Friday, December 8, 2017

Are we overreacting? Or do we really need to quit living with past hostilities?

There’s a site on Facebook I enjoy checking out from time to time called Original Chicago. Basically, it’s a place where long-time city residents (and others who no longer live here) can reminisce about the way things used to be.
The Maxwell Street of old, as memorialized in this pre-World War II postcard. Image provided by Chuckman's Chicago Nostalgia

Favorite roller rink? Is the novel, “The Devil in the White City” (set during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1892) accurate? Things like that.

BUT THINGS GOT a little more serious Thursday when the site’s administrator felt the need to post a critical note about people who referred to the old Maxwell Street district as “Jew Town.”

It’s a sign of “racial disrespect” that “will not be tolerated” at the site, the administrator wrote.

Which is an attitude I can respect because I often think it cowardly for website operators who refuse to control the content of their own sites – trying to claim that letting people randomly post their often stupid and ridiculous comments encourages free expression of thought.

Actually, it just encourages the idiots of our society to engage in bullying behavior. My own thought to people who want to make such rants is they ought to create their own sites (I’ll gladly offer them technical advice on how to do so). Although I suspect what they really want to do is undermine other peoples’ activity online.

BUT BACK TO “Jew Town,” which triggered an extensive series of responses from people who want to think the phrase has significant historic character to Chicago. Of course, most of them will go on to tell tales of all the stolen goods that wound up being resold there.

How dare we want to think it is wrong to use the phrase to describe a part of Chicago that once upon a time contained a heavy presence of people who were Jewish in religion and were the operators of the original businesses that existed in the area (which now is an upscale area by the University of Illinois at Chicago campus).

Some people literally are claiming that “Jew Town” is no different than “China Town” or any of the nicknames given in the past to enclaves of Polish immigrants (don’t forget Chicago used to brag there were more Poles, not Polacks, living here than in any city on Earth except Warsaw – the capital of Poland).

I don’t doubt that people in the past used “Jew” freely when referring to Jewish people, the same way that “Jap” used to be openly used when referring to Japanese.

THE LATTER ALSO is a slur that was meant to make those from the Asian island nation sound less than human – which I’m sure seemed right to those who came of age during the Second World War and wanted to forevermore think that Japanese people were worthy of derision.

But just as now we think it ridiculous whenever some old coot complains that we need to “Remember Pearl Harbor!” because they’re not willing to let go a war our government ended many decades ago (and rebuilt Japan in our own capitalist image), somehow, the idea of somebody thinking that “Jew Town” isn’t absurd is the real ridiculous notion.

The notion is that we need to let go our old obsessions and terminology that we used to justify them. It’s called advancing as a society. Even though some are going to complain it’s “political correctness run amok.”

The latter concept always struck me as being the thought process of old bigots who don’t want to be called out for the stupidity of their thoughts.
Is Chinatown similar to Maxwell Street in history, meaning?
SERIOUSLY, WHEN WAS the last time you ever heard anybody call a police squadrol a “Paddy wagon?” Even though I can recall that once was a commonly accepted term for the vehicle used to haul large loads of arrestees (a batch of drunken Irish?) from a crime scene – or take corpses to the morgue.

It’s time for some people to get with the program. Jewish people are “Jewish,” and “Jew” is only used by people who feel the need to think derogatory thoughts. Consider the dictionaries that give an alternate definition for “Jew” as “someone tight with their money or not very generous.”

Who still uses the old slur?
That certainly doesn’t sound like somebody trying to think seriously about an issue. It sounds like pure religious-motivated bile to me, which ought to be further reason to dump “Jew Town” from our city’s lingo. It’s embarrassing to our civic memory, and it’s not like people using the term now are trying to illustrate how absurd we used to be.

Better to get back to debates such as the man who asked Original Chicago readers what to do about the girlfriend who persists in putting ketchup on her hot dogs. Largely because I don’t put ketchup on anything, I say, “Dump her!”


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