Yay for stereotypes!
Life In Pieces is a total sleeper show that many folks have not heard of...but this Jewish girl (me, I'm talking about me!) has, and is living for its sarcastic, straight to the point, holds no punches character, "Jewish Jen." You know when you get to one of those grown-up dinner parties and you realize you just don't have it in you to make small talk but you suck it up and just get through it? Well guess who refuses to participate in the boring small talk? Yep, Jewish Jen. What about when your husband's brother's fiance asks you to go wedding dress shopping and after an hour you get bored and politely make up an emergency that requires you to leave immediately? Guess who doesn't make up an excuse but simply explains clearly how mind-numbingly bored she is, and let's you know she is done, finito, leaving. Yep...Jewish Jen.
The best part about this character is that as a fellow Jew, I love how the audience is inspired by her honesty, rather than completely offended by it. This show is able to capitalize on positive Jewish stereotypes, ones that I am proud to be associated with (taking initiative, problem-solving, direct communication, establishing clear expectations, setting limits, etc…) rather than anti-semitic ones (being cheap, overly aggressive, shallow, vein, etc…). Yay for stereotypes!
In a world where stereotype is a bad word, we are rarely able to enjoy the benefits of identifying with a stereotype. If you are a member of any minority you know that stereotypes often serve as useful humor, sometimes based on truth, making you feel connected and intimate with others of your same background. Let me caution I am obviously not saying to start opening your mouth and making ethnic stereotypes about groups you are not a part of. NON-JEWS...YOU STILL CAN'T MAKE JEWISH JOKES, just like I can't (and have no desire to) make Asian jokes. BUT...of course we all love when one of "us" portrays "us" humorously in a safe and loving way. It's why white girls love Amy Schumer and divorced dads loved Louis C.K… until he "failed them" of course...but you get it.
Sometimes we do have things in common, both good and bad with our respective group and its freaking funny to talk about them. Jewish Jen reminds me that my assertiveness is not a coincidence and when I go out with all my non-Jewish girlfriends and one of them is served a rare hamburger when they asked for well-done, I have no problem sending it back. It's also the same reason that when I notice someone being mistreated in a classroom, boardroom, or even a social event, I say something, disrupt the injustice, put my neck out. I consider it an obligation to stick up for people without a voice, for people who receive less privilege. As a Jew, I likely wouldn't be here had no one stuck their neck out for "my people" at various points in history.
We may be 70-plus years past the Holocaust and legal anti-semitism, but Jews still know what it's like to be left out, to be unwelcome, and to be in rooms of people we know hate us and feel genuinely different about us because we are Jews. They feel this way because many aspects of us are different, mostly because even if we are not dressed a certain way, even if we don't eat a certain way, once we are "found out" to be Jewish, we are regarded differently. People still come up to us and ask about "our thoughts on Israel" (even if we have no opinion on it), touch our curls and ask curiously "what are you?," and no matter how many times I tell people that I eat pork, feel the need to ask me if they can serve it at their BBQ when I come to their home.
All of these things have been asked of me just in the past several years, by people I know and love. All of these questions are completely fine, and I answer them all politely. However, of course, anytime I am asked these questions, particularly by people who have known me for years, they are reminding me that my "Jewishness" is on their mind. I might be thinking about my period, or where my partner and I want to go camping next weekend, or if there will be enough healthy vegetables available at the dinner we are headed to and BAM. I get a Jew question where I am reminded, it's 2018, I live in Portland, Oregon, and I am around people everyday that only know one Jew…me, "Jewish Rachel." And yes, every minority deals with this.
So yes, I love "Jewish Jen" because she reminds me that I am not crazy, that so many people still pretend to not see ethnicity, or race, yet accidentally remind you that that is all that they see...at least at times. Jewish Jen acknowledges that yes, there are some stereotypes about some Jews and that's OK...naming them can be fun, particularly the positive ones that Jewish characters demonstrate. I think it's even harder to try and come up with positive stereotypes, making the humor that much more impressive.
I don't want to live in a world that "doesn't see color," or even doesn't notice my big Jewish nose...I love that my nose makes me different and I love that I am part of a 5,000-year-old ethnic group with strange and beautiful rituals, some I partake in and many that I don't. You don't need you to pretend that I am not Jewish, or that I am the same as you, I don't want to be the same as you… but as Pat Parker says, "The first thing you must do is forget that I'm Black. Second you must never forget that I'm Black." Insert any minority here and you will be able to Keep It Real.
By Rachel Hall, Rachel has a Masters in Cultural Gender Studies, and a BA in Communication & Culture, and works with all kinds of people to improve their ability to work with all kinds of people. She can often be found hiding in her laundry room from her two children. More about her on her website.