The Slur That Won't Go Away
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.