What Should I Do, When You Use “Jew” As a Verb?

By , November 5, 2011

At the yard sale, when you asked for a lower price, you said you were “jewing.” Later that same day, you returned to buy more stuff, and you said it again; a few days later, when you came to pick up the sofa you’d bought, you said it again.

I was appalled each time I heard you use “jew” as a verb, when you meant to say you were “cheap” or “taking advantage of me,” because I needed to quickly sell everything in my mom’s house before returning home.

But I didn’t say anything, and although I was annoyed each time you abused the word, I don’t think it showed.

What should I have done?

I wanted to say, “Please, don’t use ‘jew’ as a verb, because it perpetuates a negative stereotype.”

I wanted to say, “Who taught you to use that word in such an offensive way?”

I wanted to ask, “Do you realize how ignorant and unpleasant you appear when you say that?”

I wanted to say, “Please leave.”

I wanted to say, “I’d rather donate everything to charity instead of selling my mom’s stuff to someone as offensive as you.”

I wanted to say, “You’re not a Jew, you’re a dumb hick who’s too stupid to know when you’re being offensive.”

But I said nothing at all, and it’s actually possible that my discomfort led me to sell stuff to you at lower prices than I’d otherwise have accepted, because I wanted to avoid confrontation and get rid of you quickly.

What was really going on? Why didn’t I react? Was I just numb because of the circumstances (selling my mom’s property, six weeks after her death)?  Was I focused on self-interest, wanting to sell everything quickly for as much as possible? Or did I hold my tongue out of habit, as I did when my grandmother made “unintentionally offensive” use of the terms “jew” and “darkie” (before her death nearly 20 years ago)? Or was I silent because I was afraid that I might learn that you were typical of the community, which might not react well if I took offense? (I’d already noticed that I hadn’t seen a single black or Asian person in the county.)  Did I assume that you were typical, and view other people unfairly in the following days?

How would I respond if someone used the word “jew” as a verb when buying something from me at a yard sale or flea market here in California? It’s hard to imagine it happening here, but I suppose I’d do exactly the same thing: I’d feel upset, and I’d view that person as offensive and ignorant, but I’d say nothing.

What should I have done?

4 Responses to “What Should I Do, When You Use “Jew” As a Verb?”

  1. Paul Zive says:

    Mark: You’re dreaming if you find it hard to imagine folks in California using the word “jew” as a verb. I’ve had to confront it head on in Ventura County, Los Angeles County and Orange County.

    Maybe you should just say “it’s mighty white of you to admit to having used your bargaining skills to cheat someone” or “Now that’s a good Christian attitude.”

  2. Barry says:

    I think you were still in shock, and wanted to get the stuff sold and get out of there.Paul’s responses are good, and you could have said something like “we jews ARE good at negotiations but you Christians are really much better.” But that’s in the category of waking up at 3 AM with the perfect putdown.

  3. Lisa Baxter says:

    It could be you were grieving for your mother so would take offense to anything and something that quite probably wasnt meant at all to be offensive.

  4. Lowell says:

    I am sorry for your experience. Your personal frustration comes from being passive. The shock of your experience was made worse by not doing anything. Been there. What could you do? anything done would have been reactive and made no difference.

    May I offer you an alternative? The next time something like that happens, ask questions…try to find out “Mmm where did you get that expression from? Personal experience or is it a family hand-me-down? It will keep you from closing up and feeling guilty for being passive. You just may help someone to wonder at the expression and question their use of offensive colloquial expressions.

    Did you know that a Jewish business person does not place the same value on merchandise that a non-Jew does?

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