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March 04, 1988 - Image 73

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-03-04

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

ANN ARBOR

Graffiti found on a desk in the University of Michigan's graduate library.

of So Funny

aving problems with
JAPS?" asks a rather
well-known and not funny
at all piece of graffiti
in the University of
Michigan's Modern Langauge Build-
ing. "Call 1-800-JAPS. Kills JAPS
Dead!'
The problem is not particularly
new, however. Five years ago, for ex-
ample, the U-M's student newspaper's
Weekend magazine, published an
article on the "Jewish American
Princess" that many considered ir-
responsible, malicious and worse.
SUSAN LUDMER-GLIEBE
A group of students presented a
Special to The Jewish News
petition to the Michigan Student
Assembly urging an end to such
iresponsible journalism. Hillel took Syracuse Hillel to give a talk on JAPs. less stuff. Besides JAP jokes were fun-
more direct action — it discontinued He discovered that he didn't know ny, everybody knew that.
"Then the plot thickens," Spencer
its advertisement in the Daily for one much about the subject, and that lit-
says
with a hint of drama in his voice.
tle
research
had
been
done
on
it.
"So
year.
Spencer
would ask students what
I
began
talking
to
students;'
Spencer
has
since
changed
its
Daily
The
fraternities JAPs lived in, what bars
stance, having just recently written explains.
From his discussion with students they went to, where they lived off cam-
an editorial condemning the use of
he
learned
that almost everyone, Jew pus. And what he discovered was that
the term JAP and the Student As-
sembly recently passed a resolution to and non-Jew, "knew" what a JAP was people told him the same names over
and could describe her in great detail and over again and they were names
similar effect.
Enter Gary Spencer, professor of down to her oversize Benetton swea- of places with consistently large
sociology at Syracuse University, who ter, frosted pink lipstick and her but- Jewish populations, so-called JAP
has been touring the country giving terfly hair clip (referred to by many havens. Students, for example re-
ferred to an apartment complex
talks about the Jewish American as a JAP clip).
called Castle Court as a JAP apart-
But
the
JAP
look
was
only
one
Princess, more particularly about the
ment. They also referred to it as Cas-
part
of
the
equation.
"The
other
ele-
phenomenon known as JAP baiting.
He was in Ann Arbor recently, in a ment was her 'attitude'," says Spencer. tle Kibbutz. Spencer was finding that
presentation sponsored by B'nai "She was seen as a whining, materi- though most students denied an
ethnic component to the JAP refer-
alistic bitch!"
B'rith Hillel, and what he had to say
ence, it was there — in spades.
Most
students,
Spencer
points
out,
to the overflow crowd at the Univer-
And then there were the deni-
sity of Michigan was both "fasci- said nothing about ethnicity in refer-
grating
anti-JAP t-shirts, with
nating and frightening" as he termed ring to JAPs. Some informed him that
messages
like "Slap a JAP" or "JAP
it
wasn't
necessary
to
be
Jewish
to
be
it.
a JAP. It was even possible, according Buster!' There were anti-JAP zones
About a year and a half ago,
Spencer, who teaches classes on the to others, to be a male JAP. And of on and off the campus where a sup-
dynamics of prejudice and discrimina- course Jews called other Jews JAPs, posed JAP was not invited and knew
tion, was asked by the president of so how bad could it be? It was harm- not to go. There were anti-JAP posters

Baiting the 'Jewish American
Princess' goes from sexist, to violent,
to anti-Semitic, to annihilistic

all over dorms. There was the in-
famous JAP chant heard at Syracuse
basketball games. There were derog-
atory cartoons in the student news-
paper describing JAPs. And then
there was the increasingly ugly graf-
fiti found on campus.
"It (the graffiti) went from
denigrating, to sexist, to violent, to
anti-Semitic, to eventually annihilis-
tic:' Spencer says. Spencer said that
at the bottom of one set of particular-
ly noxious graffiti (e.g. "Kill All
Jews!') someone had written a graf-
fiti of his own that read, "I feel like
I'm in Germany!'
What did this all mean? Spencer
saw two things. The seemingly in-
nocuous JAP stereotyping was not
what it appeared. "It's traditional,
classic American anti-Semitism," says
Spencer. All the terms used to de-
scribe JAPs, Spencer explains, are
terms, that have been used, historical-
ly, by anti-Semites to describe Jews —
materialistic, whinning, nouveau
riche. "It fits like a glove," Spencer
says.
Why has this kind of deroga-
tory behavior surfaced now? Spencer
thinks the reason lies in the ethos of
the '80s; a period that has de-empha-
sized civil rights, that has downplayed
ethnic differences and diversity in the
United States; a period of consider-
able class tensions.
Spencer also saw the JAP phe-
nomenon as an example of confusion
within the Jewish community itself.
Many synagogue gift shops, for exam-
ple, stock "amusing" JAP merchan-
dise; and many Jews tell JAP jokes
themselves, about other Jews. Some
Jewish students he spoke to in small
colleges wanted to distance them-

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