Jackie Mason in trouble for calling Obama "Schvartze"

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Star Spangled C...
Jackie Mason in trouble for calling Obama "Schvartze"

What do people think?

NEW YORK (JTA) -- Comedian Jackie Mason called President Obama a "schvartze" during a performance in New York, angering some audience members.

The Web site TMZ reported Sunday that Mason used the term, which means "black" in Yiddish but is considered derogatory by some, during a performance at Feinstein's at Loews Regency in New York City on March 12.

TMZ quoted one audience member as saying, "He's more offensive to the Jews than Madoff tonight."

"I'm an old Jew. I was raised in a Jewish family where 'schvartze' was used," Mason told TMZ. "It's not a demeaning word and I'm not going to defend myself."

http://jta.org/news/article/2009/03/16/1003746/jackie-mason-calls-obama-schvartze

Unionist

A schvarz finstere yor oif im!

Zol er waksen vie a tsibele in drerd, mitm kop arop un die fies aroif!

Can we move this to the Yiddish babble banter forum? I'm on a roll.

 

Star Spangled C...

Nu? Why not?

Vos iz neias, unionist? A Gut voch!

Okay, given that that's about the extent of my Yiddish and YOU seem to be more familiar with it, do you ahve any sense of how derogatory a term "schvartze" is?

I've heard it sued from time to time, typically by older and more orthodox Jews. I've never been entirely comfortable with it but it enver seems to be spoken with ill-intent so I'm really not sure where the word stands...

oldgoat

Yeah, before I storm in with an opinion, I'd be interested in knowing exactly what sort of weight and connoteations the word has.

Saying you grew up with that in an old family doesn't strike me as cutting it.  Terms like golliwog and pickaninnie used to be quite acceptable, but wouldn't fly today.

Unionist

No one speaks Yiddish much any more, except the Hassidim.

In my distant memory, "schvartze" could have been used as a simple descriptive ("He's black"), or in a semi-derogatory semi-bad-taste-playful sense (can't think of a modern equivalent, maybe something like "He's a blackie"). It never came close to the horrors associated with the N-word. But tone was everything. A racist xenophobe could say "schvartze", just like "black", in a context that exuded contempt and dismissal, whether in Yiddish or in English.

Anyway, Obama condemned Pastor Wright for saying that racism was endemic in America, so I guess to Obama, it's no big deal. And Jackie Mason, even at the "height" (depth?) of his career, made his living by being notoriously offensive - and that was 40 years ago or so...

 

oldgoat

I'm reminded of a Falasha kid I worked with years ago back in my youth worker days.  He was fairly recently from Isreal and originally from Ethiopia.  He spoke both Hebrew and Yiddish, along with other languages.  Anyway, he lived in a Jewish neighbourhood in TO, and would tell about going into stores and hearing owners tell eachother to keep an eye on the shvartze suspecting him of being a potential shoplifter. 

Unionist

Our society - Jews included - is suffused, permeated, with racism against POC of the exact kind that oldgoat describes. No one speaks Yiddish any more, but the attitudes carry on - they may even have preserved a word like "schvarze" while speaking English, and yes, it would be derogatory and racist. Cf. "goy".

 

oldgoat

Actually, I would see that scenario being played out in just about any store where the staff felt they were speaking a language not understood by the customer.  I relate that anecdote really just as an anecdote, and don't mean too much by it.  The kid himself got a bit of a chuckle out of it, and enjoyed the mild surprise he saw when he responded in their own language.  He and his family had been through a lot, and were happy to be here.  He was involved with my agency for post traumatic stress issues. 

Unionist

I can well imagine they had been through a lot. [url=http://cosmos.ucc.ie/cs1064/jabowen/IPSC/php/topic.php?tid=1083][=r... are many links[/color][/url] to stories about Israeli racism against African Jews and the movement against that racism.

 

Star Spangled C...

I'm curious as to the actual context in which the word was used. A lot of whether something crosses a line into bigotry depends on teh intent of the person using a term. Accurate descriptive terms - including "Jew" and "gay" - can be simple identifications or can be used in a pejorative manner if the speaker harbors some sort of bias against Jews and gays.

josh

"It's not a demeaning word and I'm not going to defend myself."

It is, and Mason knows it is.  That's probably why he won't bother to defend himself.  If he wants to use it in his act, fine.  But don't say it's not demeaning.  That would be news to generations of Jews. 

 

Maysie Maysie's picture

I thought Jackie Mason was dead.

Cueball Cueball's picture

Ahh well, he is just some dated irrelevant old media personality with outmoded ideas that were common in past generations. You can hardly expect him to conform to the bubble wrapped norms of today's polite conversation. On the other hand if he were an aging FN WWII vet, who made his name in Canadian politics we would throw the book at him, no?

al-Qa'bong

josh wrote:

"It's not a demeaning word and I'm not going to defend myself."

It is, and Mason knows it is.  That's probably why he won't bother to defend himself.  If he wants to use it in his act, fine.  But don't say it's not demeaning.  That would be news to generations of Jews.

From my scant knowledge of Yiddish (picked up from comedy routines and Joseph Heller novels, mostly) I'd say "no harm done" and cut Mason some slack.  On the other hand, IT'S JACKIE MASON!

Quote:
A Palestinian stand-up comic who had been due to open this week for Jackie Mason, the Jewish comedian, at a club in Chicago was taken off the bill hours before he was due to go on stage.

Jyll Rosenfeld, Jackie Mason's manager, said Mr Mason, a vocal supporter of Israel, was unhappy at the prospect of sharing the stage with Rosh Hanania, a 49-year-old novice comedian.

"It's not exactly like he's just an Arab-American," she said. "This guy's a Palestinian. We were not told about it ahead of time. Jackie does not feel comfortable having a Palestinian open for him. Right now it's a very sensitive thing."

Jackie Mason bars Palestinian comedian

Eliezer Zusken

If we are to condemn Mason we need to do the same with Mel Brooks.

Recall the very funny (though now dated) "Blazing Saddles". Cleavon Little and his family are seperated from the Wagon Train heading across the plains (seperated as in excluded because they are Black). The Wagon Train is attacked by "Indians". The Chief approached the wagon in which Little and his family cower. The Chief (played by Brooks) looks at this site with amazement and says "Shvartzes?"..."Los em gain" (let them go).

It was very funny.

Maysie Maysie's picture

If nobody thinks what JM did was racist, then why is this discussion in the anti-racism forum?

Shall I move it to culture? 

Unionist

In my very first post, I suggested we move it to babble banter. I wasn't joking. [oxymoron] But culture is probably a more appropriate venue.

 

Maysie Maysie's picture

Done. 

P.S. Every time I ever heard this word said by members of my Jewish family the racism was crystal clear. But whatever. This isn't about racist relativism, it's about the majority. You win.

Michelle

So let's get this straight.  Mason makes a racist comment about a black man, and that WOULD be okay and we could cut him some slack...but since he's also racist against Palestinians, now it's a problem?

Seriously, we're pretending this isn't racist?  Really?

There is all sorts of comedy that relies on racist stereotypes and jokes.  Whether or not it is racist does not depend on whether the joke makes you laugh.  Most of us (especially white people) are socialized to find racist jokes funny, and everyone has a different "tolerance" level for racist jokes.

Recognizing that Mason's labeling of Obama as "a schwartze" is racist does not mean that now he's going to be forced to stop doing that.  Lots of people get off on "shock humour" or "ironic racism" or whatever it is he was doing (I don't know, didn't hear it in context, don't care to either).  But as josh says, if you're going to do it, don't pretend it's not racist and not demeaning.

It sure would be nice, though, if such stupid comedy went the way of the dinosaur, and people just got to the point where they just don't find it funny anymore.  

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

Eliezer Zusken wrote:

If we are to condemn Mason we need to do the same with Mel Brooks.

Recall the very funny (though now dated) "Blazing Saddles". Cleavon Little and his family are seperated from the Wagon Train heading across the plains (seperated as in excluded because they are Black). The Wagon Train is attacked by "Indians". The Chief approached the wagon in which Little and his family cower. The Chief (played by Brooks) looks at this site with amazement and says "Shvartzes?"..."Los em gain" (let them go).

It was very funny.

 

There's a difference between Mel Brooks decades ago and Mason today and now.

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

I'm a bit confused why this was moved?

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

And the more I read it over, quite disturbed, I'll tell my POC friend it's ok to be anti-semitic if you're joking.

 

Seriously, everybody has to take responsibility.  No free passes.

 

I'm sure I'm offending somebody, apologies in advance.

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

And left to ponder why SSC dropped this bomb without thoughts of his own.  Meh.

Cueball Cueball's picture

Actually if someone wants to deconstruct Blazing Saddles I would love that.

al-Qa'bong

Quote:
So let's get this straight.  Mason makes a racist comment about a black man, and that WOULD be okay and we could cut him some slack...but since he's also racist against Palestinians, now it's a problem?

 

Since you're trying so hard to misunderstand, I'll go through it again. 

 As others upthread have pointed out, the word itself isn't necessarily racist, but depends on intent.  Mel "Nobody move or....gets it" Brooks was cited as an example of someone using "Shvartzes" without malice.  We don't have to have a Pavlovian reaction to a word and assume that the speaker is this or that.  It is possible to give the benefit of the doubt.

 

When someone with a history of public bigotry, however, uses such a word, maybe we shouldn't dismiss it so easily.

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

There's words that don't matter about intent and in this case I think it's one of them.  Just me.  How long ago was that Mel Brooks thing?  No evolution?

Sven Sven's picture

Maysie wrote:
I thought Jackie Mason was dead.

If not dead, I've thought his type of humor died about 20 years ago.

Whenever I think of Jackie Mason I think, "I just flew in from Chicago...and boy are my arms tired!"

_______________________________________

Eleutherophobics of the World...Unite!!!

Cueball Cueball's picture

RevolutionPlease wrote:
There's words that don't matter about intent and in this case I think it's one of them.  Just me.  How long ago was that Mel Brooks thing?  No evolution?

If I remember the Mel Brooks movie at all I'd have to say that the intent was that Jews are just as racist as other white folks. The movie plays into numerous racist stereotypes, but I don't think the intent in its creation was racist. The opposite actually.

I don't consider myself competent to judge it beyond that.

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

Yes, so what of comparison to Mason's use today?

 

I still don't get why it's not in the anti-racism forum and excuses are being legitimized.

 

Bizarro world.

RevolutionPlease RevolutionPlease's picture

A response might be "It would be wise to eliminate that word."

Cueball Cueball's picture

Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor make no bones about comparing it to the word Nigger in their screenplay, the equation is blatant.

Cueball Cueball's picture

There is no comparison. Today. I also don't understand why this thread isn't in the AR forum. The topic was raised basically "is this racist or not?"

josh

Sven wrote:

Maysie wrote:
I thought Jackie Mason was dead.

If not dead, I've thought his type of humor died about 20 years ago.

Whenever I think of Jackie Mason I think, "I just flew in from Chicago...and boy are my arms tired!"

_______________________________________

Eleutherophobics of the World...Unite!!!

Hey, I happen to like that type of standupLaughing

Again, the problem to me not the use of the term in the context of a standup comedy act but Mason's denial that the word is offensive.  And he must be going senile because he apologized for using the term in 1991 to refer to former NYC Mayor David Dinkins.

http://www.nowpublic.com/culture/jackie-mason-racist-call-obama-schwartz...

Maysie Maysie's picture

I moved the thread from the AR forum, where it was originally posted by Star Spangled (no ally of anti-racism if his history here means anything), to  the culture forum.

Since the majority in the thread had deemed (and still do) that the word is  "not racist" I saw no point in keeping it in the AR forum. The debate was over, the majority had ruled. Isn't that now the rule on babble of whether something is racist? 

But I still like the AR forum and feel it has positive potential. I felt that it was not appropriate for this thread to remain there.

 

oldgoat

Hmmm..,  I grew up listening to his ilk on Ed Sullivan and shows like that.  That sort of Borscht belt humour was the mainstay of standup comics of my youth.  I wonder if that's why I'm a bit tone deaf to it, and the issues that arose.

I mean really, it is totally dinosaur.  His demographic must be first wave boomers and up, like me.

 

Caissa

Every online definition I can find says the term is derogatory. I think it has clearly become an unacceptable word.

Unionist

Cueball wrote:

There is no comparison. Today. I also don't understand why this thread isn't in the AR forum. The topic was raised basically "is this racist or not?"

The real question is, why is this thread in any forum? Some old comic, whom no one takes seriously, gets up in the U.S. and makes offensive jokes. About the goddamn U.S. president, for that matter. In a non-broadcast setting. Using a Yiddish word (dead language) whose derogatory (or any) connotations are lost on 99% of the population. In a country where racism is ENDEMIC from top to bottom of the society (as Pastor Wright eloquently and passionately reminded us), and where the person who publicly DENIED that racism is endemic is now the target of this pathetic joke (which we haven't even heard yet - just the word).

Every single day, minute, and second, African Americans (among others) are portrayed right on TV, movies, the internet, the print media, in the most racially charged and demeaning terms. Yes - notwithstanding the election of Mr. Obama, the Racism Denier, to the Big Job. Yet we are to have an etymological debate of whether some term in a dead language is offensive.

It is hard to imagine a more insignificant trivialization of the problem of racism in North America today than this incident and this thread. I've changed my mind again. Put it in babble banter, or better yet, just close it.

Caissa

I have a hard time disagreeing with anything you have written Unionist. And you and Maysie have both taken unprovoked shots at SSC in this thread. I find that off-side. 

Unionist

I edited out my unprovoked shot at SSC just as you were posting your post, Caissa.

Star Spangled C...

RevolutionPlease wrote:
And left to ponder why SSC dropped this bomb without thoughts of his own.  Meh.

I DID have some thoughts of my own that I put in a psot further down. My initial post was meant to get the views of people who have a better knowledge of the Yiddish language or who are older Jews who grew up in more jewish communities.

My point was to determine whether this actually WAS racist. I'm not sure Michelle was correct to suggest that we're 'excusing" racism agaisnt a black man (President Obama) but condemning racism against an Arab (the comic). The point was to determine whether the sue of the term "schvartze" is inherently racist in the first place. I know that a literal translation of "schvartze" is "black". But I also know that some literal, descriptive terms can be used pejoratively. If I say that "I'm a Jew" there's nothing anti-Semitic about that. If I use "Jew" as a synonym for "cheap" or something like that, then it is. Same with noting that somebody is "gay" and using "gay" as a punchline or insult.

Star Spangled C...

Maysie wrote:

I moved the thread from the AR forum, where it was originally posted by Star Spangled (no ally of anti-racism if his history here means anything), to  the culture forum.

I have no idea where teh hell you're getting that idea from, Maysie.

But I will say, as a "point of personal privilege" or jsut by way of explanation that I'm the first person to admit to not having as refined an understanding of social and cultural theories surrounding racism as perhaps some other posters have. There are lots of areas of knowledge in which i come with not pretense of expertise. But I find it troubling that if someone maybe doesn't demosntrate your knowledge or if someone may simply disagree with you on something, you are very quickly to dismiss them as "not an ally" or to categorically imply that tehy are a racist. If you think I'm wrong, by all means point out why. I have no problem accepting constructive criticism. Indeed, I welcome it. That's how people learn.

My understanding, Maysie, is that your profession relates somehow to working on anti-racism issues. So I have no doubt that you are more knowledgeable in this area than I am. I work as a physician so I also have no doubt that I am more knowledgeable than you are when it comes to medicine. If we were having a discussion on a medical issue and you made a mistake, my reaction wouldn't be to insult you or accuse you of being "not an ally of medicine." If I have expertise that you don't, I'm quite happy to offer an explanation as to why an assumption you may ahve had about medicine is incorrect. That's not a matter of trying to insult you or to one-up you or to show how smart I am in a specific area. I care about medicine and if I can share my knowledge, great. You evidently care about anti-racism so I'm thinking that sharing your knowledge instead of insulting or trying to one-up people may be more productive at actually creating "allies" instead of turning people off. This isn't a contest.

Just my two cents.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Great post, unionist.

Maysie Maysie's picture

Star Spangled, you're right, I shouldn't have said that about you. I apologize.

I'm going to recuse myself at this point from posting and moderating this thread.

Star Spangled C...

Hey, it happens. And I'm not one to hold a grudge. Apology accepted.

Michelle

I think I understand Maysie's frustration with this thread.

I think you were right, Maysie, to move it from the AR forum in order to make the point that this isn't really anti-racist discussion that is happening - or at least, if it is, it's like, the pre-kindergarten level.

Is it really "anti-racist discussion" to debate whether or not it's racist to use an old-fashioned and demeaning term for black people in a comedy routine? Or, if it is, is that really the level we babblers are at on the subject? Because that's kind of disheartening if so.

I think it would be interesting to have a discussion about the disconnect between what we know is racist, and what we find funny, because there is a disconnect for a lot of us, where we'll laugh at a comedian's jokes, even though some of them are racist. Why do we do that? And is there a difference in effect between the racist humour of a Jackie Mason and, say, a Russell Peters?

I was just talking to a friend about this thread, and he's half a generation older than me and, like oldgoat, grew up with this "borscht belt humour". He grew up laughing at this stuff, and while he says it's hackneyed now, the whole "take my wife, please" and "I introduced my wife to something she's never seen before - the kitchen" kind of corny stuff still makes him smirk or chuckle. Meanwhile, I was like, "Really? That makes you laugh?" Because I don't even find that funny in a suspend-my-PC-sensibilities-for-the-duration-of-the-routine way. I mean, I get where the humour is supposed to come in, but it's not really funny to me because it's just so overdone and I can't relate to the culture in which it grew, having come of age when it wasn't the norm for women to be housewives.

Meanwhile, I laugh at Russell Peters' standup stuff, even though a staple of his routine is stereotyping immigrants. Why do I find that funny when I know that stereotyping immigrants is racist? Perhaps it's because, as a white person, I have privilege, and I am submerged in a culture where the stereotypes he exploits in his routine are commonplace beliefs, even if I don't actually believe them. Or perhaps it's the old, "I can say it because I'm a person of colour, but you'd better not" which gives the audience permission to laugh, whether they're white people laughing because it reinforces the stereotypes we're not supposed to believe or indulge, or people of colour laughing perhaps because it feels like sharing an in-joke or something.

Humour is one of those things that is so personal and so wrapped up in culture and era and yes, racism, classism, and sexism. What we find funny can tell us a lot about ourselves and our assumptions if we can get over the defensiveness and rush to justify ourselves and indemnify anything we find ourselves responding positively to.

Unionist

Ok, Michelle, how would you categorize this one:

A Gentile goes into a clothing store and says: "This is a very fine jacket. How much is it?"

The salesperson says: "It's $1000."

The Gentile says, "OK, I'll take it."

 

Michelle

Huh?  Who's categorizing anything?

Star Spangled C...

Michelle wrote:

Meanwhile, I laugh at Russell Peters' standup stuff, even though a staple of his routine is stereotyping immigrants. Why do I find that funny when I know that stereotyping immigrants is racist?

A good friend of mine is a stand-up comic...at least when he's not working at an ad agency to actually pay the bills. He's of Indian descent himself and adores Russell Peters. And he explained the reasoning: first of all, apparently, the impressions that he does of different accents and mannerisms are dead-on. And they are accurate impressions without resorting to over-the-top and ludicrous caricatures and stereotypes. Another aspect is that while a lot of white comics, black comics and jewish comics have become very successful talking to audiences that can relate to them, Peters is the first guy to make it big from a modern multicultrual community like Mississauga. And, finally, what he says makes the ethnic humour and stereotyping okay is that Peters is speaking TO an audience of those ethnicities (just like I guess Mason was speaking to a largely first and second generation jewish audience in NYC at that time). They can laugh at it because they relate to it. It's not making fun of "those outsiders who aren't like us"; it's poking fun at peoples parents and neighbours. And if white people want to come along for the ride, then hey that's great. Just like Chris Rocks speaks TO a black audience even if the majority of people watching it on TV may be white.

Unionist

Jewish humour, which became the foundation of Vaudeville and Hollywood humour in the post-WWI period, is primarily self-mocking. It was a European survival technique. Example:

A Gentile man calls his mother and says, "Mother, I know you 're expecting me for dinner this evening, but something important has come up and I can't make it." His mother says: "OK."

Star Spangled C...

Both of those gentile jokes are gold, unionist!

Unionist

What I find fascinating about these old jokes is that, on the surface, they appear to mock Gentiles - but just one millimetre down, they portray Gentiles as more civilized, more trusting, less self-centred than Jews.

When you go a centimetre deeper, you find another meaning - that Gentiles can "afford" to be this way, because they weren't oppressed the way Jews were.

Then, at an even deeper layer, you get the opposite again. Jews were often complicit, willing agents of their self-isolation in Europe, given their religious and cultural heritage. Zionism is the ultimate and worst manifestation of that self-isolation, taking it to the extremes of carving out a separate country and using it as a base to oppress others.

I hope I'm not reading too much into these,  but Jewish humour is what it is, layers of contradiction. It's embedded in my soul, and I need to deconstruct it as part of understanding myself.

 

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