The Good Jew

Back in the USSR, once WWII was won, it became a really bad idea to be a Jew. People changed their first and last names, faked Russian ethnicity on their passports, hid their Jewishness with all they had but it didn’t work. Everybody knew and despised them.

As a Jew, you knew from infancy that something was wrong about you. A bad, shameful secret that always dragged you down.

Of course, people look for ways to wriggle from out of the shame. One such way was the myth of the bad Jew. “Yes,” said the Jews who used this method, “we have to recognize that a lot of Jew-hatred is justified. There are, indeed, Jews who are greedy, sleazy, dirty, dishonest, and repellent. They kind of deserve all the criticism. We are not like them, of course. We are good.”

The bad Jews of this myth had different names. I’ve heard them referred to as shtetl Jews or Bukhara Jews. They weren’t real, of course. They were a trick that sad, scared and ashamed people played to feel less disgusted with themselves. Interiorized shame and self-hatred are unbearable, so you project them onto a small part of the self and repudiate that part.

I always remember these sad Soviet Jews whenever I read yet another article by a white person denouncing “whiteness,” “white liberals / conservatives” or “white supremacy.” They are doing the same thing, although for far less respectable reasons. “It’s not me, it’s that guy! Get him!” – this method has been tried many times.

But guess what?

Both you and that guy end up getting your teeth kicked in.

Because for those who hate you, there’s no such thing as a good Jew.

20 thoughts on “The Good Jew

  1. I’ll bite. In your opinion, if a white person is approached by someone who wants them to acknowledge their white privilege, what is the correct course of action for the white person to perform?


    1. There may be no correct course of action if by that you mean something that allows the person to escape with both integrity and teeth intact.


    2. Is this even a real question? I would tell that person to go f-ck themselves and consider my work done.

      One of the only benefits of having been raised working class/poor is that I have never felt guilty for being white. My Irish grandparents weren’t even considered white and experienced far more actual discrimination than these credentialed gripers. Class is the greatest determinent of life outcomes: identity politics is an unsophisticated shell game meant to obscure that reality and keep us all at each other’s throat while the neoliberal elites divide the booty. (I’m not a leftist by the way; I’m merely pointing out what should be obvious.)

      Anyone who confronts you about your privilege is after one thing: power. Don’t play their game.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Is this even a real question? I would tell that person to go f-ck themselves and consider my work done.”

        Why wouldn’t it be a real question. It is common for people to say things like “check your privilege” to white people on social media. In those cases people are going beyond asking for acknowledgment of white privilege, beyond even assuming that it exists, and actually telling strangers to “check” it.

        So then what is so unbelievable about the notion that someone might ask you to acknowledge it somewhere in a conversation?


        1. Sorry, what I meant was “Is this even a real question for normal people?” Working in the arts and media, I’m well aware that this question is always jumping in from the margins at the first opportunity.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. “Sorry, what I meant was “Is this even a real question for normal people?” ”

            What is happening in this thread is that I consider both whiteness and Jewishness as attributes of human beings that should never be considered as being intrinsically bad, ever. Anyone who judges human beings on the basis of low priority, low relevance attributes like race or social grouping doesn’t know how to weigh, categorise and transform information, or is insane in some way.

            Instead of stating the obvious to the academics who read this page, which is to say that all of those people back in the USSR had serious thinking problems, I am drawing a parallel between Jewishness and whiteness so that the people reading this thread have lots of opportunity to join into the conversation then arrive at the same conclusion all by themselves anyway.


            1. That was the whole point of the post. Although there is an important difference. The USSR was a totalitarian regime and the Soviet Jews couldn’t leave mid-conversation. They had to find ways to exist in what was there. In the US, we can walk away at any time. But we are choosing not to.


    3. I agree with jimmyg, I’m trying to imagine under what circumstances someone would approach me and demand that I “acknowledge my white privilege”. Is this a thing that happens anywhere outside of twitter?


      1. “I’m trying to imagine under what circumstances someone would approach me and demand that I “acknowledge my white privilege”. Is this a thing that happens anywhere outside of twitter?”

        I think that you may have underestimated just how nutty this world is. Here, look:


    4. It’s the same advice that I gave right here on the blog 10 years ago when women asked what to do when men interrupted them or spoke disrespectfully in the workplace.

      The advice is: undergo 60 hours of psychoanalysis to figure out why you don’t know how to project authority and self-respect and to change that.


      1. “The advice is: undergo 60 hours of psychoanalysis to figure out why you don’t know how to project authority and self-respect and to change that.”

        Are you saying that a person being asked to acknowledge their whiteness is meant to suddenly depart from wherever they are mid conversation and to do 60 hours of psychoanalysis etc. because that doesn’t seem like a reasonable reply to the question posed.


        1. That would be ideal because otherwise the situation will keep repeating. Treat the cause, not the symptom. Until it’s treated, the best policy is to extract yourself from the situation.


          1. It might be ideal, but it isn’t feasible. Now listen, because I know a thing or two about this.

            In the realm of interpersonal communication, there is something called frame control. A “frame” is the perception & understanding of a situation, circumstance, interaction, worldview etc of a person in relation to an issue. If a person knows about an issue, then they have a personal frame about it just by perceiving & understanding it, no matter how poorly they perceive & understand it.

            When two individuals come into contact in relation to an issue, then as a general rule, the one with the stronger frame overcomes and absorbs the one with the weaker frame. The stronger framed person then leads the direction of the interaction and, a lot of the time, ends up leading the thoughts of the weaker framed person.

            So, I would submit that in the case of confrontation with a person who wants you to qualify yourself in any way, whether that is acknowledging whiteness or trying to be a “good Jew” or whatever, then the right thing to do is to reframe anything that the other person has said and never commit to anything.

            What that would look like is, in the case of a person asking if you are a good or bad Jew, something like saying “I’m not sure about that, but I do good things” which shifts attention away from good or bad Jew-ness to good or bad thing-ness. Then, if the person is persistent, keep on doing it until you find a way to leave the interaction (since you can’t win against or convince a bigot).

            In other words, the right way to handle the situation is to employ the correct technique, which is so basic that a person knows how to do it just by reading a description of it.

            Importantly, if people get good at doing this, what ends up happening is that bullies fail to gain traction, run out of steam, and generally stop being a problem for everybody.

            Apologies for being a bit of a know it all about this, but it’s something that I am unusually well qualified to talk about.

            Liked by 1 person

    5. “if a white person is approached by someone who wants them to acknowledge their white privilege, what is the correct course of action”

      Context is everything so without context it’s hard to say.

      The optimal response is to Level, that is to plainly say what you think (without undue ornate language and nothing like sarcasm) For me that might be: “I should hope I have some privilege. I need any advantage I can get.”

      If directness is out of the question there are two tacks you can use.

      You can become a Computer:

      “The word ‘privilege’ is certainly used a great deal at present and it can be difficult to know how to respond, not least since it appears to have acquired so many different meanings.”

      The ball is in the accuser’s court and they’ll have to be specific.

      A lot of times the Boring Baroque response could work.

      “My privilege? That’s a strong word… it reminds me of this time in school. I must have been in the fourth, no wait, it must have been in the fifth grade I know it was the fifth grade because that was the year Mrs. Albert was our teacher, her thing was green, she always dressed in green and I have this distinct memory of the teacher being dressed in green so it must have been Mrs. Albert… unless it was Saint Patrick’s Day? Anyway, Jimmy Gabster was sitting ahead of me and we were supposed to have a spelling bee that day. Nothing too hard, nothing like the national spelling bee where they find these weird words that no one ever uses. This was just a normal spelling bee to help us remember the words we’d learned… (and on and on until the person you’re talking to gives up)”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. @cliff arroyo
        I’d call that the Boring Baroque Defense, rather than response.

        I’ll make sure I use it next time someone pesters me with such arrant nonsense as “white” “privilege”, as in “What do you mean white? I’m pink all over, which is just as I should, given that I am a native European, in case you had forgotten” and “Privilege? What privilege? Oh, I wish!”.
        Thanks for the tip, mate.


        1. ““What do you mean white?”

          It only works if you go completely off topic… with lots of corrections and side-trips. The goal is to discourage inappropriate questions/attacks. So you should only use it in extreme situations. If you do it all the time no one will talk to you at all….

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Hmm, I have a colleague who speaks in the Boring Baroque style and I’m only now realizing why he might be doing it. Nobody ever invited him to any diversity seminars as far as I know.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. @ cliff: I wrote a response earlier about frame control that is compatible with what you have said. Rather than repeat it or talk past you about it (which would be silly because there is no disagreement) I’m just going to point at it.


        1. I personally don’t use the term ‘frame’ anymore due to its over usage by weird pick-up artist types… but yeah, both the strategies I listed are ways of changing the frame, the first is an invitation to begin an abstract conversation on the meaning of words and the second is “let’s talk about my fascinating life in excruciating detail”. They only work if delivered in a polite earnest manner.

          There’s also “let’s talk about unrelated topic that irritates both of us” I used that once on a person (technically my direct supervisor) after being caught doing something everyone in the unit had expressly been told not to do (using a shared office as a classroom).

          I began by apologizing and agreeing it was wrong but in a way that moved the topic away from my infraction to the lack of available classrooms (a real problem that bothered everybody in the unit) and we were soon discussing that and other institutional deficiencies instead.


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