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Tuesday
Apr052005

It's all in the genes.

The most interesting thing about genealogy is finding out that you are related to a bunch of weirdos.  I’ve found a few doozies in my history, and I’m not even checking that in-depth.  But sometimes, you find things you’re proud of, but that you never expected.  Sometimes, you find out things you never knew about yourself and your friends, too.

For instance, I’ve been working for my boss for about 7 years.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but generally, I like her pretty well.  We get along and we consider each other friends outside of work.  Last Monday, I was working with her, and I discovered that I didn’t know myself, or her, as well as I thought I did. 

We were talking.  She mentioned a guy who was trying to buy something from her.  She said “…then, he tried to Jew me on the price.” 

I wasn’t prepared for this.  I’ve never heard her say anything like that before.  I couldn’t even breathe.  I was angry.  And I was hurt.

I have always considered that I am actively against racism, and when I hear something that offends me, I’m one of those people who says “Hey.  Don’t talk like that.  It’s rude, and it’s not true anyway, and you’re a jerk for saying it.”  It’s easy to stick up for others.  And you always think you have empathy for the group being slurred.  “I wouldn’t want anyone to talk about me that way.  So I’ll stick up for others when people talk that way about them.”  You imagine that you know how it feels to be the one being slurred.  Or at least I did.  But when my boss said “he tried to Jew me on the price.”  I was prepared for anger and annoyance.  I was not prepared to be stricken dumb with shock, to be so angry that all the energy in my body coalesced into a white-hot ball of fire in the pit of my stomach, ready to explode and kill the person in front of me.  Honestly, the only thing that made me NOT swing back my arm and knock her teeth down her throat is the fact that she’s pregnant, and her poor kid shouldn’t suffer an irrational attack by a crazy jew.

Because, that’s the difference this time.  Doing my genealogy, I found out that my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother was a Canadian-born Jew of German parents.  Typing that line, I’m reminded of the line in the film “Go” where one character says “My mother’s mother’s mother was black” and the African American sitting next to him says “Man, if you were any more white, you’d be clear.”  Except in my case, it’s a little more in-depth.  Because Jewishness is counted matrilineally.  So if my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother was a Jew, then her daughter was a Jew, and HER daughter was a Jew, and that makes HER daughter, my grandmother, a Jew, and makes my mother a Jew and makes my sister and I, and my sister’s kids, and any kids I might have someday Jews. 

It’s different when it’s you.  And I’m ashamed of myself, because I said nothing.  And that’s what makes racism continue. 

So I’m proud of being part Jew, or all Jew, or whatever.  It’s interesting.  And suddenly, I feel tapped into this vast cultural heritage, which I probably have no right to feel tapped into, but which I’m exploring nonetheless.  I’m not proud to be descended from some of the other people I’ve found, some of whom were worse than racists. 

This one ancestor of mine, Thomas Mattingly, willed his daughter, my something-great grandmother, the following items:  “My large teak seachest, my negro boy Robert, and two hogs.”  Right there.  A PERSON, right there, willed to his daughter, between the furniture and the livestock.  So what can I do?  Can I take the good and leave the bad?  Can I take the heroes, and forget the fiends? 

No.

I have to take it all.  I have to recognize that I am all of these things, and none of them.  I have to realize that I’m me, and I’m a person who says what she thinks, and tells people when they’re being racists, or sexists, or whatever else they might be doing that I don’t agree with.  And I sign this post: 

Angry Jew.

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