By Max Mallet
I suspected that finding someone who is anti-Semitic or has anti-Semitic tendencies would be difficult for this project. Being covertly prejudiced is not exactly in vogue in 2015. However, a friend of mine texted me saying that she’d speak with me about some of the anti-Semitic things she’d overheard and taken part in at her work. We’re going to call her “Jane” for the purposes of this section. Jane is in her 20s and works at a bar and restaurant in the greater Boston area. She has lived in New England, the South and the Midwest for nearly equal portions of her life.
I wouldn’t say that Jane is intellectually anti-Semitic. However, some of what she’s said to co-workers may fall along a spectrum of anti-Semitism.
Jane said much of the anti-Semitism that she sees or occasionally participates in is not because of the religion, but in her words, because of entitlement. She says that because the service industry is full of people who are hard working, any perceived entitlement is met with scorn.
Q: Could you explain what happens at work?
Jane: It’s kind of like black people jokes, except Jewish jokes. There’s this one co-worker who is Jewish, he makes it very known that he went to Brandeis. He wrote a poem essentially saying that because of the Holocaust he can complain. And I didn’t like that too much because it’s like I don’t think you should use a terrible injustice and exploit it for your art. But that’s a different story.
Do we not like him because he’s Jewish? No. We don’t like him because of his attitude, which stems from his culture in some sense. There was this one time where we all chipped in for a pizza and I didn’t throw my money down right away. Four days later he comes back to the kitchen and says, “I need my $4.” As soon as he left, everyone was like, “Well that’s rather Jew of him, trying to get the money out of you.” We still play upon those stereotypes in the kitchen. Would we ever say it to his face? No. Because you can’t really do that anymore.
Q: Where do you think that these attitudes come from? Do you think that this is more of a religious issue or a cultural one?
Jane: I think that, unfortunately, it’s similar to what you saw at the beginning of the Holocaust. It’s a group of people who are entitled – well, I don’t really want to say entitled – but they have more money now. The way that the Germans made the Jews into a scapegoat, us – the lower income people – we’re like, “Well, here’s these bratty Jewish kids just rubbing it in about their new Jettas.” It’s more of an easy cultural target. It’s a class thing now. You don’t really see poor Jewish people.
Q: It seems to me that this anti-Semitism – or however you want to classify it – towards this person at your work is largely fueled by his attitude and then the jokes about his ethnicity follow.
Jane: That’s right. It’s not like, “Oh my gosh, there’s a Jewish person working, let’s say terrible things about him.” It’s more like, “He’s being a little (expletive) about $3 three dollars, oh, and he happens to be Jewish? Well now we can throw that on top of it.”
Q: So, are you and your coworkers saying these things because it’s fulfilling a stereotype?
Jane: Yes, it’s game on. Being from Southern culture, seeing racism without the hate – if that’s possible to understand, there’s no hate with what we’re saying. But, I don’t think that the majority of people in our age group really mean anything that they’re saying. It’s more so for (expletive) and giggles because we know that it’s wrong and we do it anyways.
Q: Knowing that you and your coworkers make these jokes, do you feel that when you do it or when other people do it, there is a subconscious danger that this will reinforce stereotypes in your mind, or is that not the case?
Jane: Initially, while it’s going on… no. But after the fact, as someone who is a thinker, I do think about this later and I’m like, “Well, I probably shouldn’t be doing that.” If I was in his shoes, I wouldn’t want people saying that things behind my back. I don’t think there’s an initial acknowledgement of the bigger picture of what we’re doing. It’s more so behind closed doors and not really thinking about much outside. But then when we do step outside, we’re also aware that what we’re doing is wrong. It’s a bit of both: we’re aware that it’s wrong, but we’re not thinking about the long-term effect of continuing this action and if it will be picked up by someone else.
There’s a part of me that thinks these jokes will fade out. I don’t think we’re going to carry them on to our children. I hope not, at least. Because it’s funny in the moment, but it’s not funny in general.
Q: You’re an interesting person to talk to about this because you’re originally from Massachusetts but you’ve lived in the South for most of your life, correct?
Jane: Yeah. But I’ve lived here, in the South and also (out West).
Q: I’ve lived in the Northeast for most of my life. My own prejudice, before I dug into some research, was that anti-Semitism is more relegated to the South or Midwest or another time period. But what the statistics from the FBI’s website show is that over 60 percent of anti-religious hate crimes nationwide are anti-Semitic. However, the figures were nearly the same for Massachusetts.
Jane: That’s because people are jealous of the Jewish lifestyle. They get angry. Perhaps there are more attacks against Jewish people because there’s this idea of a weakness. There’s this idea that they couldn’t stand up to the Germans, they couldn’t stand up to the Egyptians. There’s always been this idea of, “Oh, the poor Jew who had to rise again, and then they did and now they’re so wealthy.”