Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Anti-Semitism on Twitter - Jews = Greedy

One of the themes of my essays and blog posting focuses on language, particularly the pernicious effects of unconscious language. I wrote about "the Angel/Retard Dialectic" last November, for example, but both the NYC new wheelchair symbol and yesterday's piece about gender norming in pre-school focus on unconscious use of language and symbols and the consequences therein.

This morning Jon Heyman, a sports reporter I follow on Twitter, retweeted the following:

Let's unpack. The language says that if the San Francisco Giants were not so utterly greedy, so greedy that the only way to describe their greed is to call them Jews, the Oakland A's could have a nice stadium.

This is the old calumny, the calumny still used today in much of America, as a casual way of talking about people too obsessed with money. Last April, a GOP House Majority leader in Oklahoma talked about being 'Jewed down.' He did apologize when called on it, saying hey be didn't mean anything by it, but guesses some people can find these things offensive now, and anyway, some of his best friends are Jewish (warning - Johnson didn't actually say that last thing).

Heyman is Jewish. Did he read the tweet? Did he think no one would care?

I re-tweeted to both "Ernie" and Heyman. Neither has responded. Ernie, who had a following of a few hundred and a long history of tweeting, has deleted his account (in a panic, I expect). And life goes on.

But as an historian, let me be clear: This language associating Jews with greed is very old, has survived across the centuries, and is NOT harmless.


watermelonpunch said...

That's pretty downright bad.
Of course, you see these "slips" from time to time in a public place. But they're the tip of the iceberg, cause you know if people slip, it's because they're using that kind of language in their own private circles pretty freely.

And I feel compelled to point this out.
The irony here about the stereotype associating Jews with greed, goes back to the Christian sin of "usury", and the already established segregation of Jews.

The fact that at one time, the Jews were quite restricted in what professions they could pursue, and unlike Christians, they could loan money for profit by charging interest, and so many did, as a means of supporting themselves.

Let's be clear here... Making money by doing NOTHING but lending money to people who need it, was considered sinful by Christians at one time, and that's the origin of this stereotyping bigotry that persists today, even though, profit by usury has risen to such profound popularity in America, Louis Hyman wrote a (pretty good) book called "Debtor Nation" on the subject, and leverage so excessive caused a global financial crisis, the effects we are still feeling greatly years later... in part because we as a culture still embrace usury as not a sin, but as a way of life, to be defended at all costs.

So, I have to say, that using that stereotype is not only harmful, but richly, egregiously stupid.

David Perry said...

One of the things that interests me is the way that usury laws were, across the medieval centuries, inconsistently applied. There were lots and lots of non-Jewish lenders, some of whom didn't technically charge interest (but rather fees), but were still bankers. They lent money. They received more money back.

I haven't read debtor nation. Have you read "Debt: The first 5000 years?" by Graeber?

watermelonpunch said...

It's only "bad" if someone else is doing it & you don't like it. At least that seems the way it goes.
Greed is good. You should strive for everything, right? Unless someone else's greediness is bothering you, of course, then it totally sucks!

But with the way at one time being in debt was frowned upon... then credit, leverage, debt became seen as such a good thing... and then it flip flops and OMG the debt the debt... Let's have strangling austerity...

And it's not that anything in particular is necessarily "bad"... it's just used at some kind of convenient excuse for whatever X person is pushing to Y person/people. Whether it's to punish or exploit "the other" group, or simply to advance or protect themselves or their own group.

And we celebrate that now.
We may say we want equality of opportunity.
But networking is lauded as the most noble of pursuits these days.

It's all part of the same human nature equation.

No I haven't read that book by Graeber. I will look into it though, thanks.