It's time for "shvartze" to die.
The first time I heard it, as a child, my grandmother complained that the TV news was all about the "shvas." Later I asked my mother what that meant, and she told me it was a bad word. That was in 1976.
The man who made his "joke" was much younger than my grandmother would be if she were alive (in which case she'd be Methuselah). But he was probably pushing 80, as were the others who made nasty remarks.
Blotting everyone out (a defense mechanism), I developed a hypothesis about immigration, the history of civil rights, landlord-tenant relations and string theory that explained the racist patter at my table. It was complex cultural analysis that played out like this: Jews who would say this shit = 80 and up. Jews who wouldn't = everyone else.
True, it was tarring rather a large swathe of people with the same brush--doing no great service to Bubbes and Zaydes for Peace. And it discounted the hipster-Jewish bible Heeb magazine, which used the word last year.
But it made me feel better--until Jim David took the stage.
He was the last comedian, and though he isn't Jewish, he briskly incorporated the word shvartze into his bit, in a clear act of pandering. You go to Chicago, you make jokes about the Cubs. You go to L.A., you make jokes about the traffic. You go to Jewville, you make jokes about blacks?
My mother elbowed me for the 37th time that evening and said, "You hear that laughter? That's the reality."
Comedian Corey Kahaney, organizer of the Moo Shu Jew Show, says she received great feedback on the event over email. "But then people would say, 'By the way, we never got our rice,'" she said. "It took everything I had not to write back, 'It's coming!'"
She told me she didn't get any other complaints about the use of the word shvartze, but she absolutely understood why I was upset.
On the other hand, she said, if it were an African-American comedian and an African-American crowd, wouldn't the comedy be more "inside," as she put it?
Yes, of course, I said. But though I can imagine Chris Rock using the N-word, I can't imagine him saying "kike." There's a difference between critiquing your own community (as I'm doing here) and using a slur about another.
Jim David used shvartze to describe a woman behind a cash register. Can you imagine Chris Rock saying, "I walked into a store and there was a gook behind the counter"?
Kahaney has dealt with the problem of charged language before. A couple years ago, she created The J.A.P. Show, which paid tribute to women in comedy. The premise was that Rita Rudner, Joan Rivers and other contemporary Jewish female comics inherited the mantle from the generation before. Thus they are the Jewish American princesses of queens like Fanny Brice.
The Anti-Defamation League swung into action, and told her she should change the name of her show, despite its positive intent. "You just can't use that word," they said.
She now worries comedians will be afraid to use certain terms at the Moo Shu Jew Show. Will they want to play it if they feel they're being censored?
I'm not advocating censorship. I'm advocating a new semantic consensus. We've done it before, countless times.
Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. all used the word "Negro" in political language and speechifying in the 1950s and '60s, to cite one imperfect example. Politicians and activists of today could never do the same.
Lars doesn’t want to be there, every day, sitting in that chair, feet splayed out at an odd angle. But he can’t go anywhere until he gets a new wheelchair and he can’t get a new wheelchair until he has a job and he can’t get a job until he has a new wheelchair. Got that?