So, how do some of you address the thoughtless remarks — do you just let some of this go by, do you try to correct the person, or what? I tend to act surprised and tell the person I was offended (or hurt) by their comment, but sometimes the person has no idea why what they said could be considered offensive, and they just end up thinking I am overly sensitive. Advice?
Donna L. Halper Journalism Department, Emerson College, Boston MA
Dear Donna, Most of the time I let it go. In my younger years, till I was about 45 or 50, I would say something or sometimes get physically challenging and actually smack someone in the kisser. I was taught to do this as a young boy who was being harassed in school. Most of the time now I just let it go. Or I try to do something creative. For example, my wife and I were in a restaurant and I was sitting back to back with a man who was talking to a woman opposite him. He was talking about Jews and how they eat everything on their plate, “the cheapskates.” He went on for a while. I almost turned and put the bowl of black bean soup on his head while saying: “You see we don’t have to finish everything.” Instead I caught my breath, started thinking, asked my wife for her black ball-point pen and very carefully put six numbers, taking care to make them look old, on the outside of my left forearm (god forbid I should put them in the wrong place), and then finished eating. He kept it up … We received the check and I asked my wife to meet me in the next room where the cashier was. I got out of the booth, turned around stepped over to the next booth and said very politely and in my best Polish/English accent (my wife, who is from Poland and was a theoretical linguist says its accurate) said:
“Sir. may I interrupt for a moment.”
He looked up, rather surprised.
I rolled up my sleeve and showed him the number, asking: “Do you know what this is?”
As he was an older man, I knew he would. He looked stunned.
Then I said: “You know sir … there are other reasons why Jews have to eat everything on their plate.”
He looked at my arm, and just for an instant my eyes. Then he looked down. I think he was, if not ashamed, at least embarrassed. I thanked him in my best imitation of old-world-courtly-manners, looked around at the woman sitting across from him, excused myself to her for interrupting, and walked away.
We went out in the street and walked by the window they were sitting just next to. He was resting his head in his hand, looking down. She was just sitting there silent.
And sometimes I tell a joke, usually a pointed one. Very rarely do I confront … And also I think that some of these remarks are innocent and not meant to be anti-semitic. I can’t always tell. What I do know in that the more comfortable I am with myself and my own Jewishness (Ha, the spell checker here signaled wrong and suggested Juiciness), the less I need to confront in angry or hostile ways. Er, ahh … at least some of the time.
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