The Slur That Won’t Go Away

By | Mar 01, 2011
Culture, Moment Magazine

by Kayla Green

JAP: The word has lost almost all of its taboo status, becoming something close to a knee-jerk reaction to any Semitic-looking girl wearing designer clothing or showing any other signs of wealth. The word, which connotes a long history of ugly generalizations, is often bandied about without a moment’s hesitation.

The recent YouTube sensation “Pursuit of Jappiness,” a parody of a song by rapper Kid Cudi, has racked up more than 275,000 views and proves that the word JAP still packs a punch; the video mocks the Jewish population at the University of Michigan with lines such as “When I say JAP, I don’t mean the Japanese, I mean the chicks taking pics at the frat parties, and the dudes at the Scarsdale driving range, new Beamer? Pssh, pocket change.” Lines like these create an automatic connection between Jews and money and also seek to prove the “otherness” of Jews in something as diverse as a university setting. Other stereotype-promoting instruments such as “The Official Jewish American Princess Home Page” website and the 2006 documentary Jewish American Princess still run rampant.

Ironically, post-war Jewish male writers first highlighted the concept of the JAP. Early examples can be found in Herman Wouk’s 1955 novel Marjorie Morningstar and Philip Roth’s 1959 novel Goodbye, Columbus, which featured overly indulged or  “princess-like” central characters.  The term began gaining popularity in the 1970s with the publication of several non-fiction pieces such as Barbara Meyer’s Cosmopolitan article “Sex and the Jewish Girl” and “The Persistence of the Jewish Princess,” a 1971 cover article in New York magazine by Julie Baumgold. The archetypal JAP has been described as “a sexually repressive, self-centered, materialistic and lazy female,” and as “spoiled, overly-concerned with appearance, and indifferent to sex”.

This is reflected in the Jewish American Princess Home Page, a website that introduces itself by saying, “Welcome to the unofficial open house of The Official Jewish American Princess Home Page! Come!  Sit! Help yourself to a warm bagel with a schmear of cream cheese and a nice glass of tea. Please excuse the dust and schmutz. These renovations are such a chore.” After this introduction, the website states, “You might be a Jewish American Princess if the only thing you know how to make for dinner is reservations.”

Other than the blatantly offensive nature of the term, the overall notion of attributing specific traits, qualities or preferences to a group of people renders JAP a brutal term—especially in light of the historical association between Jewish people and material wealth. From medieval times until recent history, Jews were barred from owning land and from various professions. In many cases, they were forced to be moneylenders, which kicked off the lingering stereotype of Jews with money.

JAP builds off of this legacy, reinforcing prejudices. What is really questionable is why we, individually and collectively, have become so complacent with the term being used on such a large scale. It is quite commonly used among young people in social settings; the term was even featured on a recent episode of Glee, a television show well known for promoting diversity and acceptance, proving that the word has thoroughly infiltrated popular culture.

It is commonly considered acceptable for a Jewish person to use the term—a ludicrous viewpoint, as JAP will always have the same meaning regardless of who says it. The identity of the speaker is immaterial when the word is used in a public forum. If we truly wish to become a progressive, accepting society, in which Jews receive the equal treatment they deserve, it is imperative to increase sensitivity towards the term JAP and other like expressions. It is unthinkable for a people who have suffered so greatly and overcome so much to allow—and often participate in—brutal discrimination in the land of the free.

6 thoughts on “The Slur That Won’t Go Away

  1. Dr. Allan Pogrund says:

    This is a cogent analysis of a grotesque term that manages to be sexist, anti-semitic, and classist in one fell swoop. It has more hate than many extended broadsides. Thanks for the commentary.

  2. Jan says:

    Brava! Finally this too often used anti-semitic term has been brought to attention. Well done!

  3. Babs C Fisch says:

    Love your writing Kayla.

  4. Lauren says:

    Well captured and put. I cringe when I hear the acronym and voice my opinion to all that will listen —- as you have well written. Not only to our own people who have become complacent, but t0 the community at large. From media to institutionalized mind-sets , the question or solution becomes: Kayla, how do we attack and educate?

  5. Judy Epstein says:

    Thank you for a skillfully articulated essay on this offensive acronym.

    Looking forward to your next piece Kayla.

  6. NEWYORKJEW says:

    However offensive the term, it addresses a real phenomenon–one that many people (and many Jews) find distasteful, and not without reason. It’s not enough to deplore the persistence of an unpleasant stereotype; you must also show that it is either inaccurate or that the thing it denotes is not bad after all.

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