Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Jewish People Are So Smart

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One of my friends is a teacher at an expensive Los Angeles private school.  He is also one of the few black faces at the school.  This has never been a problem for him.  He has never faced racism or anything like that at the school.  This school is very liberal in orientation.  In fact, its curriculum is based on teaching the students about diversity (even though there isn’t much of it in the student body).  Still, my friend always has amusing stories about how even the most liberal of liberal parents sometimes can’t get over the color of his skin.  If anything, he is treated nicer because of his color, just so parents can tell themselves that they have no problem with him being black. 

During the Michael Jackson trial, some parents and teachers always made sure they were careful about what they said.  Whenever my friend was in earshot, they were sure to say that "all the evidence isn’t there yet," just in case he would feel as if one of his "brothers" was being attacked — as if most African-Americans didn’t think Michael Jackson was a nut job also.

When the school decided to do a special assembly program on Martin Luther King, all eyes turned to my friend, waiting for his approval and opinion, as if he had some purer psychic connection to Dr. King than the several older white teachers who had actually marched during the 60’s.  My friend tried to remind them that during the 60’s, he was mostly a kid watching "The Brady Bunch" on TV.

Although we laugh about this, I’m not saying this kid gloves approach is necessarily bad. Most of these parents and teachers are well-meaning in wanting to show respect for "the outsider."  It certainly is better than old-time discrimination.    But not all minority members want to be spokespeople for their "people."

I’ve heard of this sort of over-politeness occurring with other ethnic groups.  One Chinese-American friend (born in Seattle) says that whenever she goes out to a Chinese restaurant with co-workers, everyone turns to her to make sure she approves of their orders.  No one dares order something as "unauthentic" as Chow Mein, which might hurt her ethnic sensibilities.

Again, I’m not one of those people out to knock "political-correctness."  It just never really happened to me… until last week. 

Sophia was invited to dinner at a client’s house in Orange County, and I accompanied her.  During the dinner conversation, attention turned to Sophia and the fact that she was from Russia.  This happens all the time when we meet new people, and I know the dialogue by heart.  After you’ve been married a while, you know exactly what the spouse is going to say in every social encounter. 

When did you leave Russia?  Blah blah blah.  What was it like?  Blah blah blah.  What do you think of the current situation in Russia?

Sophia hates this last question.  I always have to kick her under the table to remind her not to be rude.  In so many ways, she is more American than I am.  She’s been out of Russia for years, left as a teenager, and hates it when she is thought of as the one with a hand on Putin’s pulse.  She doesn’t even like most Russians that much.

Then the conversations turned to Sophia and I being Jewish.  Having mostly lived in New York and Los Angeles, most non-Jews I know can name every minor Jewish holiday by heart.  I know for a fact that there are plenty of Jews in Orange County.  I just think this couple had never met one.

"Jewish people are so smart." 

"One of my co-workers is Jewish.  And he’s the smartest one of the company." 

Now I know that it is common knowledge that Jews are smart.  There’s even been a recent controversial paper published by the Journal of Ashkenazi Intelligence stating that genetic selection in the old country created a Jewish people with an extremely high IQ.  There’s no doubt that this tiny minority group produces a large number of doctors, lawyers, professors, and Nobel Prize winners.  Jewish people are proud of this.  But let’s be honest.  There are a lot of really really stupid Jewish people.  And Japanese people.  And I’m sure there are even Indian kids that would never make it past the first round of a spelling bee.

So, here I was, sitting at this Orange County couple’s dinner table, being told how smart and wonderful my "people" were.   I made some stupid comment about them having never met my family.

"Then I’d like to see if you have the same opinion," I said.

The Orange County wife laughed and said that Jews are always so funny, too — like "that Seinfeld guy."

From now on, if you ever see me talking with a Japanese woman and asking her if she owns a kimono, please bop me in the head.

UPDATE 10/05 — New York Magazine tries to sell some magazines with this Are Jews Smarter? topic.

61 Comments

  1. Yeah, well maybe there’s variety among Jews… But *all* half-Armenian girls are smart as hell! Hmmph.

  2. Not so long ago I was told that all the Jews are going to hell. I was pleased to tell her that I couldn’t think of a place populated with funnier and or smarter people and that within two generations there would be a waitlist to get in.

    Woohoo.

  3. Maybe they were being so nice because they heard about the “Zionist Conspiracy” and the fact that we control all of the money in the world. (they are probably trying to refinance their home.)All I know is that though I am Ashkenazi, half my family is stupid as hell. (the other half of course)

  4. Heh. I love it when people want to show that they’re not racist, antisemitic, homophobic… Fun fun fun.

  5. I know exactly what you mean. I get this all the time from the few non-ScotIrisEngGerPolJewMerNdian friends I socialize with. It’s not like *all* ScotIrisEngGerPolJewMerNdians are supermodel nuclear physicists, but I’m happy to do what I can to make my race look good.

  6. exactly what is wrong with your family?

  7. Living in Atlanta I am in the heart of what most in the country consider to be a racist place. Of course, there are still many elements of racism, but I could argue not more than most other places. In the progressive areas of the South, like Atlanta, we are very sensitive to racial issues and in many ways have done more to correct the problem that we know exist than other places that try to act like it doesn’t. It is easy for other to pretend like they don’t have racist thoughts and to stick it all on the South. At least here we face it head on. Interesting post.

  8. Mom, I meant Dad’s side of the family.

  9. aw, don’t be mad, neil. i’ll send you a kangaroo from my backyard, ‘k?

  10. I read the IQ paper published by the Utah group (why is it always Utah?!). Anyway, the conclusion is actually that Ashkenazi Jews have superior IQs provided they don’t work in the entertainment industry. Apparently this was true in the Old World as well, where Lithuanian comedy clubs were especially tough and selection took place the Old World Way (OWW) — hence the expression “kill or be killed.”

  11. Since i’m also a Russian emmigrant i get the same reaction as Sophia. I actually hate the over-politness, there is something to be said about people bending over backwards to seem “open minded” and politically correct. The overly p.c. people offend me just as much as ignorant fools, to some degree they are doing the same thing. Judging people on one or two charecterisitcs that have very little to do with the real person.

  12. Funny… When ppl learn I’m Cuban, they will ask me what I think of Castro. I *Hate* that question! What I am supposed to say? I’ve never even been to Cuba – well, yet!

  13. With the Chinese-American friend, was she insulted or complimented that her friends wanted advice on what to order. When I was in Greece I asked my Greek friend what to order and he was happy to oblige. So it all depends on the situation. I see people as souls and never think about their skin.But it can be too much if they all look at the one black guy when Martin Luther King is mentioned!

  14. MyLifeIsGodsComicStrip

    August 10, 2005 at 7:32 am

    Wait a minute. We ARE smarter than everyone else…Aren’t we? Really? Oh, what the hell do I know anyway, I’m just a dumb Jew-broad.

  15. When I was pregnant and we were invited to a Cornell Law School faculty picnic — my husband taught there — the invitation was worded so that it reflected our belief that our unborn child was actually a person! We were the only Christians on faculty at the law school, so they were so careful about being sensitive to us. It said something like, “You, your spouse, Camille, and the unborn human life within you…”

    It was hilarious and (I thought) very kind…

  16. So, you did ask the kimono question. BOP!

  17. Clearly your OC friends have met me (though I can’t imagine where — I transferred my disdain for NYC’s outer boroughs to a disdain for the Valley and OC). But of course they are correct about our wit and wisdom.

    And Jack — LOVE that response!

  18. I just realized that this is my third “Jewish” post in a row. That Kabbalah water must be working!

  19. My friend’s family has invited my roomate and me over to their home for Xmas dinner in Pasadena for the past two years and the best part of the evening (besides the excessive drinking) is always when the grandmother remembers that we’re both Jewish and says things like, “Jews are very nice people. I once worked with a Jewish man. Maybe you know his granddaughter?”

  20. Neil, you’re such a mench…

  21. A.) There’s a reason its called the Orange Curtain. They aren’t exposed to the rest of the world.

    2.) My Mexican friends love saying to me, “Claven, can you give us the white perspective on…?”

    III.) I once had to explain (C)Han(n)uk(k)ah to my co-workers in the office of a Democratic California State Legislator. Afterwards one asked me what I thought of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. I said I didn’t have any special opinion on the subject. To which I was told, “Really? I would think being a Jew you would have some opinion.” I answered by telling her I wasn’t Jewish, just educated.

  22. Jack – that’s the smartest thing you ever said …

    J.

  23. All Japanese women don’t own kimonos.

    Are you kidding me?

  24. Great post — but then you rarely post anything that is not great in some way.

    I have another stereotype about the Jewish people I will share. Well, a stereotype about two religions I should say.

    I had a buddy in the Air Force while I was in Germany who was smart, funny, charming, popular, outgoing, social, loved fine wines and fine food, loved women, etc., etc. He also happened to be Jewish and, like you, always had a great self-depreciating story about his family and his heritage and his religion. He was a great friend and as good an agent as I have ever known and in my line of work that is a high compliment.

    After a couple of years we were transferred to different bases and we lost touch except for the occasional phone call(no e-mail back then). And during this time I learned he had married ( When we were stationted together he was single and an unabashed womanizer when I knew him. His only possessions were a Porshe, his apartment, a bed, and plenty of nice clothes to impress the ladies. The rest of his money went for dates.)

    Anyway, a year or so after he married I managed a trip to where he was stationed and met him for lunch.

    He was a changed man. Boring and humorless in every way and the complete opposite of the person I knew years before.

    At first I thought it was marriage that did it to him (sorry gals),but during the conversation I figured out what had changed.

    He married a Mormon.

    Draw your own conclusions.

  25. Went to a Thai restaurant a couple of weeks ago, accompanied by two new acquaintances; one was half-Chinese from Hong Kong.
    Being interested more in a conversation with new people than agonising over food, I ordered pad thai for simplicity.

    She was so enraged with me (for not trying something complicated and NOT asking her opinion) that she teared me up and scorched my lifeless body in her blog the next day.
    She’s also half-Jewish…

  26. If she’s half Chinese, half-Jewish, why should she care what Thai food you order? Now if you ordered a Thai Ice Tea — that would be insulting…

  27. How did you know? Have you been hiding behind the elephant? I did ordered it, but sent it back when realised its true nature: syrope. She just snorted.

    She cares, Neil – she’s presumably an authority on food in general. And wine. And everything else. I guess its in her genes…

    And she called me rigidly-opinionated!

  28. Don’t forget, we’re all rich, too.

  29. yeah, you are an extremely tolerant person Neil. i would have either told Sophia’s clients off or simply left. of course overkindness is better than harrassment, but it’s still complete ignorance. but i also think i have anger issues.

  30. You know what’s scary about that “Workforce 2010” picture at the top? There’s no white male. What’s that supposed to mean? Should I be worried?

  31. Kristine — Well, I figure it’s better they go for the “smart” sterotype than the “cheap” one (but I’m sure that one was in the back of their minds). I’ve used the “smart” Jewish sterotype to my advantage all my life. During my SAT, I just went in and told the administrator that I was Jewish, so she gave me a 1400 without me even having to take the test.

    JJ — white men = Soylent Green

  32. I posted this story as a comment on being PC on the blowhards blog but I think it fits here and I still am sort of amused and bemused by it…

    I was at a departmental open reading last May at USC and they were announcing that “Chris” would be taking over the mailing list for “Joe” who was graduating, so all announcements should be sent to him. Chris, unusually, was not present at the reading and someone in the audience said “Who’s Chris?” Joe started saying what classes Chris had been in, what his concentration was, the fact that he has an afro…everything except “Chris is the black guy” …what in jiminy is that all about? If I were the only white chick at a party and someone said “Who’s Sam?” you can bet someone would point me out as the “white chick over there”. They would not say, she’s the chick with the straight black hair, the glass of Cabernet in her hand, laughing way too loudly and smoking a cigarette (side note I do laugh loud so they might say “she’s the white chick laughing too loudly”).

    PC, SCHMEEE-CEEE

  33. Ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  34. I once had a boss tell me I “looked Jewish.” Maybe that’s why I was hired?

  35. Jason, my (2) Jewish bosses hire only Asians and Blacks.

  36. Well, 1/13th Native American so they can eat me last.

  37. People make Jew comments around me about other people all the time (“he’s such a jew, sooo cheap…OR “he could use that nose as a doorstop”) maybe because they don’t know I’m Jewish (is it the dark hair, fair skin and blue eyes?) …when I tell them I am, they all of a sudden want to tell me about how they went to Passover at a friends house and how “interesting” all the “rituals” are…

  38. Edward G. Robinson played a Jewish guy in Soylent Green. I don’t know if he was supposed to be smart, but he said “shmuck” alot.

  39. Edward G. Robinson was Jewish and gave up plans to be a lawyer or a rabbi in order to become an actor, which means he probably wasn’t that smart.

  40. GREAT POST! Not sure exactly how I got here, but am definitely bookmarking your page! A few thoughts… I’m Yonsei (4th generation Japanese American) and *do* own a kimono – actually, it was my grandmas passed down to me… My cousin who is half Japanese and half Jewish calls herself Anna, the “Jewpanese”… And a few months ago, I played Scrabble (one of my all time favorite boardgames) with a coworker of mine who’s a “Counselor” by profession. First of all, she put “COLORED” on the board which was no big deal b/c I thought about colored pencils and “I colored in between the lines.” But then on her next move, she put down “JAP” on the board because it was a word that could be found in the dictionary – meaning Japanese. If you could imagine, we had quite the cultural lesson that day. ;P

  41. Kristy, I’m embarrassed to admit this, but my father still sometimes says “Negro” and “Oriental.” No harm meant, but he’s just old-school. Although I get all red when he says it in public. To be honest, I guess I still feel more comfortable saying “black” than African-American, which is just too many syllables to say.

  42. Neil, you’re Jewish?

  43. Neil, I’m looking forward to bopping you on the head, particularly as it’s getting rather big, because of this multitudinous comment section.

    Kidding. I adore you…and your writing, you smart Jew, you.

  44. Neil, My dad was the same way! I would get so mad at him in my teen years. But that’s just what they grew up hearing. What can you do? That’s why I don’t know about my future kids playing x-box live. Have you heard the words that come out of those kids mouths??? Oy…

  45. ah…my jewish ceo is so hot and smart.

  46. You guys have it easy – imagine living in a country where everyone is Jewish!

    That SAT thing really killed me …

  47. I find a lot of people who are so PC, don’t genuinely mean anything they say, and they’re “nice” not because they don’t want to offend someone; they just think they might need you in the future…

  48. Neil…I totally hear you. Some of my relatives are the same way. A different time. Different generation. For sure. But I do absolutely love my cousin’s self-id of being “Jew-panese!” LOL.

  49. It reminds me of the time I went to Michigan for my soon to be sister-in-law’s bridal shower.
    I stood out like such I sore thumb when her and her family took me out to dinner at their country club, I was sure I’d trip the Jew-dar.
    I was so endearingly amusing how they mispronounced Hebrew words in describing what Jewish Traditions would be incorporated into the church wedding to make “everyone feel included”.

  50. That’s right! We’re smart! S-M-R-T, smart!

  51. I worked with a woman who was supposed to be my friend. But she was also very small-minded and would constantly talk about “YOUR people” or “Jewish doctors are the best… I’ll only see a Jewish doctor…”
    I gave up trying to put her in her place! Probably ’cause I’m such a smart Jew!

  52. Reading this thread reminds me how stupid and fake people from LA are. It is as if you live in some oasis where your only problems are traffic and ackward dinner parties. It sounds like a good life, but I could never dumb myself down to live like that. The Jews who could live for long periods of time in LA must be Sephardic or naturally selected stupid Jews who could not make it in New York. How is the weather?

    In Re your actual conversation: I would rather be PCed to death than unhired or uninvited or assaulted because I am Jewish. And it is not the poor WASP’s fault they have to dance around like idiots, the screaming minority leaders (who never speak for the minority they claim to represent) created the atmosphere of political correctness that is sure to backfire by a racist outburst.

  53. Here in Italy jews are like Extra Terrestr, weird people come ou from a legend. Usually if you’re a good jew, the one that all the people know and love you’re a Shoa surviver ore a fiddler on the roof if you are a bad jew, you’re are the one that doesnt accept to be insultated for your opinion.

  54. I’ve been looking for comments on the subj. of what I call, for lack of a better term, “racism on the flip side of the coin.” Your site so far is the closest I’ve found. I think all the “compliments” described are based on ignorance, just as are “negative” comments. At best, such people have not thought very deeply about racism in themselves, gone only as far as “it’s not good to be racist,” not realizing that they are being racist by trying not to be! I just had an experience similar, when my landlady said that her son is working with a Jewish fellow with “all the Jewish characteristics” and he really likes him. He wanted me to know.(!) And he is a bright, educated guy! Needless to say, I didn’t actually act overjoyed. (“Gee…I thought you’d be glad to hear this…” my landlady said.) But, perhaps I am taking this too much to heart. I love all the hilarious responses! Don’t stop!

  55. You are ridiculous AND SO FUCKING PC!!!!!

    This woman observed that Jews DO seem to be really fucking smart and funny. BOo hoo hoo is that so fucking bad. Jeez.

    She did not say ALL fucking Jews are smart. She implied that there are alot.

    Is there not??????

    Fucking moron.

    Fashion, Retail, Food, Movies, Television, Medicine, Science, Publishing, Philantropy, Finance, Writing, Comedy, Law ETC…ETC…ETC…DOMINATED By jews.

    So this woman fucking said something. SO WHAT?!

    Fucking Cries alluding to anti semitism when anyone who is not jewish recognizes this.

    These are facts and jews should be proud and this woman should be allowed to say this without your stupid posturing. Dumbass

  56. Jewie — You are forgetting the blogosphere, which is dominated by smart, witty Jews like myself. Little by little, my aim is to take over the internet, converting all of my readers to the ONE TRUE RELIGION, and expanding Hanukkah to TWELVE DAYS, forever putting Christmas into second-place status!

  57. Some info about ethnic groups and IQ at http://statisticsoftheworld.page.tl

  58. I am looking Jewish doctor in Salt Lake City Utah.. Does anyone know of one?? Help pls!!

  59. well i wanted know wh jewish folks cant marry outside there race i actually like jews but becuz iam a black girl mixed with chinese, i wanted to attend a jewish school but i heard these folks are racist so…. thats why i think i dont wanna go

  60. Deneica — Thanks for commenting. We aren’t that bad. Jews really aren’t a “race” and plenty of them marry all different types of people. Jews are a very small minority, so there is some concern about so many of marrying “out” and their children losing the religious identity, or not identifying as Jews at all, which happens often. There are similar feelings in both the Chinese and black families sometimes when they marry someone white. Jews are more of a religion/nationality, like Christians or Canadians. Why did you want to attend a Jewish school? The food usually is terrible at those schools. And you’d be surprised to learn that are black girls mixed with Chinese who ARE JEWISH.

  61. “Fashion, Retail, Food, Movies, Television, Medicine, Science, Publishing, Philantropy, Finance, Writing, Comedy, Law ETC…ETC…ETC…DOMINATED By jews”

    Food? Philanthropy? ahem. The only thing that I have a problem with is that there even is a “Journal of Ashkenazi Intelligence”, I mean outside of that one paper, what else are they going to publish, that black people are dumb? It just seems weird that such a Journal would even exist. And think about it, what would happen if it weren’t “jew” but “white”? Would it still be ok to say? It’s true, there are smart jews, there are smart people of all configurations. But hard work has more to do with it than anything else. That’s how you get to the top of anything. You can be as smart as a whip, but if you sit on your ass all day long and do nothing with it, you won’t amount to anything, no matter who your parents are.

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