Is "New Yorker" a euphemism for Jew?
December 20, 2010 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Is "New Yorker" a euphemism for Jew? Bonus question: Help me define Antisemitism in the workplace.

I heard someone complaining about "New Yorkers" and realized that the person being discussed is not necessarily from New York, but has a traditionally Jewish name.

There have been other red flags. I need some help defining Antisemitism. Sites, esp. w/ legal definition or objective description, would help.
posted by Mom to Work & Money (51 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: Hm. I was raised in a neighborhood with tons of Jewish people, and I was also raised in New York, about 30 minutes from the city. Then I lived in Michigan, and then Texas, and while I've heard weird things said about Jewish folks, I've never heard "New Yorker" = "Jewish". Doesn't mean somebody isn't doing that, though I have no idea why.
posted by bitterkitten at 8:02 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


...I hope "New Yorker" isn't 'slang' for Jew. I know lots of New Yorkers, most of them not necessarily Jewish. Depending on the context, though, "New Yorker" might be shorthand for: "a straight-forward, rudely blunt and aggressive individual". At least, that's how I use it. At times, my friends call me a New Yorker, and they certainly don't mean that I'm a Jew.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 8:05 AM on December 20, 2010


Best answer: I've heard "New Yorker" = "Jewish" before. In fact, I've heard "Jew York" before.
posted by Jairus at 8:05 AM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Nah, more like "East Coast Liberal Elite", 50 years ago this meant a WASP but in practice today it can include Catholics and Jews and tends to cover well-educated, upwardly-mobile, late-marrying, late-having-kids, perceived "snobs".
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:05 AM on December 20, 2010


Best answer: I've never heard that personally, but there's a line in the West Wing pilot about that. I found a link to it here.
posted by cider at 8:06 AM on December 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


Best answer: In the south I heard this often to describe a "pushy" Ask-Culture-ish kind of person, not as an anti-Semitic remark.
posted by travertina at 8:07 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here in the South, "New Yorkers" might mean "dirty liberals" and/or "jews". Really depend on the context.
posted by nomadicink at 8:07 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Only if the person saying it has never actually been to New York.
posted by empath at 8:08 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm from the Deep South, and whenever I've heard "New Yorker" it's been to refer to the kind of person LOLAttorney2009 was describing--someone brash, blunt, aggressive and to-the-point. Perhaps only a couple of those cases the person was Jewish as well, but most of the time not. (More often in my community, it was used to describe females who were from NY and didn't exhibit typical Southern female behavior.)
posted by Dukat at 8:08 AM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


No. but "upper west side elite" the way O'reilly uses it means jew.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:10 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Best answer: I'm from the south, and yes, "New Yorker" or "New York Interests" is a term for Jews because, you know, everyone in New York is Jewish.
posted by dortmunder at 8:10 AM on December 20, 2010


Best answer: There was one moment in the West Wing pilot, when Toby (Jewish) and Josh (Jewish, from Connecticut), are meeting with Christian lobbyists, who complain about their "New York sense of humour." When Josh protests that he's not from New York, Toby replies "She meant Jewish. When she said New York sense of humor, she was talking about you and me." The only writing credit on the pilot is Sorkin, and he's Jewish, so I think that might be him writing from his life.

I think it's likely, a sort of shorthand for the "New York Jews" who anti-semites claim run America. That said, New Yorker is shorthard for a lot of things, like brash behaviour (above).
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:11 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Best answer: cider: "I've never heard that personally, but there's a line in the West Wing pilot about that. I found a link to it here"

That was the first thing I thought of too. Here's the scene on Youtube.
posted by Perplexity at 8:11 AM on December 20, 2010


Best answer: Yes, in some circles. I have definitely heard this, of course in parts of the country where there aren't a lot of New Yorkers or Jews.

It's a kind of associative code, used to subtly draw attention to the idea of Jewishness, in the same way that referring to Obama as a "community organizer" was used to draw attention to his urban-ness and therefore blackness.
posted by medusa at 8:11 AM on December 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


Best answer: Yup, it can mean this, much like "urban" is often just "polite" code for black.
posted by inturnaround at 8:15 AM on December 20, 2010


I remember a friend who does occasional work as an extra saying that casting people use "New York look" to mean "Jewish-looking". She's neither Jewish nor from New York but has that "New York look".
posted by mskyle at 8:19 AM on December 20, 2010


Maybe not 100% what you're looking for, but if you're looking for examples of slurs equating "Jews" with "New York", don't forget "hymietown".
posted by ManInSuit at 8:19 AM on December 20, 2010


I thought of The West Wing, too, and I wasted a bunch of time typing out the bit of that script before previewing!
  MARY MARSH: You people... that New York sense of humor it always --
  CALDWELL: Mary, there's absolutely no need --
  MARY MARSH: Please, Reverend, they think it's smart -- smart talk -- but nobody else does.
  JOSH: I'm actually from Connecticut. 
  TOBY: Yeah, but she meant Jewish

A stunned silence.  Everyone stares at Toby.

  TOBY: When she said 'You people and your New York sense of humor,' she was talking about me and you, Josh.
  JOSH: You know what, Toby, let's just not even go there.

posted by JohnFredra at 8:21 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some time ago (80's I think) there was some movie with a line, "You must be from New York! You're very rude!". Decades past, different ideas. I remember my partner, a New Yorker, just about died laughing. See, New Yorkers can be proud about being "straight-forward and blunt".
posted by Goofyy at 8:23 AM on December 20, 2010


Native New Yorker and Jew here: "New Yorker" is not synonymous with "Jew", though many Jews are New Yorkers and a sizeable minority of New Yorkers are Jews.
posted by dfriedman at 8:24 AM on December 20, 2010


Best answer: Yes, it is.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 8:25 AM on December 20, 2010


Can you provide more context? Are you asking whether semi-veiled complaints about Jews in the workplace are anti-Semitic, or whether they're actionable, or... I think you have a specific question somewhere in here.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:28 AM on December 20, 2010


The signifier in the above West Wing passage, to me, is the expression "you people". Almost anything can be a racist/homophobic/anti-semitic/xenophobic remark when used in a sentence with "you people". For example, "you people with your pride parades and your Lilith Fair" is a slur against gay people, even if "pride parade" and "Lilith Fair" aren't offensive slurs in and of themselves.

Also, to me it's really all about how it's used. When people intend to be bigoted, they tend to use a certain inflection. So words that could be neutral in other contexts suddenly sound dirty. For instance if the conversation you heard was something like, "That Rosenberg and his politically correct holidays. You know those New Yorkers...", then I'd say that's definitely anti-semitic language even though it doesn't contain a racial slur per se. While, "Rosenberg from the L.A. office sent wine and Omaha Steaks for the holidays! New Yorkers sure do know how to celebrate, don't they?" would be weird, but clearly not intended as bigotry.
posted by Sara C. at 8:31 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Sure is. As a native southerner and Jew, I can confirm that this is a kind of code used by folks outside the northeast US to refer to Jews and (less commonly) Italians. Additional twist: Jews from outside NY often use NY-style speech patterns, accents, and/or phraseology, in addition to watching Seinfeld and eating bagels and lox. This leads other folks, possibly from the south, midwest or west, to further mix together the labels "New York" and "Jewish."
posted by charlesv at 8:32 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Best answer: Nth-ing yes it can be, in certain contexts. I remember a college professor of mine telling a story about how her husband, a lawyer, couldn't go work on a case in another state - I forget which - because he would be considered "too New York" there. Of course the lawyers they sent were also from New York, it was a New York firm. They just couldn't send Jews.

I think it's going to be hard to prove this, though, if that's what you're trying to do. Unless this person is also using straight-up ethnic slurs or demonstrably discriminating against people. Anti-semitism is a tricky thing, so many anti-semetic phrases are easily explained otherwise, and so many people just repeat common anti-semetic phrases or ideas without even knowing what they're saying, because they hear others use them. I'd love to know what the other red flags are, if you can say.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:33 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: whether semi-veiled complaints about Jews in the workplace are anti-Semitic, or whether they're actionable

Yes. There was another conversation that was more specific about Jews. I'm trying to understand if there's a document-able pattern. I'm personally convinced that the person is Antisemitic, and that the comments are intended to convey that, and that the person is trying to stay on the acceptable side of the workplace intolerance line, while still being intolerant. But I want to be fair and effective, so I'm trying to check it out thoroughly.
posted by Mom at 8:34 AM on December 20, 2010


Not sure what your company policy is, or where you stand in the situation (offended party, supervisor noticing trouble, outside observer), but my company has a policy that if a person perceives harassment they should talk to their supervisor about it. Regardless if certain words are used, or the harassment ramps up to a certain level, or whatever. It's about the ability of employees to be comfortable at work, not about a checklist of terms to be avoided. So if someone was offended by this behavior, it could potentially constitute harassment even if no notorious slur was used.
posted by Sara C. at 8:39 AM on December 20, 2010


Best answer: Native New Yorker and Jew here: "New Yorker" is not synonymous with "Jew", though many Jews are New Yorkers and a sizeable minority of New Yorkers are Jews.

Well, of course.

But yes, I have heard people say "New Yorker" as code for "Jew". Standard bigot's plausible deniability move.
posted by gaspode at 8:40 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm from LA and it never meant "Jewish." A quarter of my family consists of New York Jews, though, and most of my grandparents' Spanish Civil War friends had NYC connections. People usually meant something like "people who don't have cars, think a $12 burger is a bargain, and scowl at you on the sidewalk."

That West Wing scene was about her whole attitude, not just the words.
posted by SMPA at 8:40 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think this is the kind of stuff, unfortunately that's defined by "know it when you see it". Of course, "New Yorker" doesn't =Jew. Except when it's a codeword and it does. And how do you know when it's used that way? That's where we get that Justice Stewart line about obscenity to begin with [the hard to pin down, but totally knowing it when it's in front of you]. Context, the history of the person saying it, who that person is speaking to-all of that helps you to determine whether someone is using a word as the typical standard definition, or with some in-group codeworded definition.
Regarding citations and the law, though, can you be more specific about what you're looking for? Employment law? Because generally, you're not going to find some awesome outlined definition of anti-semitism with, say, four elements that must be met.
What you WILL find, depending on the state, or Title VII or whatever federal provision you're attempting to file under are statutes that allow you to sue as a member of a protected class who was denied [something] or harmed, based upon [x where x is gender, race, religion, etc, etc] discrimination. And you'll have to prove that happened.
So, then you'd, for example, have to prove that "New Yorker" really was a code-word, and that you were harmed by it.
[Humorously, to me, the fast and dirty research I threw into Westlaw threw back at me the libel cases where one accuses someone of being racist/anti-Semitic and then gets sued. Because, you know, once you make racist statements and someone calls you on them, the next step is file a lawsuit for libel.]
posted by atomicstone at 8:48 AM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Jewish New Yorker here. Yes, these two are often conflated, and I've heard many veiled comments in my life time, especially when I went to college in the South for a year. I think that one of the reasons this is done is that the negative stereotypes about Jews and about New Yorkers are very similar: They're rude, loud, obnoxious, pushy, greedy, and think they're intellectuals. I've been aware for a long time that when people complain about someone being "so New York," sometimes they mean Jewish. Not always--maybe not even half of the time--but more often than I'd like, absolutely.
posted by pineappleheart at 8:55 AM on December 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Best answer: OP was looking for sites, definitions, etc. Here's one:

"Other groups have since become as numerous, but the near equation of living in the City and being Jewish is still strong in the popular mind. The terms New Yorker and city type, at least a few years ago, were codewords for Jews"
- Unkind words: ethnic labeling from Redskin to WASP, Irving L. Allen, Bergin & Garvey, 1990
posted by ManInSuit at 9:00 AM on December 20, 2010


In my experience, in the upper east coast of the US "New Yorker" is code for "Asshole with a superiority complex." YMMV elsewhere.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:35 AM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


As to the bonus question: How are you going to nail down antisemitism any better than any other form of racial or cultural bigotry can be described? I've seen legal definitions and policies as to what will not be allowed in the workplace, and they concisely define what you're not supposed to do, but the devil is always in the details of saying "yep, that's it" when it actually happens. Did I not invite Abe to the office party because he's jewish, or because I only invited the people in my immediate staff? Has Abe been kept out of my immediate staff because he's jewish? Did I define the invite list as only my immediate staff in order to exclude Abe? Did I invite Abe, but in having an office party that he felt uncomfortable attending because it seems to be a Christmas party, regardless of how I described it, have I created an unfair situation to Abe because a lot of associations get made at the party? In naming this mythical Jewish co-worker "Abe," have I inadvertantly triggered or played on some negative stereotype?
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:40 AM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you're interested, the ADL's Anti-Semitism page is probably worth poking around.
posted by semacd at 9:50 AM on December 20, 2010


Best answer: Jewish New Yorker here, who has, in all honesty, been called a "New York Jew" as an insult.

The tricky thing about the New Yorker/Jew connection is that, more often than not, when people complain about "New Yorkers" in a way that has antisemitic undertones, they're not thinking "Hmmm, I want to complain about Jews right now, but someone will get on my case about it. Oh, I know! I'll use 'New Yorker' as a code word for 'Jew' and that will give me plausible deniability!" Rather, the "New Yorker" stereotype consists of a bunch of (negatively-cast) attributes that hang together, and to invoke one is to implicitly invoke the others. There's a sort of "Real America" vs. "New York" binary in some Americans' minds that goes something like this:

Real America : New York
Rural/Suburban : Urban
White : "Ethnic"
Polite : Rude
Working class : Upper class
Populist : Elitist
Patient : Impatient
Quiet : Loud
Relaxed : Uptight
Caring about people : Caring about money
Good, God-fearing Christians : Jews

So you can see that "Jewish" is just one of many attributes stereotypically associated with New Yorkers (not because New Yorkers are all Jews (duh), but because New York has a considerably higher population of Jews than anywhere else in the country). And the negativity of the New Yorker stereotype and anti-semitism sort of rub off on each other such that they seem to justify one another; New Yorkers are bad in part because they are offensively Jewish, and Jews are bad in part because they're offensively New Yorker-y. The stereotype is like a black hole of circular logic. (I might also add that I think the negative stereotypes associated with New Yorkers partly come from stereotypes about the Jewish immigrants who "took over" NYC in the early 1900s.)

So, I would argue that people who complain about "New Yorkers" in a certain way are drawing on a framework that is implicitly based on anti-semitism -- but does this make them anti-semitic? Probably not in a way that is legally actionable. Probably not even in a way that can be confronted and reasoned with.
posted by pluckemin at 9:54 AM on December 20, 2010 [16 favorites]


Nthing everyone who said it can be, depending on context, which unfortunately makes it difficult to verifiably point to as a clear, bright example of anti-semitism.

But I feel like you might be waiting a long time if you're trying to build an unambiguous case against your coworker. Why can't you send an email to HR saying "Look, Dave made a comment calling Steve 'a typical New Yorker', and while I'm not 100% sure what he meant by it, I think it's something that could get taken the wrong way, especially if clients/upper management heard it." If you have other, similarly questionable comments, throw them in. It's their job to tell obnoxious people to knock off bad behavior, it's their job to gather evidence of harassment, and they are likely better equipped to do both than you are.
posted by kagredon at 10:31 AM on December 20, 2010


Best answer: I have heard people using "New Yorker" as a euphemism for "Jew", yes. I am 46, have lived all my life in the Northeastern US, and the people I have heard using it in that manner were also from the Northeastern US.

Now what?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:48 AM on December 20, 2010


My maiden name is recognizably Jewish - when I moved South I recall more than one person at my first job asking me if I was "from New York." I always thought - "now why would they ask me that? I don't have an accent...." Then I got it.
posted by pinky at 10:55 AM on December 20, 2010


In general, the further away you are from New York, the more likely this is to be true. Additionally, if a previous pattern of anti-Semitism is established, this is more likely to be true. We're also in the middle of "war on Christmas" season, where some Americans can get real territorial as religion goes, making this more likely.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:18 AM on December 20, 2010


Best answer: I just wanted to defend the midwest a bit by saying that I have lived in Wyoming for most of my life and have never heard "New Yorker" used as a synonym for "Jew".
posted by Lobster Garden at 11:31 AM on December 20, 2010


Depending on the context, though, "New Yorker" might be shorthand for: "a straight-forward, rudely blunt and aggressive individual".

In my experience, in the upper east coast of the US "New Yorker" is code for "Asshole with a superiority complex."


I'm from Maine and this is also my experience. ("Masshole" also gets a lot of use to describe "pushy rich jerks from away".) I've never heard it used as a code for "Jewish", though.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:50 AM on December 20, 2010


I am a new yorker and a long islander and i am not jewish.

Its the accent that usually people associate as a new yorker.

My accent is not as strong as most peoples but i still have a slight brooklyn accent.

Nobody ever called me a new yorker and thought I was jewish.
posted by majortom1981 at 12:11 PM on December 20, 2010


See Survey of American Jewish Language and Identity, specifically page 8, for more on the New York / Jewish language connection.
posted by charlesv at 12:22 PM on December 20, 2010


In the worldview of a certain kind of small-minded person, the following analogy holds:

New York : Jew :: San Francisco : Gay
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:54 PM on December 20, 2010


In some contexts it could be, but there are many instances in which it's not. If that's all you've got, I would not assume it's anti-semitism.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:48 PM on December 20, 2010


Best answer: Yes, definitely. It's a euphemism used by people who are sophisticated enough to know that overt anti-Semitism is unwise, and who probably don't have a deep-seated religous antipathy to Jews as such ... but nevertheless just don't feel culturally comfortable with Jews, and would prefer to avoid them when possible. In other words, not "Christ-killing New Yorkers" but "maybe you don't want to vacation at that resort, it can get pretty New York around the holidays." Same kind of people who will happily have a Jewish cardiologist but not want one for a golfing partner.
posted by MattD at 1:59 PM on December 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


"maybe you don't want to vacation at that resort, it can get pretty New York around the holidays."

This reminds me a little of a line from an early Mad Men episode. The housewives are sitting around, and someone is recounting a family vacation to Boca Raton. I forget the exact phrasing, but the upshot was, "And I just looked around, and EVERYONE was, well, you know... All I can say is that we stuck out like a sore thumb." Or another episode where Betty, after having her marriage called into question by Jimmy Barrett, spits some sort of "You people always have to be so aggressive" comeback at him.

Of course, the show depicts behavior that would have been common in the early 60's, so I'm not sure exactly how many people still talk this way or what. But it definitely outlines the way that someone can say something anti-semitic without actually using a slur.
posted by Sara C. at 2:12 PM on December 20, 2010


New Yorker here, liberal Italian Catholic, for what it worth. Anyway, yes, New Yorker does carry the connotation of being a liberal Jew among certain groups. Kind of an odd code word among some anti-Semites and anti-liberals. When ever I hear a conservative complaining about New York liberals, I hear it as an anti-Semitic slur.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 2:22 PM on December 20, 2010


Best answer: I'm a New York Jew with a decidedly non-Jewish surname who gets treated to a whole bunch of casual anti-Semitism from people who don't realize my ethnicity, and for the record I've heard "New Yorker" or "New York-y" used as a pejorative for Jew in every part of the US.

Atomicstone is correct: "I think this is the kind of stuff, unfortunately that's defined by "know it when you see it". Of course, "New Yorker" doesn't =Jew. Except when it's a codeword and it does."
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:40 PM on December 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: I think I do "know it when you see it," but that doesn't work in an environment where I must document things and prove behavior. Which is usually a way of ensuring fairness, but doesn't deal with subtlety. Yes, I think it was intended as Antisemitic code. But it seems that it's not well enough established to be actionable.

Thank you all for very interesting comments.
posted by Mom at 6:21 PM on December 20, 2010


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