Sunday, 25 January 2009

When is an ethnic slur a cool nickname? Thoughts on creative reclaimation.

A kid at a school I was working in asked me if I was Jewish the other day. Fair enough, and he was about 20% right, but the context was that he was trying to find something to ridicule. It was a bit creepy to hear Jewish used with that level of disgust. A lot of Muslim kids I know are raised with an antipathy towards Jews, which i try to counter by pointing out that 'Israeli Government Policy' /= 'Jewish Ethics'. This kid wasn't Muslim though, he just thought it would be risible if someone in the room was Jewish.
Then I wondered if he was Jewish himself and was doing some kind of relcaimatory humour that missed the mark. Would that have made it ok? if the kid had been called Moishe Gubelstein, would I have been as creeped out?

My wife is a Ragu-Jew, AKA a Pizza-Bagel, i.e. a person of Italian/Jewish descent. We enjoy making up similar names for other friends of mixedd heritage, or working out what their kids would be called. A Jewish/Puertorican couple we know are 'Jeruselatino', A chinese lady with a scottish husband I saw on masterchef had actually MADE won ton haggis. this is crying out to be a racial nickname. But the liberal guilt reflex in me leaps up here and says "You can't ascribe some woman you don't even knw a racial nickname! You racist!" My racial heritage is so boring that i can't play the game myself. What would I call it? 'A big pile of bland mashed potato with maybe a latke or two buried very deep in there'? It doesn't work, really.
So does my bland racial heritage exclude me from making racial jokes, is reclaiming by proxy ruled out? I just like playing with words. Being told there is a whole area where it's taboo to do this makes that area all the more attractive. So please, those of you with honest to goodness interesting racial mixes, go out and give yourself a creative nickname. It's fun, and nobody can yell at you for it!
Put them in the comments box! Or is that racist of me to ask? Excuse me. I'll just go and implode now.
Maybe I should have called this blog 'internal struggles with liberal guilt'.


  1. A Canadian Hungarian-Italian?

    Goulash-Pizza with Maple Syrup poured over top is too obvious, isn't it?

    You're obviously better at this game than I am, so can you come up with something less embarrassing for me?

  2. Can you come up with something for me and Mr. RK - combine his Irish/English with my Apache/Swiss Jew/Irish/etc? :)

  3. Michael
    "Waiter, there is too much pasta in my paprikash, but I would be proud to partake of your maple pecan piiie"
    Ok it's long, ungainly and shamelessly lifted from When Harry Met Sally, but in the knowledge of your famous Freud inpersonations, I'm pretty sure you can do the accent.

    Jeez, don't ask much do you?
    I'll get back to you on that...

  4. OK Riot Kitty
    I came up with "Swiss Schmiss" for Swiss Jew, for some reason Irish-English comes into my head as "Whiskey and Soda" although I did try to think of something clever involving guinness. The Apache part, not to mention combining all of it is a challenge though.
    I'm gonna fall back on "Everything-Bagel"

  5. Oh! You're memory for half-decent lines from very mediocre, if not somewhat offensive films is truly...


    I can't believe you came up with that?!? It's like THEY KNOW ME. All this time.

  6. Haggis Hotpot. Served with latkes, or maybe just pumpernickel.

  7. Well, me and himself are really quite dull. But it does mean Meg ends up as Vichyssoise (leek + potato + a dash of french!)