A microaggression

You’re not Jewish, are you?

She might get buried in the Jewish part of the cemetery, she said, surprising him, and this was his response. Yes, she said. I found his question impertinent, telling us something about him: I found it a microaggression, and write this to get clear why it is objectionable, and shows an objectionable way of thinking. I don’t know if it affected her in any particular way- she sounds a lovely person, knowing herself and comfortable with the self she knows, but it might.

What does it tell us about him? That he has a concept of “normal”, and Jewish is not included. Jewish is other. Learning she is Jewish, he adds this to his knowledge of her, and now ideas about “Jews” may add to ideas about “writers”, or anything else he knows about her, to form a judgment.

And what he said was, “You’re not Jewish, aya?” I noticed the abbreviation, and thought, “Manchester”. My colleague used to say, “Aya, awaya?”- “Hiya, how are you?”- on greeting. “Manchester,” I thought, having not heard the programme from the beginning, or Manchester in other voices.

Manchester, I think. A particular kind of one of us. Totally acceptable. “Jewish,” he thinks, and possibly files it away, a fact to remember about her, and- I assumed that makes him think not quite one of us. Different. And I am not certain he did- a particular kind of one of us, or someone different? There are Jewish populations in Greater Manchester.

Do I use “Manchester”- or even “Working class” (from his job, gravedigger)- to judge him? We know things about other people. Some might make us put them in stereotyped categories. I don’t know what he thinks “Jewish” adds to his knowledge of her.

I don’t know how she feels about it. She included it in her half hour radio programme. It could be she feels it as a microaggression, feels that he might have some slight hostility (Oh, not to you! You’re one of the good ones!) feels distance created, feels apprehension that distance means threat, that not being quite one of us means not being safe.

-Oh, don’t be so sensitive!
-People get killed for being Jewish!

-Does she look Jewish?
Judge for yourself!

I don’t know. “You don’t look lesbian”, a Quaker said to my friend. While Quaker women might be more likely to have short hair and no makeup, and to dress “plainly”- not all of us, but many- I found myself wondering what he thought “lesbian” looked like. She wrote after, “It was only after I got home that I began to think about this comment”. And the first response was sympathy. Yes, it’s awful.

I wondered if any Jew might object to me- I am not Jewish- picking on this example. They might object to the idea of “looking Jewish”- except by particular clothes- but it’s a question people ask, as if they really want to be able to see who the outsiders are.

It seems to me that very subtly this commenting on the difference is policing the boundaries of Normal-Acceptable. Jewish, or lesbian, is remarkable, odd, other. Possibly if you want to fit in you should not mention it, allude to it or give away signs of it. I tend to feel I “look trans”, that few people would think I was a cis woman after half an hour’s conversation, possibly not even after a minute’s. If I imagine that will not set them against me, or not appreciably, perhaps I am a fool. I started a comment, “When I was presenting male,” and someone responded, “Serious question, why is what you were presenting as relevant?” Because I was writing about interacting as male. But also because it is entirely acceptable, a quirk or not even that. I felt the question implied I should not mention it. I don’t really mind what they do, as long as they don’t rub our noses in it.

A painting by Simeon Solomon, whom I first noticed in the Tate exhibition in 2017. Is there some derivativeness and dullness about his painting, so that he is not now in the first rank of well known Pre-Raphaelites? Or is it because he was Queer and Jewish? Are his sentiments slightly off, not quite people like us? Wikipedia said He achieved notoriety after he was caught engaging in sexual activity with a man. I objected to “caught”, “achieved notoriety”, so have changed it. On the talk page, people ask why it is relevant that he was gay, . Well, what do you think?

Here’s another. A woman wondered why people referred to her as “The woman with the French passport” rather than “The French woman”. I checked my concept of French woman (or Frenchwoman). Effortless style, perfume “where a woman expects to be kissed”- white, of course, because European. Yeah. It is a racist stereotype, and she’s called that because she is Black.

All comments welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.