Life Re: My Jewish Problem
posted by December 29 at 9:40 AMon
Yesterday Christopher brought up the “hipster” anecdote from my recent story about Seattle’s Jewish Problem. He’s not the first. Ever since that story came out, all my friends (as well as several letter writers and one radio host) have been talking to me about this one particular section of the piece.
Christopher bolded some of the lines and words from the “hipster” section, in which I write about the awkwardness of being introduced as “the Jew” upon arrival at a party, and his boldings aren’t what I would have bolded for readers like him, readers who are my friends. Not that I can control such things, but here’s what I would have bolded for Christopher:
Sometimes, in the right room, in front of the right people, or with good friends, a certain amount of post-Jewish, post-anti-Semitic humor works. There is something liberating about being able to laugh at one’s own identity, especially in the presence of people who don’t share it. But the precondition for this is a shared understanding and respect for the identity that’s being mocked. In Seattle, that precondition is rarely met.
It’s rarely met because Seattle is not the Los Angeles suburbs of Christopher’s youth. Here in Seattle, Jews make up less than one percent of the population. In 1997 in Los Angeles, when Christopher was getting ready to graduate high school with all his Jewish friends, the number of Jews in Christopher’s geographic area was about equal to the entire population of Seattle. Which means that in Los Angeles, there were then (and are now) far more people likely to be ready for post-Jewish, post-anti-Semitic humor than there were (and are now) here in Seattle.
That’s what I was trying to say with the party anecdote.
Christopher is not the “hipster” I was talking about, and neither are any of my other friends who have asked, in different ways, whether they are now, or have ever been, that guy at the party. I’m sorry I didn’t make this more clear in that section, and I’m sorry to get all mushy on the Slog, but attention friends: You people are my friends precisely because you are not that guy at the party and don’t want to be, but are nevertheless willing to make fun of me—even, sometimes, to my face, about my being Jewish, not because you hate Jews, but because you love them enough to laugh fondly at them, and care enough to be careful when doing so.
Christopher brings up the mutability of the word “gay,” which he points out is similar to the word “Jew” in that it can easily morph from a term of derision into a term of endearment, and back again, depending upon the context and the speaker. Same with “fag,” “nigga,” and even, as one of his commenters points out, “chink.”
I don’t think this complicates the point I was trying to make, as Christopher suggests. Rather, I think it makes my point. The point is that context is paramount.
If Christopher were to find himself in a town where gay people made up less than one percent of the population (say, Cheyenne Wells, CO), and he was at some random party (meaning the chances of another homosexual being at this party are less than one percent), Christopher would be unlikely to greet the next party entrant with a hearty “Hey, Faggot!” and he’d be a fool to assume that this statement would be absorbed by everyone around him as some ironic, post-gay comment on the silliness of homophobia and homosexuals alike.
At times, Seattle gatherings can be to Jews what most gatherings in Cheyenne Wells are to gays: Events where the chances of being completely understood by everyone in the room are slim, and therefore events where identity-mocking is going to be problematic, whether well-intended or not, whether well-executed or not.
This is not true at all gatherings in Seattle. This is true at some gatherings in Seattle. Don’t ask me when exactly this is true and when this isn’t true. That’s not my job to figure out. It’s yours.
Back to my vacation. Party on.
And yes, Jewish dudes are super hot.