Saturday, October 6, 2007

On using [and preferably not] the term "Jappy"

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.



Deborah, the human race is not a race of nice people and never was. They are argumentative, noisy, akin to wolves and hyenas and the stealers of other human animal's bones, partners, wives, goods and food. And you're worried about anti-Semitism and "Jappy people". The 'anti-Semite and the 'Jappy' person you describe is the norm and fully explainable. Can we get them to change?, it's highly unlikely. Thieves, fraudsters, anti-sems, Nazis and leopards never change their spots. Hanging the Nazis did no good and they still went to the gallows muttering 'Long Live Germany' and presumably its camps, hate and wickedness.

mimzy said...

As my friend Deborah pointed out, I seem to be a smart, sharp, funny, sassy Jewish woman who inadvertently uses terms such as “Jappy”. When I used the word, I was amongst my closest Jewish friends (big shout out to y’all) and used the word to harmlessly describe a TV actress. I do not think that anyone except for Deborah thought twice about the use of the word…..but, that’s Deborah’s field of study so clearly she is more sensitized to certain words than we are.

I did a little research on the subject (thank you Wikipedia) and I must say that based on Historical facts relating to both the Jewish and Japanese peoples this particular word, used in a certain context or with certain types of people, can reinforce negative stereotypes. I am going to agree with Deborah that using a word that I might think is cute or harmless, such as JAP, may really be spreading racism and anti-Semitism. I am also going to question and perhaps research “Where does it end? or “Can it ever end?” Why can’t a person sit with her friends and speak freely without every word being analyzed and overanalyzed? Why can’t we try to move past the negativity and just “chill out” and “get over it”???? Sometimes, I think that cultural sensitivity is the answer to hatred and sometimes I think people really just need to chill and stop being so sensitive.

I thank Deborah for pointing this out to me making me think about it…….and for not completely tearing me to shreds in her blog. I also thank her for working tirelessly to teach about the Holocaust and about racism. For now, until I can consider myself to be a scholar, I will think twice about the words I use and how I use them…..It is a slippery slope so better to be careful than slide into dangerous territory.

Deborah Lipstadt said...

Dear Fairplay: We can't get the people who devise the evil to change. That is true. But we can get people who are sucked along and either play, what they consider to be, small insignificant roles [e.g. they sit in an office preparing train schedules].

And we can certainly alert bystanders to recognize the invidious nature of these stereotypes.

Deborah Lipstadt said...

Dear Miriam:
Oh that was not a tearing to shreds. Read some of my blogs about other people and you will see what a true tearing to shreds constitutes.

I may have used a moment when you were in an environment in which people feel freer to make all sorts of cracks and jokes, [e.g. when African Americans will call one another the N-word when they are among themselves], to make a point.

But I think that even in those private moments it's not a good thing to do. It confirms in other's minds that it's acceptable behavior.

Glad you learned a thing or two and thanks for being a good sport... sassy person that you are!


Don't worry derogatory language about others is universal. In England we have:

A kike, A Jew, a Jew boy, a yid, a 5 to 2, a dirty Jew, or occasionally a 'little dirty Jew', a yappy [applied to both sexes, but when said of a Jewish male intends to mean a slag or low status person] A bolby and a yackney [org: Yiddish, both Jewish females who tend to gossip a great deal] We do not have Jappy, and the word Jap or Japs as dissapeared completely.

We need to remind ourselves that in 1945 when we were not over polite about such matters, that when they showed Pathe newsreels in the cinema's people stood on the seats and cheered when they showed the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki over and over again. The USA popularity was sky high and the Brits were delighted at what happened to the "Japs". So language patterns change and words come and go and dissapear. I myself hate the word Jew because I have never heard a non-Jewish person [a Goy or Shicksy] use it as a term of respect, you sort of cringe knowing full well whats going to come next.


I find this topic stimulating in the sense that it's got me thinking about colloquial language, dialects and informal speech patterns. The rules of free speech obviously mean we can say what we think in our own regional accents, using familar words we were all brought up with. But if we do so many of us are then victimised.

In England we have debates about Queens English, BBC English, and the dying out of all those wonderful old fashioned dialects and sayings you could hear on every corner. We need to bear in mind that all races are spoken about with humour, with sly digs and innuendo, and with a certain degree of malice, meaning are the English offended [I'm not] when a New York cop calls us a "limey", or others who know me call me an "untidy bas--ard". You know Jews are not the only one who are singled out, and who have their person verbally assaulted, or their gravestones smashed, meaning if it happens in a Christian graveyard its never repeorted, but if it happens in a Jewish cemetary it's big news and the TV cameras respond? Why?

Unknown said...

Deborah, I'm a very strong admirer of your work, but on this issue I find myself dissenting. The desperate attempt to remove any and all words from our language which might possibly cause someone, somewhere a small amount of discomfort is the epitome of the 'politically correct idiocies' you claim to be so against. If you can come up with a better descriptor than 'Jewish Australian Princess' for the Gucci handbag toting, Prada shoe wearing, convertible BMW driving 19 year olds that populate my neighbourhood , then I'd love to hear it. If not, then perhaps you should take the often proffered advice of my (proudly) jappy sister and "build a bridge and get over it!"

Deborah Lipstadt said...

While I agree that PC can sometimes go overboard, in the case of words like Jap, Nigger, and a few others [not many] they are rooted in negative -- very much so -- images of the group. In both cases cited above they have been directly linked to physical harm to Jews and African Americans.

Your sister may be proud of being rich, owning lots of materical goods, etc. But is she proud of being kniving, mean, a user of the people in her lives, a taker not a giver, and a person who will happily hurt someone for her own good. If so, then she should proudly wear the term on her lapel.

J.Ro said...

Deborah, I was really interested by your mention of the origin of "JAP" as a racial slur against the Japanese in the WWII era, and its all-too-easy transference to Jews as a negative characterization. I wonder how many other terms are similarly transferred out of context - like the way "gyp" is so commonly used, that many people do not even recognize that it is a slur against gypsies. You could say the same about "that's so gay" or "retarded." These are often words that are not delivered with malicious intent, but their use and misuse perpetuate negative stereotypes. All it takes is a little self-awareness to stop using these terms so flippantly - no need for ultra-PC-paranoia. Or take the odd use of "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ" as an exclamation when in pain, fear, or shock. While to my knowledge, this is not a slur persay, I say it all the time and I don't understand why - I'm Jewish, afterall! Of course, this type of blasphemy is a cultural norm - but that's no excuse. After my wife questioned me on this usage, I try to be conscious of my word choices and try not to say things that I don't really mean or understand myself.

Deborah Lipstadt said...

Dear J.Ro:
I think you have hit the nail on the head. However, there are some subtle differences, e.g. gyp. Most people have no idea where the term comes from or that it relates to Gypsies [Roma/Scinti]. However in the case of JAP, the term means: JEWISH American Princess, so both the religious/ethnic aspect of the terms and the gender one are right in it.

Thanks for your insightful comments.


Great humour is built around people falling over, looking like fools, getting hurt, and so are great jokes, putdowns and comedians scripts. Just look at all the great comedians, look at all the racist jokes they used, and the way we laughed, we then imitated them and passed it on. So maybe anti-sem jokes are mostly harmless, maybe we exaggerate the hate motive, maybe we need to blame Hitler and his gang of misfits for turning a 'no real harm was meant remark', into a source of discomfort and fear for some. Having said that I've just spent an hour with my dtr on the Yad Vashem site, searching the wifes family name Kosman, from Lithuania, and sadly they are there, they list Aron, Benjamin, Rebecca, Hinda, and Ruth, and so the joking stops and I'm in no mood for Irving, and Grand Wizards, or people who petrol bomb Baptist Churches. H stands for hate, not Holocaust.


Being English I have not heard the USA expression JAP, meaning Jewish American Princess, for that reason I mistakenly thought we were talking about Jap, as in Hirohito, Pearl Harbour, Knights of the Bushido, Bataan Death Marches and Iwo Jima etc. Apologies.

Deborah Lipstadt said...

There is a whole body of literature on the Jewish American Princess. Check it out. You will see how it is antisemitic in its essence.



Took your advice and did check it out, the first two www sites found were Wikipedia, the next made me want to *vomit*. So now its a social crime to want to improve your appearance, to have a touch of class, and to come from an hard working family. Real wealth is evidence of an indutrious life.

hockey hound said...

[a Goy or Shicksy]

"Shicksy" is a derogatory term.