When I first came across the acronym ‘JAP’, I couldn’t quite picture what it denoted. Something video recorder-technology related maybe? A cross-breed between ‘Japanese’ and ‘chap’ to refer to one’s chums from the country of the rising sun?
Some reading, a few third-party accounts and a few personal encounters later, I’d come to the conclusion that ‘JAP’ referred to something you’d decidedly not look for in Europe. The image that was forming in my mind was that of a somewhat pretentious, somewhat ignorant, somewhat uneducated, somewhat spoilt, somewhat ill-mannered, somewhat self-centred female adolescent or young adult with way too much time on her hands, with the best degree money could possibly buy in a field that nobody would ever expect one to work in, with too much credit on cards she’d neither ever had worked nor planned on working a day in her life for and that she would impatiently wave about at checkout counters, with a voice that would make others’ toenails curl up, with a standardized nose, with allegedly expensive tastes, and with so much straightening balm in her hair that it wouldn’t move by an inch even in a hurricane. Yet, in her own ways, she’d be loveable.
So what happened was that I created a stereotype, a flat character that would be of use in sorting out what kinds of people I was going to be told about and I was going to deal with. Prejudices, to some degree, help us “tidying up” our environment as, based on our experiences and experiences shared by others, we categorize people to make life simpler for ourselves. Comedy and satire thrive on stereotypes (the queer, the Latina, the matriarch, the hipster etc.) and anybody familiar with drama knows that flat characters appear without any further introduction throughout plays as their personality traits are supposedly commonly known. Stereotypes can lead to negative bias though. For instance, a couple of years ago I was getting comfortable in my seat on a connecting flight from Copenhagen to Frankfurt when the captain went on the intercom to greet the passengers. To my utter shock, I heard a woman’s voice, and the first thing I thought was, “Oh [expletive], hope we’ll make it alive!” (Oddly enough, I ride motorbikes myself.)
Back to the JAP theme, the other day, the greatly beloved OverheardinNewYork site featured the following entry:
Shouldn’t Have Laughed So Hard at the Poor People
JAP halting mid-stride: Wait a sec… Why are my pants wet?!
–82nd & 2nd
Overheard by: my boyfriend is a grizzly bear
Headline by: John
The quoted line as such is nothing too spectacular; there are many seriously hilarious one-liners and dialogues at Overheard. The headline and two of the runners-up lines that were suggested are a tad disturbing though. To give their respective authors the benefit of the doubt, they possibly alluded to that line and the person that had originally said it what was part of their JAP stereotype. On the other hand, I could as well not give those authors the benefit of the doubt and claim common anti-Semitic prejudices and tendencies there. Also, I found it alarming that anybody would suggest that JAPpy girls laugh at poor people. I shan’t explain at length now why it’s not o.k. to laugh at poor people just as little as it is o.k. to claim that Jews are inevitably rich or into money. At a world population of more than 6.5 billion people the chances of being who you are are lower than 1:6,500,000,000, your chances of being Asian are about 60%, and your chances of being Northern American are about 8%. You can only be proud of something you have achieved yourself. To be born into a culture, a civilization, a citizenship or a social class is random. Even if you believe in divine providence, you don’t really have much of an influence on what parents you get born to. If those parents you’re born to can afford and decide to spoil you, that’s their thing. Others might not be so lucky. But neither group should therefore be the respective other’s laughing stock. When we point our forefinger at other people, three fingers point back at us. (cf. Lev 19,34)
In that spirit (and since I’m not too confident I’ll post anything tomorrow), I’d like to wish everybody a happy, healthy, successful and overall wonderful New Year 2008. (For those on the dating scene, 2008 is a leap year, which traditionally means that the ladies do the courting and proposing. Enjoy either way.)