Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Are Jews Smarter?

Um. I'm going to say "NO" based on the decision of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles to publish a front page that asked--in bold lettering--that same question.

Guys--are we TRYING to look like d***heads?

I picked up the paper to read the article because I was so embarrassed at what non-Jews would think if they just walked by and read nothing but that cover page. The article was about a study of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews (mercifully conducted by a gentile, at least). It showed that these subjects scored 12%-15% higher on IQ tests than others, but were also more susceptible to diseases like Tay-Sachs, Gaucher, etc.

In the end, the article itself was not really offensive, jingoistic or self-congratulatory at all. It discussed the discomfort of some Jews in even having this discussion because it was reminiscent of eugenics discussions from Nazi Germany (ie, "all Jews are...fill in the breeding, which means we can breed those qualities out of people.") It said that if the results were accurate that it was a bit of a triumph and tragedy, in that certain diseases were also more prevalent. etc etc etc.

Besides the fact that the study is quite flawed if you look at the methodology, I was absolutely dumbfounded that a Jewish publication would put such a religion-baiting question on its front cover--when the article wasn't even about that in the first place. My friend who was with me did reassure me that anyone who would read that title and think "D*mn Jews" would more than likely think that anyway, with or without a newspaper to "justify" it. True. But do we need to go out of our way to be obnoxious at the same time?

I know I'm going to be accused of self-hatred for even writing this, but I come from a "both sides of the aisle" background so I have a pretty detailed understanding of what it's like to know NOTHING about Judaism, and about how nonsense or outdated factoids become the sum total of what little knowledge you do end up having. These inaccurate factoids are generally created as the result of one interaction with a Jewish person, a little snippet of something you hear on TV (ie, you aren't Jewish if your mother isn't) and assume applies to all Jews regardless of denomination, and, quite frankly, walking past a newsstand where the Jewish Weekly trumpets that Jews Are Smarter. If you had asked the average student in my average high school to describe a Jewish person or the Jewish culture, one of the descriptions would have been without a doubt, "they think they are better than you."

Please don't flame me and tell me that those people are ignorant and so not to worry about them. Ignorant people are EXACTLY the people to worry about. The neo-Nazis, we know where and who they are. The KKK, we know where and who they are. The random Joe on the street who (in the 3 minutes a year that he thinks about Jewish people) thinks they are arrogant, rich, insular, self-congratulatory holders of media power ? That's the guy we need to worry about. The guy who sees that front page and thinks, "hmpph--not surprising" is the guy who might not feel a real emotional pull to be late to work in order to protest my temple being spray-painted or kids wearing kippot being beaten up on the way home from school...or god forbid, people being loaded into trains for destinations unknown.

I'm not sure I'm articulating this very well. I'm not saying that any religion or ethnic group should live in the constant state of worrying about what the majority culture thinks of them. But I AM saying that I'd rather not feed the stereotypes that are already out there. Think of it another way: If you heard the whole drama about Bill Cosby impugning the "ghetto culture" and about how African-Americans need to talk better and be more attentive to the cultural situation they are creating for all African-Americans, and you thought "right on, Bill"--why not feel the same way about this?

African-Americans are not responsible for racism, neither are Jews responsible for anti-Semitism. No question. But you'd better believe I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure my kids don't fall into any traps that make them more open to being a victim of it.


kingoftherabbits said...

No self-hatred accusations here -- I agree with you completely. In my town, there is one Jewish family, which would be me and my two kids (since we do subscribe to the "you are what your mother is" doctrine, but also hybrid vigour). Every year during the December holiday season, I went into each of my kids' classrooms to talk about Hannukah, because clearly I was an expert as the lone Jew. After doing a bit of research so I wouldn't sound retarded, I went in and talked about the miracle, but also how it doesn't have nearly the same religious significance as Christmas, blah blah, and that you don't get 8 days of flat-screen tv presents, some days you just get socks. Or you don't celebrate it at all as a "presents" holiday, which is how it is in my family. Four years later, I was substitute teaching in the classroom across the hall from my son's former Kindergarten teacher telling the kids in her class, "Imagine that, boys and girls, eight days of presents. You only get one, but Jews get eight days of presents."

I like to think of that woman (I can hardly call her an educator) as one of the unenlightened ones, but the frustration is that I tried to sell her the truth, and she was happier with misinformation and stereotype. There is already rampant anti-semitism where I live. I refer to it as a "bible bracelet" -- too small to be a belt. In that vein, no one there would even come across the article you described, but should they inadvertantly catch the title, it would only make more trouble for the family that had to think twice before putting up the mezuzah by the front door. Fortunately, no one knows what it is.

So yes, let's not stupidly increase anti-semetism. There's plenty already.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I live in a state below the Mason-Dixon line, and I always feel acutely aware of what people think about us. You are right; it is not the wackos I worry about. It is the average person who makes assumptions about who I am based on something like one newspaper cover headline that supposedly represents me.

Raine said...

The fact that the article was printed in the first place was a gambit on the part of the publication. They wouldn't have done it, had there not been the potential to suck readers in and, I daresay, create debate.

The fact that E has responded to the article in the way that she did shows that perhaps we aren't dickheads after all. Perhaps the real study was in how many people would just accept obviously flawed racial profiling, and how many would actively reject it.

To us, the article was offensive, and obviously racists (or reverse racist, whatever they're calling it now, it's all discrimination), but for many people, the fact that it was even published *must* make it true. They eat the bait and believe it. I believe that was why the article was made. If there was no backlash, then the article is a failure, and the publisher knows exactly what kind of times we are living in.

Or, maybe my high ideals are wrong, and the publication merely made the article to fill space on the front page and turn a dollar or two.

SquareSlant said...

Funny thing is if the headline would have been..."Are Asians Smarter?"...No one would have blinked twice.