Wednesday, April 04, 2012


There was a silly non-story going around yesterday, but I want to make a serious point about it. Matthew Continetti's Washington Free Beacon built this non-story out of six-year-old Facebook photos posted by a young Democratic aide:

The Democratic Party's newly appointed Jewish outreach liaison is pictured on Facebook in a series of provocative photos with her friends holding dollar bills and referring to themselves as "Jewbags" and the "Jew cash money team."

Dani Gilbert, who has been a staffer in the office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.), was recently appointed as the Democratic National Committee’s Jewish outreach liaison, according to her Twitter feed.

... In one photo, Gilbert is seen kissing paper currency of undetermined denomination. The caption at the bottom of the photo reads "JEWBAGS." A comment left on the posting refers to Gilbert and a coterie of female companions as the "Jew cash money team." ...

A preserved screen shot from the Facebook page is below. The images have now been taken down.

Here's the thing. I grew up in an overwhelmingly Italian-American world. My parents' friends were mostly Italian-American. A lot of people my father worked with were Italian-American. (I'm guessing that Mr. Continetti didn't have a similar experience.)

When I was a kid, in my world, it was not unusual to hear Italian-Americans refer to one another as "that guinea" and "that greaseball." These weren't necessarily insults -- sometimes these terms were used affectionately. The rules may be counterintuitive, but they were clear: within the group, you get to use insulting words about the group. It doesn't mean anyone else does -- I don't think the adults back then would have taken kindly to hearing the same words from a non-Italian.

These rules apply to the N-word as well -- blacks can use it, sometimes proudly, but we white people can't without being insulting. Don't like that? Deal with it. This is why I don't give a crap what Trayvon Martin's name on Twitter was. There's a word in there he gets to use and I don't, and that's just the way people are, as long as life still sorts us into groups with group identities.

And it's my sense that this also applies to people with a host of conditions such as dwarfism, Tourette's, and quadraplegia: we have insults for people with these conditions, and those insults are insulting coming from us, but within the community people use the insults and they're not being insulting.

It's not that confusing. Just accept it and stop trying to generate controversy out of nothing.


ploeg said...

You better not laugh if you're not Norwegian. Just sayin'.

Ole and Lars were working for the city public works department in Wisconsin. Ole would dig a hole and Lars would follow behind and fill the hole in. They worked up one side of the street, then down the other, then moved on to the next street, working furiously all day without rest, one digging a hole, the other filling it in again.

An onlooker was amazed at their hard work, but couldn't understand what they were doing. So he asked Ole, 'I'm impressed by the effort you two are putting in to your work, but I don't get it -- why do you dig a hole, only to have your partner follow behind and fill it up again?'

Ole, the hole digger, wiped his brow and sighed, 'Vell, I suppose it probably looks odd because ve're normally a three-person team. But today Sven, who plants da trees called in sick.'

PurpleGirl said...

Sorry, I had to laugh. That is a good story.

(I'm not Norwegian but I had a Norwegian pen pal for a few years.)

Never Ben Better said...

Oh, that's funny all right -- but you could substitute just about any ethnic group into it.

Erik A. Prince said...

This applies to any group, even just friends. When I was in HS I hung out with a friend and his brothers. I still remember being over for dinner and his Mom was just flabbergasted at the insults and put downs that went back and forth between me and her three sons. Nothing new.

Oh, by the way, I found that first story funny, but it's OK . . . I've seen Norway on the map. ;-)