Tuesday, October 14, 2008

some thoughts

(Joshua Masayoshi Huff)

While reading Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives, the following question hit me:

Just how appropriate is it to call followers of Judaism "Jews"?

I am neither a Jewish intellectual nor Jewish (though I have been asked on many occasions if I was going to Temple on Rosh Hoshannah and Yom Kippur), but the question has bugged me since reading Number the Stars in sixth grade. I asked my teacher, but she did not have an answer--it's not her fault, considering we were in Hawaii, and I knew exactly one Jewish person until I got to college (and after bringing in her dreidle at Hannukah and having her mom talk to the class about Judaism and why they didn't celebrate Christmas, she left the school).

Riis' account of life in tenement addled New York City is interesting, but it is also racist. He not only plays on stereotypes of Italians and Eastern Europeans, but he also builds on said stereotypes. He saves his most venemous remarks for followers of Judaism, saying that "their God is thrift" (among many worse things).

A chapter is titled "The Sweaters of Jewtown". I know we have many Chinatowns in US cities (as well as in Japan), but even this seems vaguely racist to me. For some reason, though, "Jewtown" seems downright offensive, especially in print.

I understand the term is used quite liberally today, but it is an abbreviation of a word describing people. Similarly, the term "Jap" (for the Japanese) is highly offensive and has all but disappeared from the English language.



And while listening to Jens Lekman's "Sipping on the Sweet Nectar", I had the realization that playing a guitar on stage can make anyone desirable. Anyone. Mr. Lekman is up there, singing about how he's never been kissed (and he's admitted it's all very biographical), and only now girls are saying how "hot" he is. Do these girls listen to the lyrics that these bands are singing? Do they hear the self-loathing and the insecurity?

Though my band was not in the same universe as being famous, it always struck me as odd when a girl would say "I really liked your song". I just wanted to ask "Did you really listen to it, or do you just say that to every live band you hear?"

Well then.