Over this weekend I was taken aback when a smart, sharp, funny, sassy [in the best sense of the word] Jewish woman used the term Jappy. My friend Miriam was commenting on a TV character and dismissed her as "Jappy, Jappy, Jappy." [She also tends to be emphatic, a characteristic with which I admit to being somewhat familiar.]
Miriam is someone whose Jewish identity is integral to who she is. It's not something she takes on and off at will. More importantly, she delights in being a member of this particular "tribe."
I will cut her some slack and say she may be too young to remember when the term was used by comedians, journalists, and just about everyone at will. I am not sure. But the fact is that it is deeply antisemitic and unequivocally misogynist.
"The Jap" is a stereotype of someone who has all the attributes an antisemite would associate with Jews: loves money and material comfort and will do anything to anyone to further her own needs even if it means causing others pain and problems. She is rich, narcissistic, self-centered, a "user" of people, and generally a pretty disgusting person.
This stereotyping of a Jewish woman would not make sense if those who spread it did not have 1000s of years of antisemitic stereotypes on which to rely.
Furthermore the term is ONLY associated with women, as if to say it is Jewish women who have raised these disgusting attributes to an art, oppressing not just non-Jews but also the Jewish men in their orbit.
I am sure there will be those who will tell me it was spread and nurtured by Jewish comedians. How then, they will probably ask, could it be antisemitic? The answer is that just because a negative stereotype originates with a member of the group under attack does not mean it is not a stereotyping of the group.
Those who created and spread this version of the stereotype are the same generation of comedians and writers who nurtured the obnoxious image of the Jewish mother. While the Jewish mother, as they depicted her, was overbearing, intrusive, and disgusting, she had one redeeming social value. Unlike the "Jap," she focused her energies on making things better for others, her children particular. In contrast, the "Jap," who has all the same tendencies, is only interested in herself.
[I might point out that the stereotype of the Italian mother has all the same attributes of the Jewish mother. She, however,was and is depicted as an affirming, wonderful character.]
I wonder if the term would have ever gained traction if it did not also build on the contempt once extant in this country for people of Japanese descent. In other words the term was already one of contempt so it was easier to transfer it from one group which was an object of contempt to another group which is an object of contempt.
The fact is that there are lots of young spoiled, self-centered, materialistic people: some of them are men, some of them are women, some of them are Protestant, some of them are Catholics, some of them are White, some of them are Black, some Asian, and some of them are Jews.
Thanks to the too often maligned notion of "political correctness," we hear the term less frequently today. I hope Miriam -- and anyone else inclined to use the word -- will return it and keep it forever consigned to the one place it belongs: the dust bin of ugly prejudicial stereotypes.