Thoughts On…Derogatory Names (Prompt)

Ever feel like you need to get something off your chest? Sometimes I’ve just gotta talk it out. That’s why I’ve decided to do a monthly feature called “Thoughts On…” At the beginning of the month, I’ll provide a prompt to stimulate discussion. The point is to get us to put our thoughts out there – writing it all down can be quite cathartic. If you want to keep your writing private, that’s your thing and I won’t question it. If you’re ready to put it all out there, I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments. At the end of the month I’ll provide my own thoughts on the topic of the month. Think of it as a book club for writing.

thoughts on - derogatory names

Last week, I decided to do a little Thursday night drinking.  I was working from home on Friday so I was able to let loose and have a few weeknight cocktails.  The drinking led me to crave late night eats so I left the bar and went to Sarge’s, a 24-hour spot across from my apartment.  After ordering an absurd amount of food, I walked up to the register and proceeded to check out.  It was then that a fellow patron looked at me and called me a kike.  Between his British accent, my cloudy Jack and Diet brain, and the utter shock of the situation, I assumed I heard him incorrectly.  But then he said it again.  He just kept saying it.  I was stunned, as was the cashier.  The gentleman spouting the hate term, on the other hand, was in a jolly mood – he thought he was hilarious.

Between my freckles, slight Southern accent, and Catholic beau, people in New York don’t often pick me out as Jewish.  Since we were standing in a Jewish deli, however, this guy had a pretty good chance of offending somebody with his comments, and I was his target.  I tried to stay calm.  He’s just a drunk guy, I said.  I tried to reason with him, pleading him to refrain from saying such things out loud (especially not the N word I heard him say) becuase he could very easily find himself beaten to an unrecognizable pulp.  When I recognized I wasn’t getting anywhere, I said I thought he should leave.  The cashier agreed.  When I knew he was far enough down the block, I also left.

I was hurt.  You would think I would have encountered bigotry and anti-Semitism having grown up in the deep South.  And, yes, I did see a bit.  But what I witnessed growing up were comments aimed at a group in general, people light-heartedly making fun of Jews as a whole.  Now, that’s not much better, but I can now tell you it stings much worse when the remark is meant for you, specifically.  It wasn’t about a general group of people. It was a term of hatred directed at me, Tess Hillary Konter.

I was shocked.  I can’t believe I was hearing such awful, hate-filled words in 2015.  We are supposed to be a progressive people by this point.  Gay marriage is legal!  A woman has a legit shot at the Presidency!  With all that, how is someone still calling me that word?  And we’re in New York City, where there is a significant Jewish population.  This is the one city, the ultimate melting pot, where we should feel safe from that sort of talk and mentality.

I was shaken and scared.  The fact that someone felt comfortable saying such a thing out loud and in public means they truly believe it’s ok.  They think I am less than because of my religion.  That word is a term of disrespect.  It is an insult.  To use it means you don’t believe someone to be your equal.  And that can quickly decline into the endangerment of civil rights.  Dramatic?  It’s happened.  See: The Holocaust.

He kept saying it wasn’t a big deal, trying to enlist the cashier to his side.  I want to say it’s not a big deal, that it’s just a word.  But it is a big deal.  That four-letter, one-syllable word felt like an icy wind to my cheeks.  Someone out there (maybe lots of someones) hates me because I was born a Jew.  That sort of hate is disgusting.  I hope you never have to feel the way I felt on Thursday night.

I have written more than I typically do in this prompt, but I couldn’t wait til the end of the month to share my thoughts on this topic.  Now it’s your turn.  Here are some thought starters:

  • Does it surprise you to hear this happened to me?
  • Have you personally experienced anti-Semitism?  Or bigotry of any kind for that matter – racial/ethnic and homophobic slurs certainly count here.
  • How would a comment like this make you feel?  What if it was said about someone in your immediate family, a significant other, or your best friend?
  • If this “doesn’t apply” to you, why not?
  • How can we stop this behavior?