posted it.

What a bizarre line of reasoning.

The reason I love it is because it adds an additional layer to the "JAP" idea; i.e. the faux-cosmopolitan person from the big city who thinks that midwesterners should kiss their ass because the city-dweller has deigned to bless the country bumpkins with their presence.

Far from being lazy, these terms are quite deliberate and nuanced.
posted by bingo at 1:28 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


bingo: Far from being lazy, these terms are quite deliberate and nuanced.

Eh... it's about as unnuanced as it gets. Let me explain how your definition appears to me.

"the faux-cosmopolitan person from the big city"

Uppity.

"who thinks that midwesterners should kiss their ass because the city-dweller has deigned to bless the country bumpkins with their presence"

See, here we get to the tricky part. You carefully excise in your definition the gender that is inherent in "Jewish-American Princess." There exists a series of words for women who are supposed to fit this stereotype, but none for males (except, of course (thank you, racism) if they're black or Hispanic). These terms are the rudest things you can say to, or about, a woman.

So yeah, it's about as nuanced as a punch in the gut.
posted by Kattullus at 1:46 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I went to dinner earlier this week with a high school friend of my husband's who shall remain nameless, all before this discussion came up. They went to school together in suburban NJ at the end of one of the NJ Transit lines to Hoboken (with ferries to New York). The guy used this term and the rest of us at the table (me, Mr. immlass, and the friend's wife), none of whom were Jewish, all winced.

There are plenty of non-Jewish folks out there who recognize JAP as (being used as) an ethnic slur and don't want to use or hear it. And as a woman, I also hear it as a misogynist term for reasons cited above by women both Jewish and gentile.
posted by immlass at 1:59 PM on December 26, 2009


it's about as unnuanced as it gets. Let me explain how your definition appears to me.

Yes, I agree that your perception of my definition lacks nuance. Congratulations on your reductivism. I too am capable of taking an explanation of yours and pretending that it has a one-word equivalent.

"Uppity" doesn't begin to work. You can have someone who is uppity in the middle of a small community that has no exposure to the outside world. Actually "uppity" is conventionally used to describe people from an underclass (poor, disadvantaged, uneducated, etc.) who are "trying to get above themselves" by acting in a way that's not acceptable for their class. "Coasties" are privileged people from a presumably more sophisticated area, coming and acting like they set the standard of cool.

You carefully excise in your definition the gender that is inherent in "Jewish-American Princess."

They are female. Sorry if there was any ambiguity there.

But wait; in the sentence you were quoting, I was talking about coasties, who are not necessarily female.
posted by bingo at 2:03 PM on December 26, 2009


The video linked seems to indicate that they are primarily female. Or men who like to wear white cotton slogan thongs.
posted by kathrineg at 2:22 PM on December 26, 2009


Yeah, the video is definitely focused on the females. But the impression I get from additional reading is that there can also be male coasties.

The exact venn diagram of how coasties overlap JAPs would be interesting.
posted by bingo at 2:28 PM on December 26, 2009


I live in Madison and teach at UW. I'd say that "coastie" can officially apply to either sex but in practice refers almost exclusively to women.
posted by escabeche at 2:33 PM on December 26, 2009


"JAP" is an incredibly nasty term that manages to ascribe offensive stereotypical Jewish traits to femaleness while simultaneously ascribing offensive stereotypical female traits to Jewishness.

The people arguing that it's not an ethnic slur remind me of this:

In addressing the accusations of racism, [Axl] Rose gave several explanations. In one 1989 interview, he stated that he had used the word to signify "somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word nigger doesn't necessarily mean black"

and the people arguing that, yeah, it's ethnically loaded, but it's still okay because it only refers to people who fit the stereotype, remind me of this:

By 1992, however, Rose seemed to have gained new perspective on the song and its lyrics. In one interview, he conceded that the word had been used as an insult, but added: "I was pissed off about some black people that were trying to rob me. I wanted to insult those particular black people. I didn't want to support racism".
posted by decagon at 2:45 PM on December 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


Dear Asto Zombie

Kudos for your courage in articulating your objections to the term. By the way, I grew up poor Irish and at our Christmases we always managed to have the police over due to the drinking so that wasn't a very ideal Santa story.

I deplore slurs, I wince at all of them. My respect for a person diminishes; often they imagine they are bonding it actually creates the opposite reaction for me.

I feel fortunate to be in a diverse environment teaching in Los Angeles where I know lots of people from extremely different backgrounds.

I have been very close to a man who grew up in Japan, and had the opportunity to see how incredibly cruel people can be based on race and accent. And the other side as an Issei visiting Japan, the notion that one is fundamentally changed by expanded horizons.

I also have recently had the opportunity to befriend someone who grew up Orthodox Jewish, and witness his class and culture struggles. I am struck by how much similarity to the hillbilly stereotype are his particular set of issues. I often envy his tight family ties when I had very few, as many poor, uneducated families do---so many class issues bound in there. Just fascinating.
posted by effluvia at 4:15 PM on December 26, 2009


you seem to be willfully ignoring the fact that a substantial number of people saying "I don't find it offensive" in this thread are Jews

And there are several Jewish people, including several women, who say "I DO find it offensive." So I would think that erring on the side of not fucking offending other valued MeFites with ethnic stereotypes seems like the obvious choice.

There is no point to using the specific words "JAP" or "guido" except that they are ethnic stereotypes--if one wishes to refer to the specific behaviors supposedly encompassed by the stereotypes, "materialistic, status-obsessed women" or "rowdy, tacky young men" or something serves the same purpose without tying the behavior to one ethnic group.

And what has one lost by not saying "JAP" or "guido"? There's no subtlety or richness of expression in those terms--they're crude shorthand that relies on prejudice to make the point.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:41 PM on December 26, 2009 [5 favorites]


bingo: “The reason I love it is because it adds an additional layer to the "JAP" idea; i.e. the faux-cosmopolitan person from the big city who thinks that midwesterners should kiss their ass because the city-dweller has deigned to bless the country bumpkins with their presence. Far from being lazy, these terms are quite deliberate and nuanced.”

Kattullus: “Eh... it's about as unnuanced as it gets... You carefully excise in your definition the gender that is inherent in "Jewish-American Princess." There exists a series of words for women who are supposed to fit this stereotype, but none for males (except, of course (thank you, racism) if they're black or Hispanic). These terms are the rudest things you can say to, or about, a woman. So yeah, it's about as nuanced as a punch in the gut.”

bingo: “Yes, I agree that your perception of my definition lacks nuance. Congratulations on your reductivism. I too am capable of taking an explanation of yours and pretending that it has a one-word equivalent.”

Wow - you're right, bingo. There's a world of nuance behind the word "coastie;" what a great little word this video has given the world, a real treasure. Shame on Kattullus for acting as though your quite nuanced argument could be reduced to nothing but a one-word equivalent.

But don't let him stop you. I mean, the fact that he insists on reducing your argument to a single word shouldn't stand in the way of your desire to reduce a whole group of people to a single word, should it?
posted by koeselitz at 6:11 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


hamburger
posted by koeselitz at 6:12 PM on December 26, 2009




What's remarkable is that bingo, I think, is the only commenter in the main thread who actually uses the term "JAP" with casual hatefulness ("Chicago JAPs"). That tells me all I need to know about where he's coming from.
posted by Mid at 7:29 PM on December 26, 2009


I mean, the fact that he insists on reducing your argument to a single word shouldn't stand in the way of your desire to reduce a whole group of people to a single word, should it?

Definitely not, if the word applies. For example, we could take words like: assholes, firefighters, Americans, capitalists, artisans, etc.

The implication seems to be that, for some reason, it shouldn't be possible to describe a group of people in a single word if one of the characteristics being noted is somehow related to ethnicity, no matter how indirectly, unless the use of that word has passed some kind of cultural referendum by the people being described.

There is no point to using the specific words "JAP" or "guido" except that they are ethnic stereotypes--if one wishes to refer to the specific behaviors supposedly encompassed by the stereotypes, "materialistic, status-obsessed women"...

The problem with that is that it's a long list of "specific behaviors." JAP does not mean "materialistic, status-obsessed women." It refers to a certain kind of attitude, a certain kind of entitlement, a certain way of speaking and dressing, a certain set of sororities usually belonged to which in term perpetuate the group behavior and mentality, etc. If an observer were somehow prevented from ever discovering that all the women in quesition were Jewish (despite the Jewelry, sorority symbols, and topics of discussion that would indicate otherwise), then that observer would still know that this specific group of women had something else in common.

I understand that it's disturbing to hear someone say that a group of people who share certain negative characteristics also share an ethnic and/or cultural and/or religious background (all three, in this case). But acting like it's not true isn't going to make it go away.

It also doesn't mean that admitting the existence of JAPs is going to somehow lead to the lot of us getting carted off to concentrations camps. After all, that's the fear, right? Many Jews are afraid to publicly say something negative about any given group of other Jews for fear that the gentiles are going to take whatever was said, extrapolate from that a new theory of eugenics illustrating our racial inferiority, and whoops! We've inadvertently sparked a new Holocaust.

There are many, many Jewish American women who are not JAPs. It is not a racial condition; it's cultural (sub-cultural, really), and I'm sure that there are JAPs who were adopted into Judaism. There are a lot of great Jews in the world, but we can't all be perfect, and since we are a culture, a race, and a religion, it is going to happen from time to time that some group of us are going to be imperfect in ways that are shared. This is not a Jewish thing; it's a human thing, and it's bound to happen within any given group of people who have enough in common that they can call themselves a culture.

For example, snooty people who work at the CondeNast publishing company (which publishes Vogue, was the setting for Devil Wears Prada, etc.) are sometimes colloquially characterized as "conde nasty." Now, why have this phrase? Why not just call them "nasty people who happen to work at Conde"? Why disparage the company itself, and why cast a shadow on those many, many people who work there, and are not nasty?

And yet, it matters. People who work at Conde (like any other company with a culture) grow to be like one another in certain ways. They dress a certain way. They adopt a certain shared vocabularly. They come to hold a certain set of assumptions in common about the way that business is done. And when you meet someone from that culture, and your perception is that they've been nasty to you in a way that denotes exactly where they're coming from, then there is no shame in using the phrase that has been developed for that very purpose.

This is why I said that JAP is a nuanced term. It does not mean "a woman who is superficial and rich, and happens to be Jewish." That is NOT what it means. It also does NOT mean "a woman who is superficial and rich because she is Jewish. (Did you hear that, Nazis 2.0? Don't come and take us away!) Rather, it means that she possesses a range of characteristics linked to her cultural background, of which her Judaism is also a part.

Could you manufacture a completely non-Jewish JAP? Could you, say, take a non-Jewish woman who looks like she might or might not be Jewish, but who has no Jewish background at all, and has spent very little time around Jewish people, and imbue her with a set of JAP-py characteristics (wealthy, superficial, whiny, entitled, dresses in a certain way, majors in communications, lives in a private dorm, non-intellectual, non-feminist, marriage-focused, etc.)... then would you have someone who would pass as a JAP?

The answer is no, you would not. Because there would still be significant characteristics missing. The membership in the Jewish sorority, and the constant talking about the membership in the Jewish sorority. The vaguely Jewish conversations ("Where are all the cute Jewish guys?"), the vague Zionism ("omg we have got to support Israel, it is. so. important."), not to mention the references to shared cultural tropes like their bat mitzvahs, the youth groups they were members of as a kid (which are designed partly to create networks of young adults who will meet again in college), and even just the landmarks of the culture that they shared growing up (e.g. Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago which was the main source of JAPs at KU circa 1990).

A lot of people in this thread seem to be laboring under the vastly inaccurate supposition that there is not really a specific group of people being described by the term JAP; that it can't possibly be accurate in any meaningful way, and that basically, it's just a playful way of disparaging Jewish women in general. And that isn't true.

I'm sure it would be a lot easier to get indignant about the whole thing if it were true. But it isn't.
posted by bingo at 8:07 PM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


we are a culture, a race, and a religion,

Ugh. Jews are not a race. Please don't open that can of worms.
posted by amro at 8:12 PM on December 26, 2009


Could you manufacture a completely non-Jewish JAP? Could you, say, take a non-Jewish woman who looks like she might or might not be Jewish, but who has no Jewish background at all, and has spent very little time around Jewish people, and imbue her with a set of JAP-py characteristics (wealthy, superficial, whiny, entitled, dresses in a certain way, majors in communications, lives in a private dorm, non-intellectual, non-feminist, marriage-focused, etc.)... then would you have someone who would pass as a JAP?

The answer is no, you would not. Because there would still be significant characteristics missing


Holy shit

The problem with this is that you are in fact assuming that every "JAP" matches every one of these stereotypical elements. You said it right there, if they don't fit every detail they will not be a true "JAP". How is that not reductivism? How is that not extreme prejudice? If you see one girl with a Jewish sorority pin, is she a JAP? How deep do you go to determine whether someone has filled enough spots in the JAP bingo card to fit your label?

To me this is ethnic slurs 101, and for me it literally does not compute that people don't agree.
posted by Think_Long at 8:35 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem with this is that you are in fact assuming that every "JAP" matches every one of these stereotypical elements.

No, I'm not.

You said it right there, if they don't fit every detail they will not be a true "JAP".

No, I didn't.

How is that not reductivism? How is that not extreme prejudice?

Because you're putting words in my mouth. See above.

If you see one girl with a Jewish sorority pin, is she a JAP?

Not necessarily, although it depends on the sorority, and the campus.

How deep do you go to determine whether someone has filled enough spots in the JAP bingo card to fit your label?

Well, this is a bit like asking "How can you tell if a movie is science fiction?" The fact that there isn't an official decision-making flowchart doesn't mean that it's actually that hard to tell. You might also ask "How do you know when someone is a geek?" or "What exactly does it mean to describe someone as flamboyant?" The fact that there will be fringe cases doesn't mean that the label is meaningless.

To me this is ethnic slurs 101, and for me it literally does not compute that people don't agree.

Perhaps the fact that it doesn't compute is a good reason to consider whether you accurately understand the nature of the disagreement.
posted by bingo at 8:53 PM on December 26, 2009


Seriously, Bingo, you're degrading the dialogue here and supporting an ethnic slur with a barrage of horseshit, and it's not appreciated, and I am not in the mood to debate it. Congratulations on having given yourself permission to be an asshole. Hope that works out for you.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:38 PM on December 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Could you manufacture a completely non-Jewish JAP? Could you, say, take a non-Jewish woman who looks like she might or might not be Jewish, but who has no Jewish background at all, and has spent very little time around Jewish people, and imbue her with a set of JAP-py characteristics (wealthy, superficial, whiny, entitled, dresses in a certain way, majors in communications, lives in a private dorm, non-intellectual, non-feminist, marriage-focused, etc.)... then would you have someone who would pass as a JAP?

The thread is straying well away from what it was originally about, which is fine. But I do want to say this: the people who are commonly called "coasties" here at UW include many kids who display some large subset of the features you list, but who are not Jewish. So whatever group of people you're calling "JAPs" is way smaller than the group this video is about. Which is why it's sort of weird and offputting, at least to most of the people here, for the writers to make a point of identifying the coastie in the song as Jewish. If the song were about people who talk about their Jewish sorority and their youth group too much and have poorly thought-out yet fervently expressed commitments to Zionism, then it wouldn't be weird for the word "Jewish" to come up. But as it is, it reads like "This is a song about those annoying girls who are rich and talk a lot in class -- you know, JEWS!"
posted by escabeche at 9:44 PM on December 26, 2009


It's a term which denotes a stereotype which is racial in nature and which has, as one-third of the words which comprises it, the name of an ethnicity.

of course it's a fucking racial slur, what is wrong with you
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:46 PM on December 26, 2009


I'm fine with bingo's comments here, by the way, just because I think he's doing a pretty good job articulating a complicated worldview that's sort of alien to me and which I'm pretty sure is wrong.

That said, bingo, you should lay off with the "whoops! We've inadvertently sparked a new Holocaust" stuff. There's not one person on this thread who thinks the Gestapo's on its way thanks to the coastie video, and you know it. There's a lot of breathing room between "this behavior is gross and unpleasant" and "this behavior encourages mass murder."
posted by escabeche at 9:57 PM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have two questions, please.

1/ Are we saying there is no such thing as JAPs? Or that women who fit the JAP stereotype do exist but it just isn't OK to call them that?

2/ Why is that phrase so incredibly offensive, but it's OK to use phrases like bros and hipsters around here and nobody says anything about it at all? Are those not the same kind of stereotype shorthand?

If it's possible to answer what really are questions to which I do not yet know the asnwer without yelling at me, that would be extra schmoopy.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:58 PM on December 26, 2009


I have never used the phrase "bros" in my life, and don't like it when white people do; Hipster doesn't have a racial or religious component -- certainly you can see that its different.

As to whether there are JAPS or not, well, seeing as it's an epithet relying on a set of negative assumptions about a specific cultural group, it's a bit of an unfair question. It's a bit like saying, well, there are some stupid Polish people, so what's wrong with using the word Polack. Or fill in the derogatory epithet of your choice -- they all work.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:03 PM on December 26, 2009


"Hipster" and "Bro" denote cultural markers that are not racially-specific. "Jewish-American Princess" not only denotes a racially-specific stereotype, it has the name of the ethnicity in question in the fucking word.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:09 PM on December 26, 2009


Hold on, are we not talking about "bro" as a reference to fraternity asshole types?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:10 PM on December 26, 2009


I should rephrase that I don't mind when white people call each other bro. Or, rather, I don't like it, but I don't think anybody is being offensive.

My problem is when white people use "bro" or "brotha" as slang for "black guy."
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:11 PM on December 26, 2009


The answer is no, you would not. Because there would still be significant characteristics missing. The membership in the Jewish sorority, and the constant talking about the membership in the Jewish sorority. The vaguely Jewish conversations ("Where are all the cute Jewish guys?"), the vague Zionism ("omg we have got to support Israel, it is. so. important."), not to mention the references to shared cultural tropes like their bat mitzvahs, the youth groups they were members of as a kid (which are designed partly to create networks of young adults who will meet again in college), and even just the landmarks of the culture that they shared growing up (e.g. Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago which was the main source of JAPs at KU circa 1990).

Well, I see a significant characteristic in this remarkable paragraph, not to mention the rest of the comment of which it is a part. And that characteristic is bigotry. Thanks for making your attitudes clear. No hamburger at all.
posted by bearwife at 10:36 PM on December 26, 2009


It also doesn't mean that admitting the existence of JAPs is going to somehow lead to the lot of us getting carted off to concentrations camps.

What the hell are you talking about?

After all, that's the fear, right?

No. No. No. NO. The problem is that many of us here on MeFi have had this and/or other terms and phrases used against us as a racist and sexist epithet by non-Jews. As we have been saying repeatedly throughout the thread. This isn't about the fucking Holocaust. Or eugenics. Or Hitler. Or Nazis. Or a fear that we are somehow inferior. It's about oppression. It's about imposed stereotypes. It's about discrimination, prejudice, bigotry, hatred and sexism.

Many Jews are afraid to publicly say something negative about any given group of other Jews...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Are you Jewish? If you are, then you have to know that what you have said here is absolute, 100% bullshit. American Jews are absolutely and in every way our own worst critics. Hell, we've elevated self-criticism to an art form. We certainly seem to debate everything, constantly. Especially when it comes to religious matters! The Orthodox bitch about the Conservatives, Reform and other Orthodox sects. All the other sects bitch about the others. You cannot ask three Jews their opinion about Israel without hearing five different opinions about which group of Jews is endangering the country with their political policies.

...for fear that the gentiles are going to take whatever was said, extrapolate from that a new theory of eugenics illustrating our racial inferiority, and whoops! We've inadvertently sparked a new Holocaust.

There is a Jewish cultural victimization complex and it takes many forms. But the only people who live in constant fear of sparking a second holocaust are the fundamentalist, extremist, paranoid Hasidic communities. It's one of the reasons they initially opposed Zionism. It's never, ever stopped them from bitching about, gossiping over or criticizing their fellow Jews -- or from simply declaring the other sects to be non-Jews because we happen to be less observant, more diverse, more culturally diffuse and more tolerant than they are.

And when you meet someone from that culture, and your perception is that they've been nasty to you in a way that denotes exactly where they're coming from, then there is no shame in using the phrase that has been developed for that very purpose.

Fundamentally, racism prejudicially dismisses an entire group of people as inferior and justifies doing so through exaggerated and offensive stereotypes. The term "jap" is a racist slur for that reason.

This is why I said that JAP is a nuanced term.

No, it's not. It's a sexist and antisemitic term. Your attempt to focus it on a specific subset of JEWISH WOMEN doesn't make it any less antisemitic or sexist. Because you are saying that the reason they they are hated is that they are JEWISH WOMEN.

It also does NOT mean "a woman who is superficial and rich because she is Jewish. (Did you hear that, Nazis 2.0? Don't come and take us away!) Rather, it means that she possesses a range of characteristics linked to her cultural background, of which her Judaism is also a part.

It means that being a Jew is part of the reason why she should be hated and despised. Which sounds depressingly familiar.

One can be a whiny, greedy, superficial, materialistic person without being a woman. One can be a greedy, whiny, superficial and materialistic person without being a Jew. When one takes those characteristics and ties them specifically to a person's sex and religion, then that's bigotry.

Could you manufacture a completely non-Jewish JAP? Could you, say, take a non-Jewish woman who looks like she might or might not be Jewish, but who has no Jewish background at all, and has spent very little time around Jewish people, and imbue her with a set of JAP-py characteristics (wealthy, superficial, whiny, entitled, dresses in a certain way, majors in communications, lives in a private dorm, non-intellectual, non-feminist, marriage-focused, etc.)... then would you have someone who would pass as a JAP?

The answer is no, you would not. Because there would still be significant characteristics missing. The membership in the Jewish sorority, and the constant talking about the membership in the Jewish sorority. The vaguely Jewish conversations ("Where are all the cute Jewish guys?"), the vague Zionism ("omg we have got to support Israel, it is. so. important."), not to mention the references to shared cultural tropes like their bat mitzvahs, the youth groups they were members of as a kid (which are designed partly to create networks of young adults who will meet again in college), and even just the landmarks of the culture that they shared growing up (e.g. Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago which was the main source of JAPs at KU circa 1990).


You are conflating many aspects of modern Jewish culture (USY, Young Judea and other youth groups; Jewish community living, Zionism and support of Israel; religious beliefs;) with your opinion of who deserves to be hated. It's a pile of racist, bigoted, antisemitic bullshit.
posted by zarq at 2:39 AM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


1/ Are we saying there is no such thing as JAPs? Or that women who fit the JAP stereotype do exist but it just isn't OK to call them that?

Read the links Astro Zombie provided. Then draw your own conclusions.
posted by zarq at 2:44 AM on December 27, 2009


Sidhedevil: And there are several Jewish people, including several women, who say "I DO find it offensive." So I would think that erring on the side of not fucking offending other valued MeFites with ethnic stereotypes seems like the obvious choice.

I think the message is pretty clear that certain MeFites opinions are more "valued" than others.
posted by zarq at 2:53 AM on December 27, 2009


im a princess.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:36 AM on December 27, 2009


Of course JAP is a slur, and offensive (I'm Jewish and from New Jersey, by the way.)

Those of you who were familiar with the term -- are the characteristics associated with it in any way complimentary? Would you tell a complete stranger that they were a JAP unless you deliberately wanted to insult them?

The primary person defending the term here right now is doing so not because he doesn't think it is insulting, but BECAUSE HE THINKS IT IS. Is bingo's heart full of warm love for the people he wants to apply this term to? Reading his posts, I'm going to say no.

His defense of it is simply that he thinks it's an accurate insult. Some Jewish women really are like that, he insists, so for goodness sake don't take away his beloved insult!

Of course, I've also heard people say, in all seriousness, that they don't think ALL blacks are n-----s, just some of them. So when they say n-----, it isn't racist, because they aren't referring to ALL blacks, just the ones that are n-----s.

In 2008, there were people who were arguing it was OK to call Hillary Clinton a bitch because some women really are bitches (this argument was made by a panelist on CNN at one point.) So that can't be a sexist term by this logic, right?

JAP is a deliberately insulting term which includes both an ethnic and gender component. If you are defending it on the grounds that some people deserve it, take a solid second look at yourself. It is not simply a descriptive term. It is an insult. You want to be able to keep using it specifically because you do not like certain people and want an insulting term you can label them with.
posted by kyrademon at 3:38 AM on December 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


Look, bingo: you're being a dick. Sorry, but it's true. You're simply being a flatheaded, friction-burned dick. And I started writing out a long, careful, nuanced reply to the barely-cohering ramblings you've been posting here, but sod it all; none of it would really be saying anything anyway. So please pardon me if I'm a little direct; you are, after all, supposed to be the thick-skinned one who doesn't mind it when people say what they think and call a JAP a JAP, right?

The silliest thing you've done here so far is spend at least 745 words (at my count) trying to define for us a word that you think is a great descriptor. If it's such a fantastic and subtle word, why the hell can't we seem to intuit that greatness even after reading comment after comment where you've gone over these subtle virtues point by point? It must be that this word "coasties" is (gasp!) just too subtle for us to grasp. If so, what the hell are you on about trying to go and get us all to let you use a word that we will clearly never understand? Were you hoping to use the terms "coastie" and "J.A.P." while you were talking to yourself?

While you're contemplating that apparent contradiction, let's move on to the elephant in the yarmulke that none of us really wants to touch - the part about you being Jewish. You brought up the holocaust here:

“It also doesn't mean that admitting the existence of JAPs is going to somehow lead to the lot of us getting carted off to concentrations camps. After all, that's the fear, right? Many Jews are afraid to publicly say something negative about any given group of other Jews for fear that the gentiles are going to take whatever was said, extrapolate from that a new theory of eugenics illustrating our racial inferiority, and whoops! We've inadvertently sparked a new Holocaust.”

I don't know what Jews you have been talking to. I suspect these Jews, who apparently worry that we're going to spark a Fourth Reich here on American soil, are more a paranoid figment of some shadowy childhood grievances than they are actual living and breathing human beings. That would make sense to me, anyhow; I grew up amongst evangelicals in Colorado, and I tend to think of evangelicals as moralistic, hateful, racist, misogynist bastards in league with satan who intend to destroy us all. That's not precisely fair, but somehow it's how I remember them being when I was growing up, and I have to remind myself when I meet evangelicals not to pre-judge them that way.

Anyhow, most of the American Jews I know aren't really that paranoid, but if they have a particular fear about America, it's one that doesn't involve gas chambers. It's a fear that non-Jewish America might, oh, for example, adopt secretive and restrictive social conventions based on 'accepted notions' about who Jewish people are and what they're like; that we American non-Jews might start preventing Jews from entering our health clubs and our universities and our social circles because we find their presence sort of distasteful; that 'the rest of us' might finally decide that we're fed up with their annoying mannerisms, their strange customs, their insistence on being different from us.

In short, to make a generalization, I think that, if Jews in America are worried about any antisemitism from the rest of the people here, it's not because they're afraid that Germany 1933 will happen again right here in our backyard; it's because they're afraid that AMERICA 1982 (1990? 2000? 2009?) might happen right here in our backyard. Yes, bingo, these things have happened here; there are even places where they're still happening.

If you want to ignore the rest of this comment, all I really want is an answer to a question or two. I really mean it; these are the two things I'm trying to guess about you, the things which you seem to have neglected to indicate in any way about yourself. Namely: bingo, do you believe that antisemitism is a dangerous threat that people should be concerned about? And do you think it's worthwhile to be careful with how we speak in order to avoid hurting other people?

I said I had to guess about your answers to those two things, so I'll go ahead and give you my guess, which is based on this bit:

“I first heard the term "JAP" in a Jewish youth group workshop in the early 80s. The whole point of the workshop was to show that it's an example of subtle antisemitism, that we should be on the lookout for such things, that we should never ever say it ourselves, etc. There were quotes from rabbis and academic researchers, and we did some role-playing, and geez I'm getting bored to tears just thinking about it.”

My guess is that questions about whether a given statement or phrase is "antisemitic" tend to make you roll your eyes. My guess is that, after (what you perceive as) a lifetime of being told by your parents, siblings, family, friends, the "Jewish community," and everyone else connected with Judaism that these things are so important - after a lifetime of being told solemnly that you have to take this stuff seriously - you tend to get a little frustrated with all this noise people are making about it, and you tend to get a little cynical about it. That's ultimately why, when pressed on whether this word or that word might be at root a conventionally antisemitic term, you bring up the holocaust in this way - "what, are you afraid that Nazis are going to come out of the woodwork and fire up the trains and gas chambers just because I say a word?" Because you're bitter, and because, as you see it, Jews bring this stuff up way too much.

And that's just fine, really. I am not really in any position to complain about Jews talking too much about this or that, but if anybody is, I guess you are. Like I said, I totally recognize this because I do it myself; I can't stand my family and the religious faith they've chosen to sway cloyingly within, but I'll be damned if somebody else who's never met us is allowed to come along and point out that they're all penises who leak too much.

But there's something different about you and me; you're Jewish. And Jews have, without a doubt, had a worse time of it over the last, oh, millenia or so. More to the point, I am just a white dude, but I can't ignore the fact, bingo, that people have been seriously and obviously dismissive and socially discriminatory of Jews in our lifetimes, and that I have actually seen this happen personally. It's not a problem of your grandparents or your distant ancestors, a tedious talking-point for your parents that you thankfully never have to think about again; antisemitism has always been strong in America, and this moment is not an exception to that rule. I realize, bingo, that it might seem presumptuous for me, a white guy, to say that to you - that it isn't really my problem that I can talk about it so much to you and tell you it's a problem - but in fact it is my problem. It's my problem precisely because I am a white guy, and you know what that makes me? That's right - that makes me the crown prince of the Jew-hating, Black-person-belittling, Mexican-spitting racists. So understand, bingo, that when I and those like me pipe up and indicate that we're not going to let this shit fly, that it makes us sick to our stomachs, it's really kind of a necessary thing that I'm doing; I'm trying to prevent my having to hand down the crown to my kid only to have her turn out as lord high doofus of the revived lynch-mob.

I understand that there are whole groups of Jews that you just can't stand, and that it's nice for you to have shorthand to describe them. I understand that some of them really grate on your nerves, and that they have certain habits that make you want to wretch. I even know what it's like to take a bit of wicked glee in the more florid articulation of that hatred; that is why you "love, love, love" that new term "coasties," right? Seriously, bingo, if I had to describe to you all the groups of white people that I can't stand, I would probably fill so many pages that we'd have to just change the name of metafilter to "white people that white people hate."

But there was a funny moment up there, bingo, when I started to see something more in what you're kind of going through than a dislike of a subgroup within your own ethnic group; though it's something I sympathize with, I don't think it's very good. Here's the moment I'm talking about:

“Could you manufacture a completely non-Jewish JAP?... The answer is no, you [could] not. Because there would still be significant characteristics missing. The membership in the Jewish sorority, and the constant talking about the membership in the Jewish sorority. The vaguely Jewish conversations ("Where are all the cute Jewish guys?"), the vague Zionism ("omg we have got to support Israel, it is. so. important."), not to mention the references to shared cultural tropes like their bat mitzvahs, the youth groups they were members of as a kid (which are designed partly to create networks of young adults who will meet again in college), and even just the landmarks of the culture that they shared growing up (e.g. Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago which was the main source of JAPs at KU circa 1990).”

Membership in a Jewish sorority? "Constantly talking" about membership in a Jewish sorority? "Vaguely Jewish" conversations, often about meeting prospective mates that are Jewish? "Vague" support for what some people see as the "Jewish homeland?" References to "cultural tropes" - Jewish ones, of course, like bat mitzvahs and youth groups? References to areas where lots of Jews have tended to live?

Gosh, you mean these people are Jewish? Because, seriously, bingo, every Jew I have ever met - or at least the vast majority, and I've met a lot - had at least all but one or two of those things under their belt. Those things are, in most ways, pretty much just the simple characteristics of what Jewish cultural life in America is like. You kind of try to make it sound like it's not the Jewishness that sets you off by saying a couple times that these chicks are being 'vague' about this stuff, and then indicating that they're 'constantly' talking or acting like this, but anybody who reads that paragraphs a few times and really looks at it realizes that those words are pretty much at odds with each other (can you really talk about something constantly and yet be vague about it?) and that it's pretty obvious that you aren't hoping that these chicks go orthodox or anything, so you're probably not asking for them to make their Jewishness more specific.

I'm sure you know, bingo, that we white people cringe mightily at the very idea at pointing this kind of thing out to anybody, especially to the "historically oppressed minorities," who tend to make us get all nervous and giddy and sweat a lot and blurt out incoherent apologies because we feel so stupid-guilty. But your candid comments here have convinced me to come out and indicate something I've never indicated about a Jew or anyone else before, at least not intentionally. I guess what I mean, bingo, is that, while it sounds almost arrogant for a white dude to say it (Jesus, listen to my keening liberal guilt, eh?) I understand what you're going through. I think I understand what it feels like. After all, ironically (given the differing histories of our races) I find myself in the same position with regard to my race that you find yourself in with regard to yours. This is why I love Faulkner, and especially those sad bits of Go Down, Moses where there's a despair at the weight of history and a doubt that it can ever be overcome. This is why I love listening to Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet and Clifford Brown and Oscar Peterson and Otis Redding and Smokey Robinson and Screamin' Jay Hawkins and A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul and Nas. This is why I fucking hate Frank Sinatra and swing music and swing music revival and the entire decade between 1950 and 1960 and Leave It To Beaver and line dancing and disco.

Take it from a self-hating white dude, bingo: I understand what you're feeling. A bitter cup it is, though it's our right one and all to drink it. I guess the difference between you and me is that I happen to have a strange kind of luck. See, I won't ever have to worry that I'll get kicked out of a University, a health club, a political group, a social clique, or any other set of people just because I'm pasty and my last name is Johnston.
posted by koeselitz at 3:52 AM on December 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Jesus fuck. Well, if anybody was looking for a novel to read over New Years', there it is.
posted by koeselitz at 3:53 AM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, if anybody was looking for a novel to read over New Years', there it is.

I got the new Pratchett for Christmas. That's more pleasurable to read, but somewhat less edifying.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:14 AM on December 27, 2009


Languagehat, several of us Jewish people have piped up on this thread to say the term is offensive to us as Jews. And a few of us have added that it is sexist too.

Jesus fucking Christ, of course it's offensive and sexist. Did you bother to read the rest of my comment? All you people happily explaining the obvious to me: read my comment. The whole thing. I was addressing AZ, and specifically his repeated insistence that people who thought it wasn't offensive weren't Jews and didn't understand. I WAS NOT SAYING THAT ALL JEWS THOUGHT IT WAS OK. Sorry for shouting, but some of you seem to have very poor reading skills, and I wanted to help you grasp my meaning. And obviously the fact that some Jews aren't bothered by it doesn't mean it's OK in general or OK for non-Jews to use. If you're still confused, go back and read my earlier comment, then read this one again.

Man, nuance is lost on some people.
posted by languagehat at 6:43 AM on December 27, 2009


Morning, everyone.

The majority of the thread is now focused on me, and there is just way too much here to answer every single point; I would be spending my whole day on Metafilter; and I just can't. But I'm going to try to answer a key issue from each response. Please know that I did read every word.

Astro Zombie: Seriously, Bingo, you're degrading the dialogue here and supporting an ethnic slur with a barrage of horseshit, and it's not appreciated, and I am not in the mood to debate it. Congratulations on having given yourself permission to be an asshole. Hope that works out for you.

I want you to know that I joined this thread specifically to act as a counter-balance to you. Upthread, you kept trying to position this whole thing as a bunch of non-Jews who couldn't possibly understand, e.g.:

I think I am seeing a trend of non-Jews deciding that an anti-Jewish slur can't possibly be offensive because they personally are not offended by it.

It was important to me to show that the situation is actually a lot more complicated than that, and that there are actually are Jews who are okay with the term.

zarq: Are you Jewish? If you are, then you have to know that what you have said here is absolute, 100% bullshit. American Jews are absolutely and in every way our own worst critics.

Well, if you'd read much of what I wrote upthread, you'd know that I am, so I'm not motivated to invest much in this response. But I will say this. It's true that Jews "are our own worst critics." But that's considerably different than the kind of criticism that is tolerated from outside Judaism as a whole. And yes, I have encountered many other Jews who have told me overtly that the assimilated German Jews didn't think it could happen to them either, and that the world is basically a viper's nest full of dangers to Jews, and those dangers have to be fought tooth and nail by every one of us, on every front. This idea was pressed upon me mightily in my youth, and in adulthood I often find myself getting angry sidelong glances from fellow Jews like Astro Zombie, as if to say How could you? You broke the sacred trust to be offended at the drop of a hat.Well, tough. I think the oversensitivity is more harmful in the long run than the perceived slurs.

kyrademon: You want to be able to keep using it specifically because you do not like certain people and want an insulting term you can label them with.

Well, let's be clear. I don't need permission from anyone here to use the term, so I'm not arguing for my right to use it, which is self-evident. I'm arguing that it's not racist, and, re the original point of this thread, that links to related material should be allowed on Metafilter.

koeselitz: can you really talk about something constantly and yet be vague about it?

Well, yes, and the fact that you ask this question seriously (although obviously rhetorically) suggests that maybe you really haven't spent any time around the kind of people who get labeled with the word JAP. Which would explain a lot.

By being vague (which I gave examples of, by the way), I mean talking about a subject that they didn't really understand in any depth, but felt the need to circle constantly anyway. Lots of people do this. If you haven't ever encountered it, then... I'm happy for you, I guess.

As for all your self-described self-hatred, I don't know what to tell you. I wish you didn't hate yourself, and you certainly shouldn't continue to do so for my benefit.
posted by bingo at 10:14 AM on December 27, 2009


I want you to know that I joined this thread specifically to act as a counter-balance to you.

Well, you've succeeded. Congratulations on your noble fucking goal.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:19 AM on December 27, 2009


Some interesting and related discussion happening on the discussion page for the Wikipedia JAP article.
posted by bingo at 11:40 AM on December 27, 2009


Peace on Earth, good will towards men Fuck all you fucking fuckers.

I don't suppose we can all just get along.
posted by Justinian at 12:36 PM on December 27, 2009


I was actually under the impression that guido was the hipster equivalent of calling outsiders muggles.
posted by Artw at 12:39 PM on December 27, 2009


Could everyone going histrionic in this thread, take a pinch of grow, a little smidge of shut, and mix it into a tasty, and healthy little dish called "UP!"
posted by timsteil at 12:44 PM on December 27, 2009


Let's hear a little bit of Wire.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:57 PM on December 27, 2009


I read most of the posted defenses of the slur as explicit or coded class resentment, thus the importance of the "princess" component. Cultural and economic resentment is a time-honored mechanism for populist vilification. The fixation on sororities and money, identifying expensive accessories, and perhaps most importantly, identifying the subject as an outsider from a (perceived) superior and/or inferior location. That the FPP on the blue veered into superior lamentations regarding "bridge and tunnel" people came as no surprise.
posted by xod at 1:28 PM on December 27, 2009


xod: For what it's worth, I came from - literally - the same socioeconomic class as the people we're talking about. I could afford to do all the things they could do. If I had had a sister, she might have (or might not have) been a JAP. Far from identifying the "subject" as an outsider, these are people whom I spent a lot of time around.
posted by bingo at 1:39 PM on December 27, 2009


Man, those college years with all those east-coast Jewish girls must have been rough. And at KU no less! I hear the Jewish girls have that place totally overrun (8 percent Jewish!!).
posted by Mid at 4:28 PM on December 27, 2009


It seems to me (though I haven't formally counted) that most of the Jewish people here defending the term are male. As a Jewish woman, this seriously bothers me. As I said in the original thread, men aren't the ones who get to decide-- to me, the sexism and misogyny here are far more disturbing because they make the antisemitism even more intense. And the fact that the term is seen as trivial and silly makes matters worse because then we're even condemned for being pissed about it.

It's the women are the n--- of the world thing. And it makes prejudice even worse because not only are you getting skewered by "outsiders" but you aren't even safe amongst "your own" who are joining in in ridiculing you.

This is why the term is deeply offensive-- which doesn't mean that someone whom you know is well-intentioned can't use it affectionately. That's clearly not what was going on here or in the video or these threads. It was cluelessness or worse.
posted by Maias at 4:51 PM on December 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


bingo: “... maybe you really haven't spent any time around the kind of people who get labeled with the word JAP. Which would explain a lot.”

I went to Boston College, dude. I lived five blocks from BU for two years. I think I know the people who you think you're talking about. I've had classes with them. Some of them have turned out to be really intelligent, thoughtful, interesting folks. But I guess you wouldn't know that would you?
posted by koeselitz at 4:56 PM on December 27, 2009


Mid: Man, those college years with all those east-coast Jewish girls must have been rough. And at KU no less! I hear the Jewish girls have that place totally overrun (8 percent Jewish!!).

Yeah, but in the private dorm where I spent my freshman year (Naismith hall, commonly called "Nastein") it was almost 100% Jewish, and it was pretty much considered the place to live for Jewish freshman girls who were pledging the Jewish sororities but weren't, for whatever reason, living in the house.

Of course, I made a decision to live there; nobody forced me, etc. They had maid service, semi-private bathrooms, good food in a cafeteria that was open all day, and they let the kids have alcohol in their rooms. But I didn't fit in, and I often think back to that time and wish I would have sacrificed the amenities and lived in one of the regular dorms.
posted by bingo at 4:58 PM on December 27, 2009


koeselitz: I think I know the people who you think you're talking about.

Based on your comments above, it really doesn't sound like you do. In fact, it seemed pretty important to you to insist that I must be talking about all Jewish women.

Or is the phrase "who you think you're talking about" intended to be a qualifier, so that you can admit that you actually know exactly what I mean, without admitting that the group exists? That's a neat trick.
posted by bingo at 5:06 PM on December 27, 2009


Btw, Jewish, female, middle middle class, lifelong New Yorker born in Manhattan, here till 6, then lived several miles from NJ border about an hour North of city, spent lots of time in high school in Brooklyn, then to Columbia College, now live on Upper East Side (though most of my friends are on West Side), many summers on Fire Island-- so I absolutely "know from" the East Coast Jewish female experience.
posted by Maias at 7:06 PM on December 27, 2009


Maias, you have the right to be offended by whatever so moves you.

The question after that almost starts to be semantic. Based on your being offended, does that make the term racist and/or sexist? Does it matter that the term is not meant as an attack on all women and all Jews, even if some people, like yourself, perceive that it is?

My answer to both of those questions, I'm guessing, is different than yours.

It would be great to have a civil discussion about where to go from there, but that seems unlikely to take place here.
posted by bingo at 9:24 PM on December 27, 2009


maybe you really haven't spent any time around the kind of people who get labeled with the word JAP.

Not true of me, at least. I grew up in Potomac, MD, and I can say for sure that I grew up with TONS of people who got labeled (by high school me, and by everyone else) as JAPs. But maybe not by you! You're using the word in an extremely restrictive way, which certainly excludes most of the so-called JAPpy kids in my high school. One of the "JAPpiest" of them all now has a Ph.D. in art history. And I remember learning this and being really surprised. Why, because she told me in high school she hated art? No, because she was a well-known "JAP." And why was she a well-known "JAP"? Because she had big teased hair which she tossed a lot(this was the 80s, we didn't have Uggs) and she uptalked, and she probably drove a nice car to school, and her friends were JAPs.

She wasn't Jewish, by the way.

I think your stance is that you use this word only with good reason, as a kind of plain-language description of a certain very constrained group of people with a bunch of characteristics in common, some unpleasant, some ethnic. But if that's true, surely you know that you're unique in this! The general use of this word includes the kids in my high school, and the kids koeselitz knew at BU, and lots of other people who get labelled as JAPs just by virtue of being Jewish and having money and dressing the way they dressed in high school. And then, suddenly, these people are perceived as being whiny, pushy, entitled, etc. Again: it's great if YOU don't do this, and you only referred to the kids in your dorm as JAPs when you'd gotten to know them well enough to make that call. In that case, just accept that when people like koeselitz, and me, and lots of others on this thread are grossed out by the use of this word we mean "we are grossed out by the use of this word as practiced by everybody in the United States other than bingo."
posted by escabeche at 9:50 PM on December 27, 2009


me: “I think I know the people who you think you're talking about.”

bingo: “Based on your comments above, it really doesn't sound like you do. In fact, it seemed pretty important to you to insist that I must be talking about all Jewish women.”

No, I never said or even implied that. What I said was that you dislike this particular group of women because of something having to do with their Jewishness, something you seem to find embarrassing. I don't imagine you feel this dislike so strongly around all Jewish women, though I guess I can't speak for you. I was only pointing out something you said - something you said explicitly - which was that one of the most important and essential characteristics of these people you so despise is their conspicuous Jewishness.

What I was trying to figure out, bingo, was why you despise them. That's been the important question here all along: why do you despise these women? It's easy to argue back and forth about words, but as I said in my first few comments here, words mean only what they're intended to mean and what they're taken to mean. What is actually of fucking substance here, what really should be resonating for us, is what you mean by the terms, what you see in them worth lauding. You said at the outset that you 'love, love, love' having a new word to describe these people; you have made it clear that you love it because you dislike these sorts of people intensely, and because you like having a focus and sharpener for that intense dislike.

“Or is the phrase "who you think you're talking about" intended to be a qualifier, so that you can admit that you actually know exactly what I mean, without admitting that the group exists? That's a neat trick.

The phrase was intended to communicate exactly this: I know people whom you would describe with the terms you're advocating, and I happen to believe that the group you believe you've definitively circumscribed is a hell of a lot more heterogenous than you seem capable of understanding it is.
posted by koeselitz at 12:45 AM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


circumscribed

This bodes well.
posted by Wolof at 2:47 AM on December 28, 2009


If you start from the beginning of this thread and just search out the posts from Mefites who identify themselves in the thread as women and Jews, i.e the only potential objects of this maybe-slur who are here that we know about, there are 9 of them (that I see at least). 6 say they do not like it, 1 says she's OK with it due to hate feelings towards women fitting the stereotype (I'm not sure if this supports or doesn't support the notion that it's a slur but I'm going to put it in the "OK with JAP" column), and 2 say they definitely have no problem with it. I'm going to add my voice now in order to bring it up to an even 10 and say it's obnoxious, and that although I've heard it in the cute insider-joshing way, I've also heard it used as a nastily-intended sexist slur used by Jewish and non-Jewish boys against Jewish girls who displeased (like a lot of Jewish women in this thread, I haven't commonly heard the term since I was in school. Like a lot of Jewish women in this thread, I seem to have gone to school with a lot of Jewish women in this thread.).

Personally I think it would be on slightly-solider ground if it lacked the whole "won't put out for passion/will put out for earrings" implication, which is a little piece of insidious crazy that simultaneously calls the object's sexuality inauthentic and whorish. For me, that's where the main potential nastiness of it lies - as someone else pointed out above, friends can go there and it's funny, and then coming from an angry person, diminishment of sexuality is an ultra-efficient way of dehumanizing someone. If you don't believe me, you're probably a guy who can't get it up.

So. Now that 70% of female Jewish mefites who have found this thread have piped up to say it bothers them, can we stop deferring to other "authorities" on the subject and catering to the repeated implications that it's a marginal viewpoint?

BTW bingo, if you think that the purposes of terms like JAP are to provide handy ways of identifying behaviors that really appear sometimes, would you consider redirecting your effort into making one up to describe Jewish men who keep doubling down on a weak argument long past the point that everyone in the room is bored as unholy fuck?
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:05 AM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Chalk me up as another who didn't know that JAP was a slur directed towards Jewish women rather than Japanese people for a very, very long time. For over a decade, that chapter of the Truly Tasteless Joke Book made absolutely no sense to me.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:57 AM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


The more I think about it, the more bingo's argument boils down to "I wouldn't use the word if there weren't fucking uptight rich Jewish bitches who fit the description, but because there are, we need the word."

It took me a while to boil down the argument, which surprises me, as I have, as I have mentioned, met a lot of Jewish men who have a real big problem with some Jewish women, and should have recognized it. And that's why I won't engage bingo in discussion -- because it's a discussion that's beneath me, and beneath metafilter.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:09 AM on December 28, 2009


And that's why I won't engage bingo in discussion -- because it's a discussion that's beneath me, and beneath metafilter.

But you can "boil down" his commentary into a vulgar projection of your own wording, so there's that.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:15 AM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


diminishment of sexuality is an ultra-efficient way of dehumanizing someone. If you don't believe me, you're probably a guy who can't get it up.

I think I’m going to end most of my future arguments with this line from now on. It is too awesome to ignore.
posted by Think_Long at 7:15 AM on December 28, 2009


How would you recast his argument? Wouldn't you say that "uptight rich Jewish bitches" is the definition of JAP? Or do you disagree that JAP is pejorative?
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:18 AM on December 28, 2009


Jesus fucking Christ, of course it's offensive and sexist. Did you bother to read the rest of my comment? All you people happily explaining the obvious to me: read my comment. The whole thing. I was addressing AZ, and specifically his repeated insistence that people who thought it wasn't offensive weren't Jews and didn't understand. I WAS NOT SAYING THAT ALL JEWS THOUGHT IT WAS OK. Sorry for shouting, but some of you seem to have very poor reading skills, and I wanted to help you grasp my meaning. And obviously the fact that some Jews aren't bothered by it doesn't mean it's OK in general or OK for non-Jews to use. If you're still confused, go back and read my earlier comment, then read this one again.

Man, nuance is lost on some people.


I actually did read your note, and addressed what I felt was a dismissal of the sentiments being described here and in the video.

You said: (emphasis mine)

AZ, I understand your outrage, but you seem to be willfully ignoring the fact that a substantial number of people saying "I don't find it offensive" in this thread are Jews. I agree there's too much casual antisemitism around, even on MeFi, but I don't think the original thread was antisemitic, just an interesting link that unfortunately attracted some ignorant comments. And obviously the people who made the video are ignorant, but I don't think they're antisemitic in any serious sense; Dee had their number when she wrote (way up there):

You specifically compared casual to serious antisemitism, and I felt you were saying that the former really isn't as big a deal as the latter, especially when the sentiments being expressed come from ignorance rather than deliberate antisemitism.

I disagree. If I misread you, I apologize. This been neither a pleasant thread for me to read, nor participate in. Between the Turing/Dawkins MeTa thread, the rape thread and the few examples of members' antisemitism, I've not found this community to be particularly tolerant of late.
posted by zarq at 7:18 AM on December 28, 2009


I feel like there are two cross-discssions happening, as usual.

1. Is the term iffy enough that it's probably a good idea to not use it on MeFi?
2. Does using the term automatically make someone sexist/racist?

I feel like the first one is best addressed just by talking to people here and as YTMS states, there are enough people here squicked out by it that maybe it's a good idea to be careful about it. That said, as someone who doesn't like the term JAP myself but doesn't put it on my "people who use this word have something wrong with them" list. To me it's not as lousy as many other nasty slurs precisely because it has this dual-meaning, one specific, one more general.

Of course, as with most insidious slurs it's nearly impossible to tell if someone is using the term loosely ["Jewish-ish girls are like this"] which is not great or specifically ["Jewish girls are like this and fuck them if they aren't acting in a way I think they should"] which is actually bad. And there's the reclamation angle up top which I think someone else [scody?] was talking about, the word has meaning within the community as well as being used from outside further confusing things.

I'd argue that at some level it doesn't matter if the word is sexist/racist on its face because we don't live in a word of Pure Meaning where this sort of abstraction matters much. If the people near you are offended by it, you can make a decision about whether to defend your right to use it, or you can decide not to. And while it's helpful to understand how a word can be taken by a broader subsection of people [I always mention that some people on MeFi have historically objected t swearing here and we've politely told them that this may make them unhappy here and is unlikely to change] most of the time you're making decisions based on your social situation.

At least that's what I do, and I'm often overly literal about this. Hearing enough people in this thread say the word makes them feel bad, or that they don't like it, or what-have-you sort of seals the deal for me [i.e. I'll continue not to use a word I pretty much don't use anyhow] but I'm okay with people who continue to use it not having to accept the monniker SEXIST/RACIST as long as they're aware that some people will assign it to them anyhow.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:25 AM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


What other words which contain the name of the race that they're slurring and which denote a constellation of racially-specific negative stereotypes do you feel that way about, jessamyn?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:30 AM on December 28, 2009


You specifically compared casual to serious antisemitism, and I felt you were saying that the former really isn't as big a deal as the latter, especially when the sentiments being expressed come from ignorance rather than deliberate antisemitism.

I disagree.


OK, I'm confused. I want us to reach common ground, because I like you and it's classy of you to say "If I misread you, I apologize" even when you're pissed off, but I don't understand what you're saying here. Surely you're not saying that all antisemitism is exactly alike and all expressions of it an equally big deal; you can't possibly mean that a couple of dumb college kids goofing around in a video is morally equivalent to the Holocaust. So what are you saying? Of course "the former really isn't as big a deal as the latter, especially when the sentiments being expressed come from ignorance rather than deliberate antisemitism"; how can that not be the case? "Not as big a deal" does not mean "completely fine," and I would think the rest of my comment would have clued you in to that, so what is it that you're objecting to?

> This been neither a pleasant thread for me to read, nor participate in.

Man, I'm right with you there.
posted by languagehat at 7:32 AM on December 28, 2009


These sorts of discussions are rarely pleasant. I don't like them. But I think they're important.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:37 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


What other words which contain the name of the race that they're slurring...

Most slurs that I can think of don't have the name of the race/gender in it. But I think of things that have one casual meaning but have a sort of larger insidious meaning that I think people who are using the term don't think about/mean. So a few examples

- throws like a girl [i.e. people know what this means in a generalized sense and at the same time the larger issue is that girls are weak/bad at sports/whatever]
- "what's the matter, have sand in your vagina?" [of course sand in your vagina is annoying but implying that someone is complaining both because they have a vagina (it's directed at men, rarely women) and it is sandy makes this sort of a double fuck-you)]
- drama queen [not just that you're dramatic but dramatic LIKE A GAY PERSON and that's the double fuck you again]
- general words like retard and fag/gay that have simple dismissive meanings and at the same time are tied to larger societal opprobium that the "insult" benefits from and yet does not usually specifically reference [i.e. people use retard not to say "hey you're stupid and discriminated against like someone with a developmental disability and I am making a power play with regards to our relative positions" but that meaning is also there along with it]

So, I think you could call someone a drama queen and not be a homophobe, for instance. Or you could say that someone throws like a girl without being a misogynist. Both terms in my universe aren't things you say. For some people, they'd have different settings where such words are okay and certain settings where they're not. For other people words like that are always okay.

Does this answer your question? I have no idea why you decided to single me out here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:46 AM on December 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Just to be clear, I agree with Jessamyn that it is entirely possible to use stupid, hurtful language stupidly, rather than deliberately hurtfully. There are a lot of little expressions, like "lame" or "dumb," that have their origins as disparaging comments, and I am sympathetic when people don't know, or just aren't very thoughtful, and I am not here to police the way other people speak.

My issue is with people who know words to be hurtful and use them that way, deliberately, and try to defend themselves and their use of hateful language because the people they hate somehow deserve it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:52 AM on December 28, 2009


zarq: Are you Jewish? If you are, then you have to know that what you have said here is absolute, 100% bullshit. American Jews are absolutely and in every way our own worst critics.

bingo: Well, if you'd read much of what I wrote upthread, you'd know that I am...

Honestly, I had not realized that you had written it.

...so I'm not motivated to invest much in this response.

More's the pity.

But I will say this. It's true that Jews "are our own worst critics." But that's considerably different than the kind of criticism that is tolerated from outside Judaism as a whole.

So? In this we are no different than any other minority group. Latins, Asians and Blacks in this country are far more tolerant of criticism from their own members than when it comes from outsiders. Thus Chris Rock can make jokes about "N-----s vs. Black People," Margaret Cho can make jokes about Asian and Korean stereotypes and George Lopez can joke about poor Mexicans.

As has been alluded to upthread, the reasons such jokes are sometimes more acceptable within a community than outside it are manifold. From within a community, such jokes might even be considered empowering. (I've seen expressed by some members of the African American community regarding their use of the "N" word.) From without, they are an example of continued oppression and perpetuated stereotypes of a minority by a more powerful majority.

And yes, I have encountered many other Jews who have told me overtly that the assimilated German Jews didn't think it could happen to them either, and that the world is basically a viper's nest full of dangers to Jews, and those dangers have to be fought tooth and nail by every one of us, on every front. This idea was pressed upon me mightily in my youth....

Please read this. I made this comment a few days ago, in an FPP I created about Auschwitz' Arbeit Macht Frei sign.

Hating the Germans for what they actually did during WWII does not mean that every Jew assumes every instance of antisemitism is going to lead to a genocidal worst case scenario. Vigilance against actual, honest-to-goodness dangers would make sense, but as far as I can see, the vast majority of Jewish concern or anger of antisemitism simply doesn't come from a overwhelming fear of Nazis or another Holocaust. Keeping things in realistic perspective is important, and I thought (and still think) that your comment was way over the top. I see no danger here of another Holocaust. Has any other Jew here said that they think that? Before your comment, not one person person here or in the MeFi thread mentioned Nazis or the Holocaust either.

and in adulthood I often find myself getting angry sidelong glances from fellow Jews like Astro Zombie, as if to say How could you? You broke the sacred trust to be offended at the drop of a hat.Well, tough. I think the oversensitivity is more harmful in the long run than the perceived slurs.

If you'll notice in that comment I linked to above, I tried to point out that the majority of jokes being characterized in that thread were not, in fact, attacks on people who died in the Holocaust. I freely admit that I'm prone to oversensitivity, but don't believe I'm being oversensitive in this case, nor that one. You are perpetuating and defending a sentiment which is sexist and attacks Jewish women for displaying aspects of their own culture (bat mitzvahs, membership in youth groups, etc.,) and are linking offensive stereotypical traits to them as a group because of our religion. If you did the same to any other group, I'd call that offensive as well.
posted by zarq at 8:04 AM on December 28, 2009


Jesus fuck. Well, if anybody was looking for a novel to read over New Years', there it is.

For whatever it's worth it made me feel better, so thank you.
posted by zarq at 8:33 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The question after that almost starts to be semantic. Based on your being offended, does that make the term racist and/or sexist?

Obviously I can't speak for Maias, but a number of people here have said they agree with her that the term is sexist and racist. How many offended members of our community are required before we should agree to act with respect towards them?

Does it matter that the term is not meant as an attack on all women and all Jews, even if some people, like yourself, perceive that it is?

I don't think it does, no. Because the term embraces hatred through a negative stereotype. If someone were to argue that using the "N" word should be acceptable for whites to use to describe certain African Americans under certain circumstances, then that would be racist, too.
posted by zarq at 9:02 AM on December 28, 2009


Yeah, it was a smashing read on Christmas! And at the rate this is going, it'll carry me through the end of this year and into the next decade! Joyful, feel good times, y'all!

Also, aren't we all our own worst critics? As well as the larger 'us', which includes the groups we belong to and identify with? What's your point?
posted by iamkimiam at 9:11 AM on December 28, 2009


Surely you're not saying that all antisemitism is exactly alike and all expressions of it an equally big deal; you can't possibly mean that a couple of dumb college kids goofing around in a video is morally equivalent to the Holocaust. So what are you saying? Of course "the former really isn't as big a deal as the latter, especially when the sentiments being expressed come from ignorance rather than deliberate antisemitism"; how can that not be the case?

I think what is wrong with this argument becomes clear when you start imagining the discussion being about other kinds of intolerance. None of us would be fine with white college kids goofing around in a video about the African American students at their school. None of us would be amused by a video in which straight college students have a fun time spoofing gay students.

The use of terms and attitudes that slur others, whether deployed in ignorance or in pursuit of overt racist objectives, makes for a social atmosphere where bigotry and discrimination flourish. Southern lynchings went on in an atmosphere of lots of jocosity about African Americans: those racist jokes may have been told in ignorance and/or by people who would never lynch anyone, but they helped to create an attitude in which that kind of overt hate crime could happen. And surely I don't need to point out how much homophobic jokes and attitudes support a culture that discriminates against LGBT peple?

The major reason I don't appreciate nuance in this arena is that though I will fight for anyone's political right to express hateful or offensive attitudes, I'm not OK with such speech myself, and I think that other thinking people should eschew it themselves, and call it out when they see it. Otherwise, the people who are "innocently" expressing "casual" or "mild" intolerance create too much cover and support and empowerment for real haters.
posted by bearwife at 11:32 AM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Holocaust is a big shadow. Ultimately, nothing except another Holocaust is the equivalent, so I agree that these college kids aren't anywhere as bad.

But we should be cautious, and I know Languagehat didn't mean it like this, but it's pretty easy to dimish something when it doesn't live up to the horrors of one of the worst things that has ever happened.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:42 AM on December 28, 2009


Surely you're not saying that all antisemitism is exactly alike and all expressions of it an equally big deal; you can't possibly mean that a couple of dumb college kids goofing around in a video is morally equivalent to the Holocaust.

Oh, dear lord, no. You're right about that. They're idiots, but they're not in the same vein as neonazis or worse. There are degrees, of course.

So what are you saying? Of course "the former really isn't as big a deal as the latter, especially when the sentiments being expressed come from ignorance rather than deliberate antisemitism"; how can that not be the case? "Not as big a deal" does not mean "completely fine," and I would think the rest of my comment would have clued you in to that, so what is it that you're objecting to?

I was trying to say that I don't believe they should be given a pass for ignorance. I read "not as big a deal" less as "completely fine" and more as "yes, the term is antisemitic, but you (Astro Zombie) are over-reacting. Lighten up." It rubbed me the wrong way. But upon further consideration... you're right. I did ignore the nuance. You did say very clearly: "and if members of a group tell you a term is offensive, it's offensive, period, even if other members of that group are OK with it." I glossed over that. I shouldn't have -- or at the very least I should have acknowledged it in my response to you. I'm sorry.

I do think there's an argument to be made that casual antisemitism is as much of a problem as overt antisemitism. We can point to someone banning Jews from membership in a club as That Which Should Not Be Done (to use koeselitz' example,) but racist presuppositions are much harder to combat and quash.

You know, I like you, too. You're one of a select few folks whose contributions bring me back here when I get angry enough to walk away for a while. Fwiw, Koeselitz and Astro Zombie are on that list, too.
posted by zarq at 11:52 AM on December 28, 2009


I now regret more than ever what I said about Rutherford Hayes.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:05 PM on December 28, 2009


I now regret more than ever what I said about Rutherford Hayes.

Don't, he deserved every bit of it
posted by Think_Long at 1:34 PM on December 28, 2009


I think we are now hugging it out.
posted by Mid at 1:36 PM on December 28, 2009


I dunno how Rutherford B. Hayes would have reacted to a night alone with David Bowie, but I'm OK with trashing him a little: he was a bit of a mixed bag and definitely not what I'd call a civil rights icon.
posted by bearwife at 2:19 PM on December 28, 2009


I have no idea why you decided to single me out here.

Just a guess, but your and Cortex's opinions on various contentious topics have helped guide me as to what directions Team Mod would like discourse to take around here.
posted by zarq at 2:32 PM on December 28, 2009


I don't think we tolerate much casual ethnic slurs at all.

Except for the occasional "linkee no workee" thing.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:27 PM on December 28, 2009


I can't remember seeing a whole lot of that "me talky rike asian" crap going around. Not never, certainly, just not in any significant quantity. I think it's as stupid and embarrassing as a lot of other casual stereotyping/racism riffage, for what it's worth.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:02 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Except for the occasional "linkee no workee" thing.

We really try to keep that stuff out of here as much as possible lately. I'm sure people can find exceptions [I know of one AskMe title that was in questionable taste in that direction in the last few months that we left in after a lot of thinking on it] but it's another shift over time the site has seen.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:13 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Again, I've read everything, but I don't have the time or energy to respond to every argument or insult directed at me. I think Jessamyn did a good job of summing up the situation, and I don't think there's much hope that anyone here is going to have much more of an impact on those who disagree with them. So I plan on making this my final statement.

Ironically (?) I probably haven't used the term JAP in 20 years, up until this discussion and the related one on the blue. And to reiterate: I first heard it in a workshop on anti-Semitism that was part of a Jewish youth group I was in. I had ten years of Hebrew school, and a great deal of it was focused on anti-Semitism. I grew up around many girls (eventually women) who I considered to be JAPs. I was party to a great many conversations about the meaning of the term, with Jewish women who called themselves JAPs, with Jewish women who called other Jewish women JAPs but not themselves, with Jewish men, with Jewish men and women, and in mixed groups that included non-Jews. I have used the term affectionately and I have used it derogatively.

A couple of commenters above noted that conversations like this are important, and I agree that they are. I believe that diverse groups of people can only come to truly understand and meaningfully communicate with one another (and with themselves) when their discourse is infused with a healthy dose of honesty. And I think that, very often, when educated white people talk about race, culture, and religion, they are more eager to be sensitive to everyone and everything than they are to actually say anything of substance.

There seems to be a widespread assumption (at least on Metafilter) that We Need To Be Careful What We Say Lest The Stupid People Get The Wrong Idea. The stupid people... you know, the ones who might read my defense of JAP and mistakenly think that I'm actually saying that I hate all Jewish women, and that everyone else should too. (Bizarrely, some commenters have been facilitating that misinterpretation by insisting that I *am* saying that.)

It's possible to tell someone why they shouldn't use the n-word in a simple, clear way that will make sense to almost everybody, e.g. "It implies that a whole race of people are sub-human, and they aren't." Telling them why they shouldn't use JAP is, whether you like it or not, considerably more complicated.

You can say "because it's offensive" or "because it's anti-Semitic" or even "because it's misogynistic," or even "because some people consider it to be offensive." And, in a talky, educated, intellectual environment like Metafilter, that will largely work, because culturally, many of us are conditioned to avoid offense at all costs.

But when you're talking to the sort of people who might actually be sexist/racist/anti-Semitic in the classic sense, e.g. working class Americans without a college education, then by and large "because it's offensive" is not going to be convincing. And when the person shrugs and says "Well, that's stupid, *I* don't think it's offensive," and steam starts coming out of your ears, then the situation is going to get a whole lot worse. That is not the way to changing hearts and minds.

The best way to convince someone else of your point of view is to fearlessly demonstrate to them that the truth is on your side. Waxing over details and nuances with "the point is, it's offensive and you should stop saying it!" is only going to make people angry, or curious as to why you're scared of an honest discussion. And people who weren't raised with the "why can't we all just get along" mentality are going to react more negatively to "because it's offensive" than anyone else.

The people who use the term JAP in a typical environment, e.g. in college, already know that, in terms of communicating information, it works, just as I know that it does. Telling them that, actually, they're wrong, is counterproductive and silly. They know they aren't wrong. That's proven by the fact that, when they say "check out that JAP's purse," their friends are not confused about which person's purse is being indicated.

Similarly, suggesting that they might consider substituting the phrase "wealthy annoying entitled woman who just by coincidence happens to be Jewish," is equally ridiculous. The term was created specifically to avoid having to say all that. When a set of characteristics show up together repeatedly, then that set of characteristics often gets a name. To try and interfere with that natural process by saying "Wait a second, guys, jump back! One of those characteristics is *religion!*" is just foolhardy.

Noting that there exists a discernible subculture composed of a number of characteristics, one of which being Judaism, and another of which being female-ness, is not equivalent to disparaging all Jews, and it is not the equivalent to disparaging all women. And acting like either of those things are true weakens and obfuscates arguments for the advancement of women and Jews that are actually based in reality.
posted by bingo at 4:18 PM on December 28, 2009


Not never, certainly, just not in any significant quantity.

Searches of the site seem to support this: About 21 instances in the last ten years.

I thought it interesting that a couple of them were from thedevildancedlightly. I haven't seen that name in quite a while.
posted by zarq at 4:19 PM on December 28, 2009


Bingo, there is something you did not mention in your latest post on the subject. A very important thing.

It is not just a descriptive term. It is an insult.

If the only term you have to describe a group of people is an insult, then that is a problem. It does not matter that you find it a useful description which communicates your thoughts with clarity and concision. So do a lot of other slurs.

It does not matter if it does not apply to all women, or all Jews. Or all princesses.

Not all gay men are usually being referenced by the term "screaming faggot". Not all Asians are being talked about when someone says "chink" (or for that matter, "jap"). Et cetera et cetera.

Who. Cares.

And no, you obviously don't need or care about my "permission" to continue using your nasty little slur, your handy little insult. I was just hoping you would realize that *that's what it was*, not the inoffensive little descriptor you imply, and that *you* might therefore have second thoughts about using it.

Because to me, you sound exactly like someone saying, "Why can't I say 'chink'? Everyone knows what I mean when I say 'chink'. It's just a useful that instantly communicates my meaning. When I say, 'Hey, look at that chink', my friends all know which person in the crowd I'm talking about. And it's not racist, it doesn't even apply to all Asians! What am I supposed to say instead, 'person whose ancestors originated in central east Asia specifically the Chinese mainland or possibly Taiwan'? Man, stop being so oversensitive!"
posted by kyrademon at 5:33 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


4 points, bingo:

1) Anti-semitism, racism and sexism have never been restricted to "working class Americans without a college education" and they aren't in modern American society.

2) This is a discussion about community standards in this community, MetaFilter. No one here has to be around you outside of MetaFilter or listen to you talk. All I'm saying, and I think others agree, is that right here, the term JAP and others like it are beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse.

3) I have known a lot of Jewish women, I have even lived with some, and not a single one of them fit the JAP stereotype. A lot of them have been called that, however, at one point or another. It's not a descriptor, it's a slur, an ugly, hateful word, a stereotype, and like all stereotype no single person ever fits into the mold because stereotypes are simple and people are complicated.

4) "Bitch" is an awful word for an awful sentiment. The stereotype that Jews are wealthy, entitled and annoying is old and has had terrible consequences throughout history. Combining these two things into one term is hideous. That's what JAP signifies. That is why it's bad.
posted by Kattullus at 10:36 PM on December 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've thought some about it, bingo, but I can't give you my final response right now. It means a lot to me to do that, and I'll be ready to write up a brief (I promise) thought tomorrow morning after some thought.

In the meantime, if you want to, you can check out the source where I get a lot of my ideas about language and morality from. It's a monologue by George Carlin called Doin' It Again from 1990. It's about words. [Jump to 46:30 if you want the good bit.] I think you'll like it - I really mean that - and I have a feeling I agree with you more than I'd like to admit, although I still think you're ignoring my perspective as a white dude. But more on that later. Until then, good night.
posted by koeselitz at 11:18 PM on December 28, 2009


Maybe I've missed something but it feels like the main problem bingo is having is that he is ignoring the fact that JAP is used to describe non-Jewish women as well. So sure, maybe JAP does perfectly describe some Jewish women you knew 20 years ago but once it starts being used to insult people then we're in new territory because now people are using the descriptor Jewish to describe people they don't like who aren't actually Jewish. And that is shitty, in exactly the same way that people calling things they don't like gay is shitty. The world and the word have moved on in 20 years bingo and you're now on the side of the assholes.
posted by minifigs at 4:21 AM on December 29, 2009


> Similarly, suggesting that they might consider substituting the phrase "wealthy annoying entitled woman who just by coincidence happens to be Jewish," is equally ridiculous.

And why exactly is it important to include the information that the woman "just by coincidence happens to be Jewish"? Think about it.
posted by languagehat at 7:56 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's possible to tell someone why they shouldn't use the n-word in a simple, clear way that will make sense to almost everybody, e.g. "It implies that a whole race of people are sub-human, and they aren't." Telling them why they shouldn't use JAP is, whether you like it or not, considerably more complicated.

You can say "because it's offensive" or "because it's anti-Semitic" or even "because it's misogynistic," or even "because some people consider it to be offensive."


It's a long thread, but did you read the comment quoting Axl Rose's attitudes toward his own use of "n----"? Rose rejects your characterization of the word on exactly the same grounds you're using to reject others' characterization of the term "JAP." He is saying, "'N----' doesn't refer to all black people, just the ones who act in these bad ways," and you are saying, "JAP doesn't refer to all Jewish women, just the ones who act in these bad ways."

I don't understand this notion that you have some kind of air-tight, absolute-truth argument against certain slurs that doesn't also work against JAP.

What all slurs do is associate certain negative traits with a group. What you're saying is, "These traits -- entitlement, materialism, sexual frigidity except in the service of greed -- are so strongly correlated with Jewish women that I need a special term to describe the Jewish women who act like this and cannot be restricted to whatever terms I might use against a non-Jewish person who acts like this." And here's a real consequence of that: A Jewish women is not as free to act in one of these ways without being dismissed as a caricature. If she buys an expensive purse -- something lots of people do, because people like expensive things -- suddenly, because people like you have gotten into the habit of saying and thinking stuff like, "Check out that JAP's purse," she's all of those other things, too.

I know a lot of women generally, and I really do not find that these traits are distributed unequally by ethnic group. If you do, it may be a result of your experience living in a dorm specifically for rich students -- automatic selection bias for people who like to be pampered and who like to associate only with other rich people. It's also good to remember that those traits are not all exhibited by the same people, and people are complicated -- they can make you roll your eyes when they complain about how they should get more closet space than their roommate because they have so many pairs of shoes or whatever, and also surprise you by going to the drugstore for cough medicine and OJ for you when you're sick. In general, it's really coarse and ugly to boil people down to a caricature, and when you base it on ethnicity, you drag a lot of other people into the category of "suspected to be a caricature, which can be confirmed by carrying a purse I think is too expensive."
posted by palliser at 8:10 AM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


Actually, on further thought, a more important example than the expensive purse would be the sexual-expression aspect to the JAP caricature. Someone linked to a story where university students were holding up signs that said, "Make her prove she's not a JAP -- make her swallow." So a woman who doesn't want to give you, personally, a blow job is now a frigid, spoiled, entitled bitch. Because she's a Jewish woman who doesn't want to give you, personally, a blow job, and that makes her a JAP. It's a way of giving yourself permission to dismiss another person on the basis of ethnicity-plus-some-behavior-that-you-do-not-particularly-notice-in-others. It's another version of the kind of prejudice that results in black women, for example, having to more strictly police their self-expression in order to avoid being labeled "angry."
posted by palliser at 8:33 AM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


Having lived on the "Gold Coast" of Long Island, I know for a fact that there is a clearly recognizable character type that fits what the term JAP is meant to describe, however some of them are in fact Italian, so a broader slur is called for.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:35 AM on December 29, 2009


Honestly, is bingo saying anything more than "some people really are JAPs"? Despite thousands of words, I don't think there's anying else there. And if I'm right, then this whole conversation is no different than one you might have with any biggot who says "but some peopple really are [slur]." All of bingo's childhood traumas in the Jewish lady-dominated KU dormitories and other rationalizations are beside the point.
posted by Mid at 9:45 AM on December 29, 2009


I thought this was the Obama age people, we should really be talking about PAPs (Post-racial American Princesses)
posted by Think_Long at 10:21 AM on December 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've been thinking about the word "uppity"; I don't know if it's a good word to apply to the JAP stereotype, since it is so specifically a slur against African-Americans, but a word like it is appropriate, I think. And the reason why is because I went to an upper-middle class school in the suburbs, and the small number of Jewish girls there were accused of being JAPS for engaging in exactly the same behavior non-Jewish girls behaved in.

It's as though the behavior was invisible when non-Jewish girls did it, but steretypical of Jewish girls and worthy of scorn when Jews did it. Some of it was certainly because that behavior was linked to some subtle antisemitism -- of course Jewish girls would be obsessed with status and with buying expensive things, because that's how Jews are. But it really seemed like another element of it was how dare you think you're like us, or as good as us. I think that might be why I rankle at the phrase JAP -- because it was punishing Jewish girls, not for uniquely Jewish misbehvaior, but for daring to behave like non-Jewish girls.

The sexual element is even more disturbing, and far and away the most innately sexist. I'm not sure how it came about, as the historic myth of the Jewess is that she's supersexual, and it doesn't seem to be grounded in any reality -- I've known a lot of girls who have been described as JAPS, and I don't recall any of them being frigid or viewed sex as exclusively a mechanism of profit. I wonder if it isn't just a variation of an older sexist standby -- that because she won't sleep with you, she must be frigid, or must only want to sleep with guys for their money.

Whatever the case, there's a whole lot of ugly embedded in that word.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:49 AM on December 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure how it came about, as the historic myth of the Jewess is that she's supersexual, and it doesn't seem to be grounded in any reality

Good point. This weird malleability touches on a remarkable facet of anti-semitism more generally, I think, as well as other forms of bigotry - in that the caricature figure gets made to represent whatever feature is society's particular bogeyman of the time, even to the point of contradiction. So Jews have been seen as "Oriental" and exotic, and they have been seen as Western/European, as necessary. Jews have been deemed a destabilizing force of radical socialism, and they have been been seen as paradigmatic ruthless capitalists. Some of the sexual stereotyping is also bizarrely contradictory in this way - for men, too, I think.
posted by chinston at 12:47 PM on December 29, 2009


Really? I've never heard a myth about Jewish women being sex goddesses-- but I'd sure like to promote one...
posted by Maias at 2:19 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


To oversimplify a bit -- back in the Victorian era, when sex was considered something nasty that Other people did, Jews had the reputation of being All About The Sex. They were painted as sexual libertines, which made for a weird change when the culture moved on and that suddenly turned into being sexually liberated.

I have still occasionally heard this batted about, on the order of, "Man, Jewish girls are freaky! They'll do things in bed no [brand of Christianity speaker grew up with] girl would do!"
posted by kyrademon at 2:41 PM on December 29, 2009


And the stereotype gets weirder about that actually... it goes on to explain that they will only get freaky for people they see as being quite literally "worth it" So there's a gold-digger moneygrubbing aspect to this as well. You can see this in a lot of JAP jokes about frigidity and lack of sexual response.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:44 PM on December 29, 2009


This weird malleability touches on a remarkable facet of anti-semitism more generally, I think, as well as other forms of bigotry - in that the caricature figure gets made to represent whatever feature is society's particular bogeyman of the time, even to the point of contradiction.

There's an essay I read a while back which characterized hatred of Jews as Judeophobia, rather than antisemitism. The argument was that "semite" is an anthropological term, while "Fear of Jews" is far more exact.

Anyway, one of the more interesting parts of the essay was a list out 7 aspects of Judeophobia that separate it from other forms of bigotry. From memory:

Judeophobia is universal. With the exception of China, nearly every country that Jews have lived has despised them for one manufactured reason or another. It is also the oldest hatred in recorded history, stretching back more than 3 millennia.

Judeophobia is permanent. It ingrains itself in cultures, even though those cultures may never have seen, nor interacted with a Jew. Negative Jewish stereotypes are embedded more deeply in many cultures, as well.

It is obsessive. The most prominent and vicious Judeophobes (like Hitler) characterize Jews as an eternal enemy, and their passionate, obsessive, paranoid hatred of Jews goes far beyond normal boundaries.

It is chimerical. The stereotypes and myths about Jews are never based in reality, and sometimes these fantasies of hatred contradict one another. Whereas some racism is based on exaggerations of a particular group, often Judeophobia is based on totally made-up stories. (Think, "Jews use baby blood to make matzah," and other idiocies.)

Judeophobia is more dangerous than other forms of bigotry, because throughout history it has led to violence very quickly.

It was a lengthy essay, and it's been a while so I may have some of the details wrong. But that's the general gist.
posted by zarq at 4:36 PM on December 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I shouldn't have bothered to type all that out. A simple google search turned up the darn thing.

Judeophobia - Anti-Semitism, Jew-Hate and anti-"Zionism" adapted from a 12-week lecture by Dr. Gustavo Perednik based on his book, "Judeophobia"
posted by zarq at 4:39 PM on December 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Man, zarq, I have to sit down some time and read that whole thing, but it just bums me out to see how much there is to say about the hatred of Jews. It's stupid, but it hurts my feelings. I mean, at least get to know me before you decide you hate me.
posted by amro at 6:40 PM on December 29, 2009


I know, amro; there's so much about me that's worth hating if people would just spend the time.

Fascinating, if depressing, link, zarq.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:05 PM on December 29, 2009


Man, zarq, I have to sit down some time and read that whole thing, but it just bums me out to see how much there is to say about the hatred of Jews.

It's pathetic, frustrating and sad.

It's stupid, but it hurts my feelings. I mean, at least get to know me before you decide you hate me.

I know exactly how you feel.
posted by zarq at 7:50 AM on December 30, 2009


Fascinating, if depressing, link, zarq.

Yeah, it's highly depressing. He framed his points in ways that had never occurred to me. I suppose that's why I remembered them so clearly.

The only point I can add is that I'm pretty sure women have historically been mistreated more universally than Jews.
posted by zarq at 8:02 AM on December 30, 2009


> With the exception of China

When I was teaching in Taiwan, one of the things that amazed me was the omnipresent antisemitism. My girlfriend at the time was Jewish (but fluent in Chinese), and she reported on dinners she'd gone to where people were casually talking about how the Jews were greedy, ran the world, etc., until she said (in a polite way) that she herself was Jewish, at which point there was an embarrassed silence and change of topic. I taught English at Tamkang College (strange to think that some of my students are probably grandparents by now...), and when kids in my remedial class (my favorite, because it was small and there was no fixed syllabus and flunkies tend to be interesting people) started saying shit like that, I deviated from my lesson plan and spent the hour talking about prejudice: "You know how you're always complaining about Australia's attitude toward Asians? Well..." I think I made some headway with them, but I couldn't get over the fact that a nation that had essentially no experience with Jews had managed to acquire all the standard prejudices. What a fucked-up species we are.
posted by languagehat at 10:54 AM on December 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


My wife taught in public high school in Washington, DC. The school was almost entirely African American, with some Latino and some Asian kids. There were no Jews and most of the kids had never met a Jew. But, man, those kids knew that Jews have horns underneath their hair. I heard the same thing from my college roommate, who went to Catholic schools in the New Orleans suburbs -- he said all the kids growing up knew about the horns.
posted by Mid at 4:34 PM on December 30, 2009


My friend, whose Jewish, was once traveling in rural Texas with some friends. He met a girl, friend of his friend, who sincerely asked him if she could see his horns.
posted by Kattullus at 5:34 PM on December 30, 2009


The horns thing is truly weird. Katullus, that happened to me a number of times in northern TX and rural PA growing up. I'd be hanging out with other kids and out of the blue, they'd either ask to see them or want to know when I'd had them removed. Two of my roommates at college Freshman year asked if they could see them, and where they were. And as a sign one particular relationship was doomed to fail, a girlfriend's father in high school (South Korean) told me that I was the first Jew he'd ever met, and he was surprised because I "wasn't that bad for a Jew" and I hid "my horns very well." He was all smiles as he said this. He thought he was complimenting me!

I gave up trying to understand people's irrational hatreds years ago. But the antisemitism in certain cultures completely baffles me.
posted by zarq at 6:44 PM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, so much for China. *sigh*

Languagehat, can you speculate as to where they might have picked it up from? I realize there's probably no logical explanation or a clear example to point to, but I can't help but ask anyway. I'm curious as to whether antisemitic depictions of Jews showed up in books, movies, television or radio shows? What do you think?
posted by zarq at 6:56 PM on December 30, 2009


Well, so much for China. *sigh*
You see the opposite argued on the Mainland - there's a sort of philo-Semitism that is admittedly based in large part also on dodgy, dodgy stereotypes but I've read other explanations: culture entirely outside the Judeo-Christian ambit so none of the blood libel/Christ-killer horse-shit and interestingly also seen the claim that popular anarchist novelist Ba Jin's short stories had a lot of positive Jewish characters, so contributing to an image of Jewish people at the forefront of internationalist struggles for liberty and justice, which is probably about the best spin you can hope for on the 'rootless cosmopolitan' stuff.
posted by Abiezer at 3:14 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


My friend, whose Jewish, was once traveling in rural Texas with some friends. He met a girl, friend of his friend, who sincerely asked him if she could see his horns.

Please tell me this is a joke. Please please please tell me this is a fucking joke.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:58 AM on December 31, 2009


That was my first reaction too, Pope Guilty, but my friend swears that it happened.
posted by Kattullus at 7:10 AM on December 31, 2009


Please please please tell me this is a fucking joke.

I only wish it were.
posted by zarq at 7:21 AM on December 31, 2009


So they don’t ask about the horns in a tongue-and-cheek kind of way? It’s like, they honestly believe that some homo sapiens are naturally born with horns?

Wow, the world we live in.
posted by Think_Long at 9:06 AM on December 31, 2009


Um, I've been asked about my horns too. When I was 16, on an overseas trip with a lot of other high schools students. Then they joked about how they probably didn't show under my curly hair. No joke.
posted by bearwife at 10:10 AM on December 31, 2009


My mother went to college in Texas, and one of her sorority sisters asked to see her horns. She told me that story when I was a little kid.

And yet, I'm still okay with the word JAP. It's almost as if those two issues are...different, somehow.

A few lingering misunderstandings:

palliser: ...did you read the comment quoting Axl Rose's attitudes toward his own use of "n----"? Rose rejects your characterization of the word on exactly the same grounds you're using to reject others' characterization of the term "JAP." He is saying, "'N----' doesn't refer to all black people, just the ones who act in these bad ways," and you are saying, "JAP doesn't refer to all Jewish women, just the ones who act in these bad ways."

kyrademon: Because to me, you sound exactly like someone saying, "Why can't I say 'chink'? Everyone knows what I mean when I say 'chink'. It's just a useful that instantly communicates my meaning. When I say, 'Hey, look at that chink', my friends all know which person in the crowd I'm talking about. And it's not racist, it doesn't even apply to all Asians! What am I supposed to say instead, 'person whose ancestors originated in central east Asia specifically the Chinese mainland or possibly Taiwan'? Man, stop being so oversensitive!"

The difference in both cases is that JAP does not refer to an entire race of people, and never has.

This matters because the n-word and "chink" both carry with them a long history of implying that black people and Chinese people are sub-human compared to white people. The implication is that there is something inherently wrong with being black or Chinese, something inescapable, no matter how you were raised, what you believe, or what you do. That's why those terms are racist. And it's not appropriate to use them in many forums because it's understood by educated people that these assumptions about the basic biological inferiority of certain races are wrong. We know that. It can be proven to anyone with the patience to sit through a few basic lessons in history and biology.

Axl Rose attempts to acknowledge that, but to use the n-word anyway, rationalizing that he's not using it in its original sense, but in a newer, and more specific sense. It's as if he's trying to say "Some specific black people remind me of the way white people used to perceive all black people."

I'll be the first to agree that it doesn't fly, because the word has too much of a history with its original meaning. Any white person who uses the n-word for any reason is going to have a hard time convincing a great many people that they meant it in some way other than with the original meaning, and that's going to be true for a very long time. So, even if Rose was telling the truth about his own intentions, it was still a really bad choice of words for getting his meaning across.

The Jewish equivalent might be a new use for the word "kyke." Say, for example, that instead of using the word "JAP," people were referring to JAPs as kykes.

This is problematic in the same way, because "kyke" is another word that implies that there is something inextricably wrong with an entire race of people. Evoking that idea by way of disparaging some specific subset of the larger group is only going to make people think of the original meaning.

With Judaism, the whole thing gets even more complicated, because Judaism is also a culture (or, many cultures) and a religion (or, many religions). So. the question is: When you suggest that there is an association between a certain subgroup of Jews and one or more negative characteristics, then what are you really doing?

- Are you implying that there is something inherently wrong, at a biological level, with all Jews everywhere?
- Are you implying that the negative characteristics to which you're referring (e.g. materialism) are merely manifestations of a much larger, and completely inexorable, problem with all Jews?
- Are you implying, in some way or other, that there is something inherently wrong with being Jewish, period?

There are indeed a huge variety of Jewish people... biologically, culturally, and theologically. I've known (and celebrated holidays with, and prayed with, and argued with) conservatives, reformers, reconstructionists, and ultra-Orthodox Jews of various stripes. I've known Judaism in the midwest, where it's not much understood by non-Jews, but where the Jews make tremendous efforts to keep the community together. I've known Judaism in Los Angeles, where my Armenian "film industry seminar" teacher shocked the gentiles in the class by announcing that there would be no class on Yom Kippur, even though it was not an official school holiday, because "if you want to work in the film industry, you need to know when Yom Kippur is." I've been a Jew here in NYC, where the Jewish culture has made an impact on the heterogenous mixture that makes up the city. I've been to Jerusalem and the West Bank; I've talked theology and politics with angry Israeli settlers and with a member of the PLO. I've dated a feminist Talmudic scholar (who has seen this thread, and disagrees with me about everything).

I don't pretend to have explored or understood every nook and cranny of a highly complex situation. But I have done a lot more in that regard than most people have, and I'm willing to bet that I have done more in that regard than most people in this thread have.

I have the right to criticize - and, if it suits me, to mock - certain specific segments of the Jewish population. And if you want to wave your hand and dismiss what I say, and call me a bigot and put me in the same category as people who think that I was born with horns, then you can do that. But you're kidding yourself.

The fact that there is a large group of young women who are snotty, uptalky, wealthy, entitled, gossipy, shallow, materialistic, from the suburbs of large cities, and Jewish is NOT a coincidence. And by pretending that it is, you are damaging the credibility of all reality-based defenses against anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, and all other manner of irrational hatred.

JAPs are produced by a combination of forces within certain segments of Jewish American culture, as surely as those same suburban Jewish enclaves produce boys who take it for granted that they'll be doctors or lawyers. In many cases (not all, obviously, but many), and in many regards, growing up as a suburban Jewish kid is its own special thing, and it means being inculcated with a core set of ideas, attitudes, and mannerisms, as surely as that's the case for many households raising Italian or Greek kids. Jewish parents frequently encourage their kids to marry other Jews because "at least you have something in common," and they aren't just referring to menorahs.

I fully understand why it's disturbing and distressing for some people to hear this kind of thing. You go around preaching this utopian idea that people are people, and that saying anything bad about, let alone creating slang terms to mock, anything relating to culture or religion is inherently evil. And then I have to come along and keep insisting that it's more complicated than that.

Well, tough. It is. And no amount of indignation is going to change that.

Happy New Year.

p.s. This really hasn't been so different from the charming thread from almost two years ago about the Hasidic landlord.
posted by bingo at 10:27 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


You are generalizing about Jewish women from the suburbs. That's what makes it a stereotype. You are generalizing that they are snotty, uptalky, wealthy, entitled, gossipy, shallow, and materialistic. That makes it a negative stereotype. As a Jewish woman from the suburbs, I find the use of this negative stereotype to be offensive.

Seems simple enough to me.
posted by amro at 10:44 AM on December 31, 2009


I would say that's unfair. With the exception of you, I feel this thread has demonstrated that people who are innocent of the potentially intolerant nuances of a term have demonstrated a real willingness to learn about it, and to change their mind.

For some reason, you're just going to stick up for your right to call uptight rich Jewish girls JAPS. More power to you.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:58 AM on December 31, 2009


Comment meant for bingo, if that wasn't obvious.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:58 AM on December 31, 2009


Well, I do see a similarity between that thread and this one, and that is the bigotry Bingo feels free to express because he is Jewish. Here's his comment from then:

Unfortunately, the AskMe question that started all this included the phrase "just your run-of-the-mill Hasidic," which is bound to get some people riled up. In context, I think it makes perfect sense, and you're fooling yourself if you don't think that, to those with experience, this phrase brings to mind a set of characteristics that have a nearly 100% chance of applying to the landlord in question, namely:

He is part of an insular, elitist culture based on an ancient religion.
He is proud of that fact.
He takes the 'chosen people' concept seriously, and this concept has a direct affect on the way he thinks about, and relates to, non-Jews.
He has had a rigorous education that was fundamentally different in emphasis, scope, and underlying assumptions from that of anyone who isn't a Hasid, and he took that education seriously.
He has deeply ingrained ideas about the appropriate way to interact with (or avoid interacting with) people who are not part of his culture.
He has very specific ideas about the role of women in society, and those ideas are directly informed by his insular, elitist culture and his ancient religion.
Other than a vague idea that the world is full of anti-Semitism, he is completely unconcerned with the way he is perceived by non-Hasids.

If he didn't have all of those characteristics, then he wouldn't really be a Hasid. The phrase "run of the mill Hasidic," as far as the above-mentioned characteristics go, is a redundancy.

Does this quote remind anyone else of what Bingo just repeated about the group we are discussing in this thread? I.e.:

The fact that there is a large group of young women who are snotty, uptalky, wealthy, entitled, gossipy, shallow, materialistic, from the suburbs of large cities, and Jewish is NOT a coincidence.

I don't know if Bingo is a self hater, but I'm very clear on how much he dislikes a lot of Jews, how free he feels to express contempt for them and stereotype them, and that his attitude has been in place for quite awhile now.
posted by bearwife at 10:59 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


So they don’t ask about the horns in a tongue-and-cheek kind of way?

No.

It’s like, they honestly believe that some homo sapiens are naturally born with horns?

Yes. Although if pressed I suspect they'd say we aren't as human as they are. It's a way of dehumanizing and quite literally demonizing Jews.

Wow, the world we live in.

Yeah.
posted by zarq at 11:12 AM on December 31, 2009


I sort of wish I did have horns.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:18 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've always thought it would be pretty cool to have a bony frill like a triceratops.
posted by Think_Long at 11:21 AM on December 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


That pretty much goes without saying.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:39 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are human beings who believe that other human beings are born with horns. Fucking horns. I feel like the one alien in They're Made Out of Meat, the one that can't believe sentient life can be made out of meat. I... just... my brain is making the effort to accept this and simply cannot.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:13 PM on December 31, 2009


I've always thought it would be pretty cool to have a bony frill like a triceratops.

It'd be hell on sweaters.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:27 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


My mom has a story about being a little kid and having another little kid ask to see her horns. I would be surprised to hear about it happening recently, but I think that fifty years ago that was a pretty common experience for Jewish people in not-heavily-Jewish areas.

I'm curious, Bingo, if you think there's a male equivalent to a JAP. What's the nasty word for that person?
posted by craichead at 12:28 PM on December 31, 2009


The fact that there is a large group of young women who are snotty, uptalky, wealthy, entitled, gossipy, shallow, materialistic, from the suburbs of large cities, and Jewish is NOT a coincidence.

Oh, horseshit. There are a lot of "young women who are snotty, uptalky, wealthy, entitled, gossipy, shallow, materialistic, from the suburbs of large cities" who are not Jewish. Lots of young men like that, too, who also aren't Jewish. The college I went to was packed full of them.
posted by rtha at 1:28 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've always thought it would be pretty cool to have a bony frill like a triceratops.

Don't get me started. My lifelong ambition is an exoskeleton.
posted by ob at 1:44 PM on December 31, 2009


Wow, I had never even heard about this horns thing, other then as a joke in Borat.
posted by delmoi at 1:46 PM on December 31, 2009


rtha: Oh, horseshit. There are a lot of "young women who are snotty, uptalky, wealthy, entitled, gossipy, shallow, materialistic, from the suburbs of large cities" who are not Jewish. Lots of young men like that, too, who also aren't Jewish. The college I went to was packed full of them.

True. And calling them names makes you sexist.

Besides the whole antisemitism angle the sexism of JAP is really, really galling ("Slap a JAP").
posted by Kattullus at 1:53 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was in grade school (about 5th grade) some non-Jewish kids snuck into a temple and stole some yarmulkes and then went around school wearing them and saying "you are blessed" to the Jewish kids. They also called Jewish kids "Sheenies," which, to this day, I have never heard again. (But the internet knows all.)
posted by Mid at 2:05 PM on December 31, 2009


Just as a data point, I absolutely believe that Metafilter tolerates casual, and not-so-casual, anti-semitism.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:22 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've heard about the horn thing, but only on a FOAF level. It might originate in the famous sculpture of Moses, but I bet it's just perpetuated the way most folklore is, by people who don't think very much.

Anyway, my thoughts on all this - yeah, of course it's racist. And some of the term's defenders remind me of the people talking about "real n*****s" in Spike Lee's film Bamboozled. They're justifying a racist term by saying that there really are Jewish women who "are like that". But why would you need a special term to describe the intersection of an ethnicity and a set of negative stereotypes, when you don't need a term to describe those stereotypes on their own?
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:21 PM on December 31, 2009


I thought I had heard them all, Mid. But "sheenies" is new to me.

I don't speak Yiddish, but my wife knows a bit and we were both fascinated by the explanation at the link.
posted by zarq at 11:16 AM on January 1, 2010


I've never been asked about horns, but I know a lot of people who have been. Not in any sort of mean way, just a "cool, I've never seen a person with horns!" way. (That said, after a few requests, most people get really fucking pissed off.) It's odd, because -- how do you learn about this? It's something I have never quite understood. This was in the late 90s.

But about JAP: I used to use it, though only among other Jews, and I have since grown up and do not use it, because it is offensive, for all the reasons mentioned above. I'm not going to scale it on a level of offensive, because words aren't that precise, and because it's useless to say that Jap is a 3.5 but kike is 6.1 and cracker is 4.9 -- so what? It's meaningless.

I also don't get why people are so insistent on using words that are offensive in front of the people they offend. I don't mind bitch, but I don't use it in front of friends of mine who do mind it; I don't mind crazy, but same thing. (I only use words that can apply to me.) Even if I think people are mistaken and that some word isn't meant offensively, what does it harm me not to insult them to their faces? And yes, I use teasing and offensive humour in front of people I know, but I also know how far to go with them.

I know very well that being Jewish makes me Other. I can hide it, because I don't look Jewish, and I don't have a stereotypically Jewish name. And I do hide it, often, because I've had enough bad experiences when I don't. And I feel pretty shitty when I hide it, and pretty shitty when I have those bad experiences, and you know, it's not really that much better that I can (and have to) hide part of who I am to avoid prejudice. Yeah, right now Judaism is okayish (for all the Jews-control-the-media bullshit, there's an awful lot of Christianity on tv and in the movies and not so much Judaism), but it's still -ish.
posted by jeather at 11:22 AM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


zarq - what's especially strange about "sheenie" from my youth is that this was in suburban St. Louis and the nasty kids were somewhat blue-collar/rural. (We would call them "hoosiers" in St. Louis, which is its own derogatory term can of worms, but at least not tied to any race or ethnicity.) How these kids picked up an archaic anti-semetic insult that I have never since heard in any context remains a mystery to me. In fact, at the time, I wasn't even sure what a sheenie was or why they were saying it to me -- but the whole yarmulke thing sort of gave it away.
posted by Mid at 1:49 PM on January 1, 2010


"Hoosiers" is derogatory? In Indiana it's just a word for people from this state.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:53 PM on January 1, 2010


It is a derogatory term in the St. Louis region for lower socioeconomic status whites.
posted by Mid at 1:58 PM on January 1, 2010


Well, I'll be damned.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:23 PM on January 1, 2010


I think that the title of the movie Hoosiers (about champion high school basketball players from a small town in Indiana) was meant to simultaneously evoke the stereotype, the Indiana identity, and the professional sports team with the same name.

late to koeselitz: I have seen that Carlin routine before, and of course I'm a big fan.

amro: You are generalizing about Jewish women from the suburbs. That's what makes it a stereotype. You are generalizing that they are snotty, uptalky, wealthy, entitled, gossipy, shallow, and materialistic.

There are definitely Jewish women from the suburbs that are none of those things.

rtha: There are a lot of "young women who are snotty, uptalky, wealthy, entitled, gossipy, shallow, materialistic, from the suburbs of large cities" who are not Jewish.

Of course there are. Judaism does not have a monopoly on the production of obnoxious people. Please see my earlier comment for some additional thoughts that might make my position clearer.

craichead: I'm curious, Bingo, if you think there's a male equivalent to a JAP. What's the nasty word for that person?

There definitely is a male counterpart (not "equivalent," exactly), but I don't know of any special names for them. I've heard JAP used where the P is for Prince, of course, but in my observation, that hasn't really caught on. This may simply be because the word "prince" just doesn't have the same secondary negative connotations that "princess" does, i.e. "What a prince!" just doesn't work as an insult, for better or worse. I would like to suggest the term "zebes," which refers to the Jewish fraternity ZBT, and which also arguably evokes "hebes." You heard it here first.

bearwife: I don't know if Bingo is a self hater, but I'm very clear on how much he dislikes a lot of Jews, how free he feels to express contempt for them and stereotype them...

What's really interesting to me here is that, in terms of the thread I linked to, you made exactly the comparison that I was trying to make myself, but with such a different interpretation.

I don't go around starting conversations with strangers about my own negative experiences with snotty rich Jewish girls or Hasids. I joined both threads for one reason: because I heard cries of anti-Semitism where I saw no anti-Semitism. And that is something that I do have a serious problem with.

Astro Zombie: For some reason, you're just going to stick up for your right to call uptight rich Jewish girls JAPS. More power to you.

That's actually not something that I'm in the habit of doing, personally; at least not in many years. The issue for me is that this thread started with a charge of anti-Semitism that I feel was unwarranted. I think that the word anti-Semitism gets bandied about more often than it should. As a Jew, I feel an obligation to speak up when that happens. Non-Jews are much less likely to do so, for fear of being called anti-Semites themselves.

Indeed, KokuRyu ended his callout with the line "Then again, maybe I'm being too sensitive, and I wonder what other MeFites think about this." I do think he's being oversensitive, so I'm here to say so. I don't think that Metafilter is a haven for casual anti-Semitism, and I'm here to say so.

I might have left it there, but as soon as I came across:

I'm a Jew and I am offended by it...is this just another example of people in a privileged majority rushing to protect any privilege they have...?

...then I decided to stay for the duration. I want to make it clear that this is not a question of gentiles who can't fathom the Jewish experience, that it's a complicated situation, and that nobody should be afraid to examine it critically, honestly, and realistically.

If, in so doing, I get called a bigot or a self-hating Jew, then I can take it. I'm not afraid of people calling me names.
posted by bingo at 8:22 PM on January 1, 2010


In your comment upthread, bingo, you say This is why I said that JAP is a nuanced term. It does not mean "a woman who is superficial and rich, and happens to be Jewish." That is NOT what it means. It also does NOT mean "a woman who is superficial and rich because she is Jewish. (Did you hear that, Nazis 2.0? Don't come and take us away!) Rather, it means that she possesses a range of characteristics linked to her cultural background, of which her Judaism is also a part.

But in my experience with the term JAP being used by non-Jews, it is not nuanced at all. Jewish women I knew in college who possessed only one or two of the JAP characteristics, or perhaps none at all (except for being Jewish) were often tagged as being JAPs. In the town I grew up in - largely Jewish - having a mom who was a doctor and a dad who was...also a doctor, say, and living in a nice house, wasn't actually enough to put the girl in question into JAP status. There was a whole bunch of other stuff that had to be there too (materialistic, etc.). But at my exceedingly non-Jewish college, just being Jewish and coming from a family that was financially well-off was enough to move one into JAP territory, and all the negative, misogynistic stuff that goes along with that was piled on some girl whose only sin was having doctor parents.

And, as I said, a lot of kids shared the characteristics of JAPs without being Jewish. You can be all the things the stereotype says makes a JAP without being Jewish. To me, this makes the stereotype that much more useless, and yet still damaging.
posted by rtha at 9:53 AM on January 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


rtha: I don't dispute your experience, and I agree that context matters.

That said, I don't like the idea of restricting the use of a term in one context, just in case it will be misused in another context (or even if it will definitely be misused in another context). I don't think that there is a clear causal line between the kind of fine-tuned suburban joshing you mention, and the definitively anti-Semitic and ignorant context of your college experience. If nobody ever used the term JAP, not even Jews, not even in a certain context, then would that really lead to Jewish girls being treated better in the type of context you describe?

I don't think so. And even if it would, I'm still not comfortable with the idea of serving justice through the restriction of terminology. I believe that changes in behavior and perspective are, in the long haul, most likely to happen if they are based on an open discourse and meaningful experience. I don't pretend to have the answer as to exactly how to bring that about, but I don't think it's through telling anybody how or how not to speak.

I once had a non-Jewish friend who used the term "jewed" as a verb in casual conversation when we first met. He wasn't referring to me; he probably didn't know that I was Jewish at the time. I didn't say anything. I didn't think he deserved a lecture, nor would be have reacted well to my telling him how to speak. Heck, maybe did know, and he was using it as a sort of challenge to see what I would do. I don't know, and I don't really care.

We kept hanging out, and eventually, he stopped saying it.

And that is the only way in which I'm interested in changing the speaking habits of anyone who has anything bad to say about Jews. By being the sort of Jew that they don't feel they ought to talk that way about.
posted by bingo at 4:17 PM on January 3, 2010


Damn, that's old-school, bingo. Keep your head down, don't get all offended when you hear bad stuff about Jews, mock those who make their Jewishness known, and hope any anti-Semite out there will appreciate your discretion so much that you'll be the exception to their rule.
posted by palliser at 4:38 PM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whoa. What palliser said.
posted by amro at 4:43 PM on January 3, 2010


Wow. If that's really what you guys think, then I'm sorry that I wasted so much time on this conversation. There has been an awful lot of reductivism and distortion in this thread, but that really takes the cake.
posted by bingo at 4:50 PM on January 3, 2010


Reductive? Seriously? How reductive is it to talk about "Chicago JAPs" and to tell your friends to "check out that JAP's purse"? Except that I'm reducing your words, and you're reducing other human beings.
posted by palliser at 5:09 PM on January 3, 2010


Well, palliser, it's a question of indicating characteristics that are present, versus those that are absent. Your faux-summary of my thoughts above is just wrong. Go ahead and express your disapproval of what I actually said, if you like, but that isn't it.
posted by bingo at 5:27 PM on January 3, 2010


I can see why you're all hating on bingo, but I think his description of the term JAP and the feelings of resentment that these perceived JAPS inspire in people is very accurate. There's the misogyny but there's also a the feeling of resentment based on a group's exclusionary behaviour and a group member's superiority complex based on inclusion in that group. In this case the cultural group is tied to religion and culture. I'd say the term ranges from a description to a slur depending on context. When i do use it, i almost always use it as a mild slur.
posted by captaincrouton at 5:29 PM on January 3, 2010


bingo, if anybody's being 'reductive,' it's you. You're the one who just posted a long reply about "restricting the use of certain terms" when nobody is talking about restricting the use of any terms at all." The conversation is about whether it's harmful or helpful for us to use certain words in certain contexts, not about preventing other people from using words. And it's disingenuous and dishonest of you to act as though anybody here was suggesting that certain words or phrases be restricted or banned.

Do you really think antisemitism isn't a big deal at all, that we should just ignore it? You can argue all day about what you mean by it, how you're justified and all this nonsense. But, bingo, you're Jewish, so you can't possibly understand the experience of us non-Jews; there's no way you can know what all of this sounds like to us. As a non-Jew, I'm telling you that, while you may believe you're doing it in the best intentions, when you use the term "J.A.P.", you're telling most of us white dudes that it's OK to hate Jewish women.

Yeah, I know, blah blah blah: you don't mean to say that, people take what they want to take from things, you can't be held responsible, whatever. Bullshit. If I tell you, "hey, watch out: that bridge is out, so if you try to drive over it, you'll end up in the river," whose fault is it if you end up soaking wet? I warned you beforehand, so you can't say it was the bridge's fault, or the river's fault, or anybody else's fault after that; it's your fault for ignoring the warning sign.

Well, we're telling you, en masse, in no uncertain terms, with a continued clarity that really surprises me: no matter what you think you mean by it, when you use the term J.A.P., you are telling most people that it's OK to hate Jewish women. We've warned you, over and over again, that this will be the result. And like the stubborn driver in the other example, you keep on insisting on driving over that bridge; you keep telling us it's not your fault if somebody else takes something incorrect from what you say, but we've already warned you over and over again that that's exactly what people do all the time.

And to be honest, it has occurred to some of us that one of the most potent signs of racism is a complete disregard for the understanding and well-being of others. You care so very little about what other people take from what you say, and you're so stubborn in your refusal to consider what the words you use mean to other people, that the inference that you might well be a racist has crossed our minds more than once. It's astounding to me that you don't see why; but I guess you've just assumed that, since you're Jewish, there's no way you could be antisemitic.
posted by koeselitz at 5:41 PM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


And, may I say, you're being so ridiculously self-centered in your understanding of the term that it beggars comprehension. You seem to think that the only people who use the term "J.A.P." are Jews themselves. Has it simply not occurred to you that the vast, vast majority of people who use that word mean by it "stupid Jewish woman," and that almost all of them are non-Jews who are indicating their dislike for Jewish women? Do you really believe that there's no antisemitism in the world, and that no antisemites use this term?
posted by koeselitz at 5:45 PM on January 3, 2010


bingo: “If that's really what you guys think, then I'm sorry that I wasted so much time on this conversation.”

We do think that. Almost all of us. And we share your sentiment about wasting time here. Maybe you shouldn't waste time on Metafilter at all, if you're so eager to use terms that wholeheartedly destroy all the good work that a few of us have tried to do in overturning centuries of our own crimes and misdeeds. If you really want to use such words, maybe you can go back to interacting only with Jews; who knows, maybe they'll even let you call them "kike" and "heeb," although I have a feeling you're mistaken about their preferences, too.
posted by koeselitz at 5:51 PM on January 3, 2010


Maybe you shouldn't waste time on Metafilter at all

Speaking personally, I like it that MeFi has a decent range of opinions here. You guys can disagree, but I don't think it's your place to go showing people to the door, any more than it is mine. If Bingo took your advice and left, that would be a loss to the site, not a gain, no matter how much I differ with him/her on the social appropriateness of words like JAP.
posted by Forktine at 6:10 PM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Then, with respect, I disagree with you, Forktine. Variety of opinion and diversity of thought is a fine thing, but one can enjoy that diversity without wanting to reserve a place for racism.
posted by koeselitz at 6:16 PM on January 3, 2010


Noted, bingo, you are a Good One. And your approach to unreasonable people who say something offensive about Jews is to conform yourself to their notions of how Jews should act. I just don't know how else to read this: "the only way in which I'm interested in changing the speaking habits of anyone who has anything bad to say about Jews. By being the sort of Jew that they don't feel they ought to talk that way about."
posted by chinston at 6:42 PM on January 3, 2010


I am decidedly uncomfortable with bingo being told that he sucks at being Jewish--especially from someone who has never been Jewish. We all have to make our own decisions about interacting with the shitty, bigoted world we live in.

It's not mandatory for anyone in an oppressed minority to teach the majority culture about jack shit.
posted by kathrineg at 6:52 PM on January 3, 2010


And for real, no one has the right to hate Jewish women, no matter how much bingo does or does not suck.
posted by kathrineg at 6:53 PM on January 3, 2010


That's totally it -- bingo isn't like those loud nasty Jews from the east coast that were in his dorm in college. He's one of the good ones and it isn't his fault that there are all these JAPs running around and all these people that get all sensitive about quote-unquote antisemitism.
posted by Mid at 6:54 PM on January 3, 2010


kathrineg: “I am decidedly uncomfortable with bingo being told that he sucks at being Jewish--especially from someone who has never been Jewish. We all have to make our own decisions about interacting with the shitty, bigoted world we live in.”

For what it's worth, I haven't said that, and I don't think it. And I agree that I have no room to speak about someone else's experience or racial and cultural background when I don't share in it at all.

That doesn't mean that people who are different from me get a pass on insisting that racism is okay.
posted by koeselitz at 7:00 PM on January 3, 2010


... and this goes for all similar terms, frankly. If someone spent the bulk of a three-hundred-comment thread insisting over and over again that it's their right to use the word "gay" as a derogatory term for stuff they don't like - if that person adamantly and steadfastly refused to accept even the possibility of just not using the word that way out of respect for other people - then I'd feel the same way I do now: as though the basic premises behind civil discourse and honest debate are being broken. And I wouldn't be above asking them to leave.
posted by koeselitz at 7:06 PM on January 3, 2010


I am decidedly uncomfortable with bingo being told that he sucks at being Jewish--especially from someone who has never been Jewish.

As am I. FWIW, I'm speaking as someone who has been discriminated against by Jews and non-Jews for my religious preferences.

It's not mandatory for anyone in an oppressed minority to teach the majority culture about jack shit.

It's not mandatory, I agree. But it can be useful. Often the best weapons we have against racism, discrimination bigotry, sexism and antisemitism are education, stories and public acknowledgment or admonishment. Such hatreds thrive on a culture of approval, and I think that teaching oppressive majorities how damaging those attitudes can be to others is important.
posted by zarq at 7:06 PM on January 3, 2010


It's not mandatory to teach anyone anything, but bingo is doing just that. He has made protecting the people's right to use ethnic slurs his cause, and I just don't see the utility in that.
posted by amro at 7:10 PM on January 3, 2010


I am decidedly uncomfortable with bingo being told that he sucks at being Jewish--especially from someone who has never been Jewish.

Who made this claim? I do, however, think he sucks at trying to make a case why meanness is okay.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:22 PM on January 3, 2010


katherineg: I am decidedly uncomfortable with bingo being told that he sucks at being Jewish--especially from someone who has never been Jewish.

Astro Zombie: Who made this claim?

I can't speak for kathering, but that's how I read chinston's comment:

Noted, bingo, you are a Good One. And your approach to unreasonable people who say something offensive about Jews is to conform yourself to their notions of how Jews should act. I just don't know how else to read this: "the only way in which I'm interested in changing the speaking habits of anyone who has anything bad to say about Jews. By being the sort of Jew that they don't feel they ought to talk that way about."
posted by zarq at 8:55 PM on January 3, 2010


I've been avoiding this thread all weekend. One of my kids is sick with a severe upper respiratory infection, and I just couldn't deal with more stress and angst on top of that.

palliser: Damn, that's old-school, bingo. Keep your head down, don't get all offended when you hear bad stuff about Jews, mock those who make their Jewishness known, and hope any anti-Semite out there will appreciate your discretion so much that you'll be the exception to their rule.

Ouch. I don't think bingo's an Uncle Tom. I don't think this is an accurate assessment of his stated positions, either.

I may be wrong about this, but my impression of the arguments he's been presenting in this thread are that he acknowledges that antisemitism exists, but feels that arguing semantics and imposing censorship are simply never going to solve the problem. He has a problem with a specific subset of Jewish women that he feels use their religion and culture as a superficial display, but are ignorant of its deeper symbolisms and values. He also thinks that certain negative, offensive qualities are inherent to certain Jewish women. And he feels that the best way to fight antisemitism is to be the most exemplary example of a Jew that he can be, while not creating conflicts.

He also believes that calling a group a racist slur is not offensive, if the slur is an accurate depiction of that group.

I don't agree with... well... any of these arguments. But it seems disingenuous to characterize him as something he's not.
posted by zarq at 9:15 PM on January 3, 2010


And he feels that the best way to fight antisemitism is to be the most exemplary example of a Jew that he can be, while not creating conflicts.

This warrants some clarification. When I said By being the sort of Jew that they don't feel they ought to talk that way about., I meant "being myself," not "making special efforts to avoid stereotypical behavior."

I definitely would not consider myself an exemplary Jew; neither in the eyes of other Jews, nor in those of any hypothetical non-Jews who might be watching to see if I'm "one of the good ones." The point of the anecdote was to illustrate that even in situations where I'm dealing directly with something that really qualifies as "casual antisemitism," I don't respond by saying that I'm offended, or by criticizing anyone's word choice. I don't think that's productive, and it's just not in me to do things that way.

Other than that, zarq's characterization of my position was pretty accurate. Thank you for at least paying attention to what I had to say, zarq, even as you disagree with it.
posted by bingo at 9:58 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is also worth tweaking slightly:

He also believes that calling a group a racist slur is not offensive, if the slur is an accurate depiction of that group.

I don't think that JAP, when used in the context I've explained ad infinitum above, is racist (because it doesn't disparage an entire race) or a slur (because it's accurate). Whether or not it's "offensive" is a subjective and individual question.
posted by bingo at 10:20 PM on January 3, 2010


bingo: And even if it would, I'm still not comfortable with the idea of serving justice through the restriction of terminology. I believe that changes in behavior and perspective are, in the long haul, most likely to happen if they are based on an open discourse and meaningful experience.

The "N" word was addressed upthread to some degree, but I'd like to revisit it for a moment.

A Caucasian teacher in Kentucky was suspended for ten days last year for saying "Sit down, n----r" to an African American student. The teacher's defense was that the black students in his classroom used the term amongst themselves all the time, so why shouldn't he?

Most school systems have rules in place banning offensive or obscene language. However, as a general rule each incident is taken on a case by case basis. This is because community standards for what is offensive, obscene or acceptable may vary according to time and place. For example, calling a student "gay" means something very different today than it did 50 years ago. As you have been asserting, context matters.

Worth noting: for at least 2-300 years, the "N" word was not considered a racist term. It was a neutral word derived from French, Spanish and Portuguese that denoted "black skinned" individuals. It wasn't until the early part of the 19th century that the word began to acquire a negative connotation. But as recently as the 1930's and '40's, neutral uses showed up in popular American media (literature and movies.) The African American community (through the efforts of the NAACP and others,) made a concerted effort in the early 20th century to remove the term as part of their cultural self-identity.

The point I am trying to make is that the terminology we use is extremely important. Imposed and/or adopted identities can help encourage or dismiss stereotypes. Restricting terms which encourage hatred (whether against an entire group or a limited subset) seems entirely reasonable to me.

In the Kentucky case, context did matter: When a person who is a member of the racial majority who is also in a position of authority, uses the term against members of a racial minority that he happens to be in charge of, that's oppressive racism. Whether intended that way or not, it simply is. The Kentucky school district had an "obscenity rule" in place, assessed the situation and suspended the teacher. Perhaps censoring him will have no effect on his behavior. But in this particular case, the school district took a stand and declared that what he had done was unacceptable.

There seems to be a widespread assumption (at least on Metafilter) that We Need To Be Careful What We Say Lest The Stupid People Get The Wrong Idea.

Is it really about "Stupid People"? My impression has been that instead it's about being respectful, and taking care when using terms which have traditionally been used in American culture to denote racial stereotypes which justify bigotry. It's about defending and demanding the right to use terms that have been used as a weapon against others. And perhaps it's also about imposed identity rather than self-identity for Jewish women.
posted by zarq at 10:29 PM on January 3, 2010


Oops. The Kentucky incident happened in 2008. It's not "last year" anymore....
posted by zarq at 10:31 PM on January 3, 2010


You make this sound like this is just your personal approach, but we've said over and over again that this isn't about your own approach when you feel offended at something someone has said. The situation here is very, very simple, bingo, so let's not mince words:

  • Some people who are Jewish and are women said that they feel offended, hurt, and marginalized when people use the term "J.A.P."
  • You stated that you don't think it's offensive, and you see no reason to quit using it.


  • Is it really about how you react when you face situations where you're the object of racism? Isn't it in fact about how you react when you face situations where you're accused of racism, or where someone points out that they were hurt or feel laid low by something you've said? I know there have been times when I've gotten very frustrated here, bingo, but I'm saying this in all honesty:

    Isn't it possible, just out of respect, to choose not to use a certain word that some people find offensive? Isn't it possible, out of decency and care for other people, to adopt a more egalitarian way of speaking?
    posted by koeselitz at 10:34 PM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


    bingo: “I don't think that JAP, when used in the context I've explained ad infinitum above, is racist (because it doesn't disparage an entire race) or a slur (because it's accurate). Whether or not it's "offensive" is a subjective and individual question.”

    Your definition of "slur" makes no sense. It seems to be based on the definition of "libel," but ignores the fact that a "slur" isn't the same: a "slur" could very well be accurate in a certain sense. A "slur" is simply a pejorative, a derogatory term, and you've said over and over again that you don't like "J.A.P.s" and that that's why you like this term for them - so clearly it is a derogatory term.

    You're right, however, that the question of whether it's "offensive" is a subjective and individual question. There are certain subjective individuals to whom term in question causes offense, certain subjective individuals who feel hurt and laid low when they hear it. The question is: if you know that you're hurting them, why do you want to keep using the word?
    posted by koeselitz at 10:41 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I am not interesting in accusing bingo of being a good or bad Jew and my comment was not intended to do that. I was evaluating his statements as representing a certain kind of approach to dealing with bigotry, which is an important public question -- I have nothing to say on religious matters. I think my interpretation of the sentences I quoted was fair.
    posted by chinston at 5:57 AM on January 4, 2010


    I am decidedly uncomfortable with bingo being told that he sucks at being Jewish

    Well, I'm uncomfortable with non-Jews being told that antisemitism is none of their business. And I do think that bingo's attitude toward Jews should be troubling to us all -- namely, if the way to fight antisemitism is to be a nice, friendly guy, what does that say about the origins of antisemitism?

    I guess bingo has pushed some personal buttons in both this thread and the earlier one on Hasidim because I'm not only a Jewish woman, but a secular, inter-married Jew with a non-Jewish father who is very close to a number of Hasidim, and who finds his characterizations of Hasidim to be as nasty, false, and ignorant as can be. And now to find him here, slurring yet another "subset" of Jews in yet more nasty and false ways... well, it taxes my patience.
    posted by palliser at 6:26 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


    chinston, Thank you for clarifying.
    posted by zarq at 7:35 AM on January 4, 2010


    I have experienced anti-Semitism from two kinds of people, broadly. (I am ignoring the problematic interactions between some people who are different levels of Orthodoxy.)

    1. The kind of people who have never actually met a Jew. As a general rule, this is successfully changed by being my normal self in front of them. My normal self will, in fact, complain about word use in front of people; this has never caused a problem. But it doesn't particularly bother me if not everyone wants to fight every single insult or slur they ever hear, and it's reasonable to not do so. (And I tend to think that it's more important that the non-Jews argue against anti-Semitic slurs. I just like these discussions.)
    2. The kind of people who actively dislike Jews. Neither being a normal person nor explaining why Jap is offensive will work.

    I don't agree with bingo's attitude towards the term Jap, or the use of offensive slurs in general, but it's surprisingly often true that just interacting with ignorant anti-Semites will effect change, and that a large percentage of anti-Semitism is due to lack of personal knowledge, compared to misogyny (or, from what I have understood from friends, racism).

    I find the word Jap insidious in its offensiveness. It is used only against women, and against women who don't fit the appropriate stereotypes for femininity: they are loud, they have and express opinions, they look -- well, not Anglo-Saxon, anyhow, etc. (As I recall, the joke about orgasms used to end with dropping the book: Japs used to be overeducated women, or women who are too bookish. I thought there was a time they were oversexualised, too, but I am not sure.) It's a way of judging only Jewish women who don't try to fade into the background, where there is no similar word for non-Jewish women, or Jewish men. How dare they speak in public about summer camp! How dare they discuss dating men in public! How dare they spend money on clothing and accessories that I do not like! It's important to me to judge these women -- negatively -- out loud and in public. It's important to me to use terms that people find offensive, because their offense matters less than precision in judging and insulting people.
    posted by jeather at 8:01 AM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


    I once had a non-Jewish friend who used the term "jewed" as a verb in casual conversation when we first met. He wasn't referring to me; he probably didn't know that I was Jewish at the time. I didn't say anything. I didn't think he deserved a lecture, nor would be have reacted well to my telling him how to speak. Heck, maybe did know, and he was using it as a sort of challenge to see what I would do. I don't know, and I don't really care.

    This is where we part company. I don't have much interest in policing other people's speech, but if a friend of mine used this term around me, I'd pick my jaw up off the floor and say something to him. Something about why it's offensive, and why it's really not okay to use a term like that if you don't want people thinking you're a bigot. If the friend is just ignorant and doesn't know this, well, okay - now they know. And if they keep using it, then they don't get to be my friend anymore.

    I believe that changes in behavior and perspective are, in the long haul, most likely to happen if they are based on an open discourse and meaningful experience.


    So how does not talking to your friend about this ("talking" does not have to mean "lecturing") advance open discourse?
    posted by rtha at 9:24 AM on January 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


    StickyCarpet: Except for the occasional "linkee no workee" thing.

    Is that an asian stereotype?!?!? I truly had no idea. In fact, I still can't see how it is. What happens to the stereotyping when it is typed "linky no worky" or "linkie no workie"?

    languagehat: I couldn't get over the fact that a nation that had essentially no experience with Jews had managed to acquire all the standard prejudices. What a fucked-up species we are.

    I was thinking of saying something about how stereotyping is actually fairly useful tool for interacting with the world as long as you make sure to also think and reflect. Then I read zarq's comment:
    The horns thing is truly weird. Katullus, that happened to me a number of times in northern TX and rural PA growing up. I'd be hanging out with other kids and out of the blue, they'd either ask to see them or want to know when I'd had them removed. Two of my roommates at college Freshman year asked if they could see them, and where they were. And as a sign one particular relationship was doomed to fail, a girlfriend's father in high school (South Korean) told me that I was the first Jew he'd ever met, and he was surprised because I "wasn't that bad for a Jew" and I hid "my horns very well." He was all smiles as he said this. He thought he was complimenting me!
    Ya, fucked-up.....

    Abiezer: You see the opposite argued on the Mainland - there's a sort of philo-Semitism that is admittedly based in large part also on dodgy, dodgy stereotypes

    I find it odd that the author of that article didn't bring up the Shanghai Getto. There is, and it's obvious if you think about it, a long history of Jews in China. Perhaps some of the stereotypes considered most odd here in the west actually originate there.. At least it wouldn't surprise me.
    posted by Chuckles at 12:29 PM on January 4, 2010


    A few notes to keep things in perspective, folks:

    - I don't remember the last time I said the word JAP out loud.
    - I don't remember the last time I wrote the word JAP before this thread and the related one on the blue.
    - Nobody who knows me offline, Jew or non-Jew, friend or enemy, would describe me as a person who keeps his head down and play an assigned role, stereotypical or otherwise.
    - I acknowledge that there are situations in which the word JAP is used in a way that is actually antisemitic. I do not approve of or endorse that usage, but I also don't think that means that nobody else should ever say it.
    - I came into this thread because I wanted to discuss whether or not the word JAP is inherently antisemitic, and whether the linked thread was appropriate for Metafilter, as per the original callout.
    - In the ensuing dialog, I came across cries of "some people are offended, isn't that enough?" This is a pet peeve of mine; I do not believe that it's productive, the vast majority of the time (and maybe ever) for any person or group of people to bring a conversation to a close by announcing that they are offended. It doesn't really matter what the subject is.
    - However, when the subject is antisemitism, I often feel a personal duty to step in and say, "Well, I'm a Jew, and I don't think the conversation should stop because some people are saying 'I'm offended.'"
    - I, personally, am very hard to offend in general.
    - We hard-to-offend people often regard cries of "I'm offended" as code for I'm flustered and I don't know how else to deal with this situation. Some people have been conditioned to respect "I'm offended" as a complete and irrefutable argument, regardless of the context (and some of those people are clearly in this thread). But many people have not had that conditioning, and talking to them as if they missed out on something there is not likely to be productive in most cases.
    - Everybody has the right to be offended by everything. But I don't believe that, in the long view, saying that one is offended is really ever going to bring about meaningful change in any sphere.
    - I don't like being told what to do or not do, say or not say. And so, telling others what they should do or not do, or say or not say, is rarely part of my solution to any problem. People change when they are motivated to do so internally. And that motivation comes from information and experiences that lead organically to actual, organic, unforced decisions.
    - I believe that most curious young antisemites who comes across this page in the future, looking for information about the word JAP, will be more likely to rethink their take on Jews in general after reading the conversation we've had (yes, including my part), than they would be if they'd come across a page that said, in effect, "JAP is a term offensive to Jews, and you shouldn't use it."
    - For some people, the prime directive in life is to be as sensitive and kind to other people as possible, in all cases, unless you happen to encounter someone who doesn't share that philosophy, in which case, that person is to be used for rhetorical target practice. It's not my worldview, but to each their own.
    - I don't have the time or energy to deal with this pile-on every day between now and when the thread closes. I wish you all the best. As my people usually say at a different time of year, but with the same meaning, L'shana tova tikatevu.
    posted by bingo at 6:24 PM on January 4, 2010


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