Someone called me a “Jew bag” recently. It was not in the context of two people, of the same tribe, ribbing one another in that way that people of the same tribe can and do…Not to mention this is not an anti-Semitic slur I’m familiar with (and I think of myself as pretty informed of anti-Semitic slurs. I always think it’s good to know these things). I also am not one to use anti-Semitic slurs to be funny—even in an ironic way.
This came out of the blue and really didn’t fit the context of the situation: A bunch of friends who hadn’t seen each other in awhile getting together…and we were not discussing anything about race or religion.
The comment came after I received my drink order from the waiter and saw that it was wrong, asking the waiter to change it:
“You Jew bag.”
When I asked the person why they called me a “Jew bag” they said it was because I complained…ha, ha, ha.
I’m not going to play the painful and embarrassing scene out beyond that. I will tell you that the upshot of the incident is that the person later said, “I didn’t mean it like that…” My response: I hugged the person and moved on.
Obviously I really haven’t.
I can’t help but replay those words I didn’t mean it like that.
So how did s/he mean it?
Disclaimer: I am not mad at this individual. What I am is scared…not of the individual…but of what will happen after you read this. As I share it with the world, I’m pretty confident there will be some kind of negative response mixed in with empathy. But the negative will stay with me far longer.
But, I’m more afraid of is what happens if I don’t share this with you. If I am silent, I don’t have the opportunity to tell you why this remark was hurtful and wrong...
Someone said to me that what happened was a “teachable moment”, that it was my duty to inform the person that what they said was wrong, and I should tell them why it was wrong, why it wasn’t funny to me.
That, of course, made me feel responsible for the remark.
When I said to the individual that s/he had crossed the line, s/he said, Why? What do you mean? You talk about being Jewish all the time…implying that since I make self deprecating (note: ironic) comments about myself, the remark was okay.
In the moment that s/he said those words “Jew bag”, I felt unsafe, and as I responded to it in the moment, as I gathered the courage not to pretend it away, or laugh it off as I have in the past, as I actually defended myself, I found that the people around me (who heard it) were speechless (some hadn’t heard the remark), or if they did come to my defense, I didn’t hear it. The feeling of confusion and hurt cut deeper and deeper until we all left, and it was over.
I’m left with two questions haunting me:
Why was it wrong for me to defend myself?
Why do I still feel so responsible for the remark?
Defining myself as a Jew seems to be tinged with apologizing and making self deprecating remarks…I do this to some how diffuse the bomb that might go off if I don’t…Almost an anticipated counter-attack. Why do I feel the need to block a potential attack? I don’t have an answer to that. It’s funny when you make fun of your own tribe, because it is ironic. But when someone else does, it just feels threatening.
When I relayed the story to a friend and fellow tribeswoman of mine, she suggested that maybe this person feels close enough to me to think that s/he can make these remarks, as if s/he were an honorary member of the tribe…For me, no matter how I look at the incident, no matter how much I try to understand the other side, the remark hurt and caused something inside of me to wonder…