Why are so many Americans unable to recognize obviously Jewish people as Jewish?

A correspondent said he hadn’t known that David Brooks was Jewish. I replied:

Of course he’s Jewish.

It’s a puzzle. There are many Americans who for some reason lack the internalized set of parameters for recognizing Jewishness.

The correspondent replied:

Yeah, and not only that, I can’t tell a Jew from a lamp post. Unless the lamp post is named Finkelstein.

- end of initial entry -

James P. writes:

“There are many Americans who for some reason lack the internalized set of parameters for recognizing Jewishness.”

If only they had x-ray vision like Uberman in the Saturday Night Live skit!

Samson writes:

For the same reason that we are bewildered by your constant discussion of Jews and Jewishness: we don’t know any Jews in real life or know anything about them as a people. The number of Jews I have met in real life, ever, can be counted on two hands; so far as I know no Jew holds any sway over my life whatsoever; and if it weren’t for the internet, I would never hear or know anything about “the Jews” at all. I didn’t know David Brooks was Jewish, either. Sheesh.

Hope this answers your question, Lawrence. It’s my answer, at any rate.

Bill from Virginia writes:

You write: “There are many Americans who for some reason lack the internalized set of parameters for recognizing Jewishness.”

Are these parameters of appearance or of behavior? Could you tell that Brooks is Jewish from a photo?

Daniel F. writes:

With regard to your post on the above subject, I would observe that the “Jewish” look—you know it when you see it—has probably been greatly diluted by the huge intermarriage rate that has prevailed over the last two generations or so. Moreover, to the extent Jews had distinctive behavioral patterns distinguishing them from other whites (speech patterns, talking with hands, a particular kind of sense of humor), that has largely faded away; to my mind, middle-age or younger Ashkenazic American Jews (other than the Orthodox, Russians and Israelis) act very much like affluent white Protestants of upscale metropolitan suburbs.

Speaking of the loss of Jewish distinctiveness in the United States, I’ve noticed that supposedly “Jewish” characters on TV shows may have nothing identifiably Jewish about them. For instance, on the medical show “House,” the lead character’s best friend is supposed to be Jewish, although he’s named Wilson (I’ve never met a Jew named Wilson in my life), is played by an utterly WASP-looking and sounding actor, and engages in no discernible Jewish activities other than observing Hanukah in the Christman episodes. Why the producers decided to designate this character as “Jewish” is hard to understand. (The show has two other “Jewish” characters who are played by obviously Jewish actors.)

Tommy writes:

Most Americans have been told by Jews and SWPLs alike that it’s wrong to recognize anything particular about the Jewish people beyond their possible of choice of religion and holiday celebrations. In general, you’ll find that most non-Jews are utterly ignorant of Jews and Judaism. (Jews, for their part, often have a miserable understanding of Christianity.) The Gospel of the Left declares pattern recognition a mortal sin. If a man notices tendencies or trends among a particular ethnic or religious group, he can expect to be accused of stereotyping all members of that group.

In private email conversations I’ve had with liberal Jews in the past, I notice that they almost always accuse me of holding the opinion that “Jews control the media” if the disproportionate involvement of Jews in the media is even mentioned. It hardly matters if I make it clear that I don’t believe in the existence of any absurd media cabal. Qualifying my statements and choosing my words carefully isn’t enough: I’m an antisemite for noting the obvious. Two factors explain this:

1. Jews do not always realize how many Jews are in the media. They may have drank their own Kool-Aid. I’m surprised at how often Jews themselves don’t recognize a certain celebrity or talking head as Jewish.

2. Jews are hypersensitive to antisemitism. Engage a Jew on a certain issue that touches too close to antisemitic canards and all rational discussion grinds to a halt. The motives of the person broaching the topic are called into question. This results in a lot of invective and ad hominem.

Speaking of pattern recognition, a few years back I regularly encountered a nice gentleman who had an English surname and a Northern European appearance. Yet, something about his mannerisms struck me as Mediterranean. (I think he spoke and gesticulated in a way that didn’t strike me as very “WASP-y.”) Eventually, I asked him about his background. He informed me that he was adopted as an infant. His biological parents were both of Sicilian descent. Go figure.

Clark Coleman writes:

You wrote:

“There are many Americans who for some reason lack the internalized set of parameters for recognizing Jewishness.”

Maybe we don’t care to try to recognize Jewishness. Why should I? Do I need to keep an eye out for Jews? If I see a couple of Jews coming down the sidewalk, do I need to cross the street to protect myself? If I recognize a store clerk as Jewish, should I be more or less willing to transact business with him?

I suppose I could train my eye to recognize typical Slavic features as opposed to typical Scandinavian features. Why would I bother?

Jake F. writes:

Since you are of Jewish extraction (is that an accurate way of describing you?), you probably lived among Jews and non-Jews, and could see the distinction all along. I didn’t start recognizing Jews as Jews until I was in college. I think it was because (a) I didn’t live among enough of them, and (b) mass media makes Jews look like everyone else (and vice versa), so there was little opportunity to distinguish between Jews and non-Jews.

When I lived in Omaha (birth to age 12), I knew one older Jewish couple. Any individual couple is going to be unique, so their uniqueness didn’t strike me as being because of their Jewishness.

When I lived south of Rochester, New York (age 12-17), I knew one Jewish family of four. Again, I didn’t see anything major that made them stand out, although it strikes me that they may have wanted it that way.

It was only when I went to Cornell, which has a relatively high Jewish student population, that I began to recognize Jews as Jews. That didn’t happen right away, either; after all, there were a lot of different kinds of people from everywhere, and the Jews were actually more normal than a lot of the other people I met. I eventually joined a historically Jewish fraternity that was still, at the time, about half-Jewish, and only then—living with them, dating a Jewish girl, and so on—did I start to recognize Jews as Jews. Don’t get me wrong, I could identify them by their rituals, but that’s different. It’s one thing to be able to recognize and sing the Shabbat candle-lighting song, and another to talk about politics with someone you’ve just met and correctly identify him as Jewish.

In other words, you have to know enough individual Jews to see how they as a group are distinct from non-Jews _and_ similar to other Jews before you can start to identify individuals as being Jewish. I was eighteen before that process even started. I’m pretty sure it’s still not complete.

The media also hampers our ability to see Jews as Jews. Jewish writers put their words into the mouths of non-Jewish actors, and Jewish actors play the parts of non-Jewish (or at least not-specifically-Jewish) characters, so any intellectual or physical distinction between Jews and non-Jews are blurred or eradicated. Similarly, if a newspaper is ideologically homogenous, the bylines “Cohen” and “Christiansen” are essentially irrelevant; both of their viewpoints are normal for that not-distinctively-Jewish newspaper. Add to that the fact that we’ve been educated to ignore differences among groups of people, and you’re therefore not even _supposed_ to notice that one has a Jewish last name, and you have a system in which Jews are unrecognizable as a distinct people, almost by design.

I’m sure there are those who will say that it _is_ by design—that’s how the evil Jews infiltrate good Christian society! But I think it’s just a function of the relatively low Jewish population nationwide, the relatively high proportion of Jews in the media, the deliberate homogeneity of mass media, and the liberal unwillingness to notice distinctions among groups of people.

Kilroy M. writes:

… because they don’t want to come across as people who “see race”. Simple, really.

Remember, being able to make a determination in categorical terms will lead to the gates of Auschwitz, so we’ve all been told at school, uni and in pop culture.

Is it so surprising that this idiocy has started leading to the blindness of the bleeding obvious?

LA writes:

I’ll try to respond to these comments later.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 11, 2010 09:41 AM | Send

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