a Jewish chick with a big booty.
I said it.
that you can really keep something like that a secret. Disengage
from a face-to-face conversation, turn at a slight angle,
and wham, the curve hits their vision and shatters
the flat lines of space. Some appreciate the interruption
from monotony. Others shift uncomfortably, unnerved by the
sudden disappearance of order and control.
to two decades of hip-hop and the (literal) overexposure of
Jennifer Lopez, big butts have now settled comfortably into
public discourse. Yet Jews have not embraced the cultural
acceptance of thick chicks with round behinds--despite the
fact that there are many among our ranks. Sure, we may dance
to hip-hop tracks like "Back That Thang Up" or "Baby Got Back."
But is the average Jewish guy reallysincere when he
raises a beer and shouts along, "You's a big fine woman
/ won't you back that thang up."Methinks no.
a white girl shaped like a black girl," my friend Anika put
it bluntly. "And the African American men in my family love
a healthy woman." We devolved into a Jimmy the Greek-style
postulation of my booty's origins. Was it courtesy of my Middle
Eastern father, a dark-complexioned Israeli with a notable
"bump" himself? Or did it stretch back to ancient days, when,
according to some speculators, the original Hebrews were black?
mean, look at those tomb paintings of the Hebrew slaves in
Egypt," offered my friend Dyann, a churchy Pentecostal girl
who was raised to believe that the Jews were God's chosen
people, and was eager to make the connection. "They're shown
as brown and black! And where do you think those full lips,
and those springy curls come from? From us, that's
that somebody supported me for draggin' this wagon, I didn't
protest. She had a point. Indeed, my butt has been a cultural
ambassador, a passport to insta-credibility
in many a multiracial setting. "Look, it's Heavy Chevy," I
was habitually greeted at the door of my favorite Latin music
club. "How much junk you got in that trunk tonight?"
wanting to be down, I again kept quiet. In an age when race
can still be the elephant that nobody mentions, people quietly
size each other up for nonverbal cues of who's Us and who's
Them. I guess you could say I made it in through the back
door. My body engenders a level of trust among some black
folks--who, for the record, I'm aware come in a variety of
sizes, too. And since among Jews, it has regularly marked
me an outsider ("You mean you're not on a diet?"), it's a
relief to be accepted somewhere.
it comes to dating, my butt launches me into choppy, racially
charged waters. To the average Jewish guy, my body is old
world flavor in a new world order. It conjures images, perhaps,
of their sturdily built grandmothers, fresh from Ellis Island,
stooped over sinks preparing borscht, or wearing babushkas
and tilling the barren soil of the Russian steppe. I suspect
they're looking for a sleeker model than my reliable old Chevy.
Experience has proven: If I wanted to date only Jewish men,
I'd be ass out.
put me in front of a newly minted immigrant, a middle-aged
man with Lolita fantasies, or a sizeable number of black or
Latino men in America, and I'm the embodiment of fantasy and
cultural ideal: 5 feet 2 inches and 155 pounds with back and
a rack. A little roundness to the tum, some thickness to the
thighs . . . to these fellas, that's good eatin'.
a result, my dating scorecard includes one Jewish guy, a handful
of non-Jewish white guys, and men of color aplenty. It's not
based on preference. Just the question, fueled by self-esteem:
Why join a club that doesn't want you as a member?
. . . I'm white, for all intents and purposes. I tan to a
deep eggshell color and my melanin meter is on E. But I also
have enough loyal black and Latina girlfriends to retain a
storehouse of their painful experiences. They've all endured
rejection by men of color who expected them to be my antithesis:
ethnic girls who look white. A bigger body is still cool,
for the most part--but longer hair, lighter skin, and green
or hazel eyes receive preference.
all those traits myself, I get a spontaneous surge of sisterly
guilt with each new nonwhite boyfriend. Is it a case of take-the-best-and-leave-the-rest,
ethnic in body and white by trait? Does this guy have an "issue"
with the women of his culture that he's acting out on me?
I've gotten pretty good at filtering out those fools. I once
declared a short-lived ban on guys who hadn't dated "their
own" women. Hypocrisy registered swiftly and I lifted the
embargo, since my own scorecard was mostly devoid of Jews.
in many ways, my guilt about hurting women of color by dating
interracially is there because I owe black women my life.
They gave me a vocabulary that allowed me to rise above an
all-consuming body hatred replete with obsessive exercise,
calorie-cutting, and self-loathing. My black girlfriends called
my thickness "healthy" and modeled their own girth with a
confidence that shattered everything I'd been taught to believe.
Thanks to their influence, I fell into step and gradually
came to embrace myself the way I was built. So my house was
made of bricks, not twigs? Solid, man.
home is where it all begins. I was raised by amazing, capable
Jewish women who consider body fat the complete antithesisof
healthy--a no-brainer reason to skip dessert and denounce
their bodies publicly. On a recent trip home to Detroit, I
found myself shouting at a family Shabbat dinner: Can we
have one fucking meal where we don't talk about dieting?
was almost comical: My aunt was suggesting that my 22-year-old
sister try some aging celebrity's diet program. My mom was
slicing herself a wafer-thin serving of apple pie, muttering
that she'd have to jog an extra mile tomorrow, and handing
everyone else gargantuan, ice cream-covered slabs. My uncle
was protesting the size of his portion, making arrangements
to join my mother's morning jog, and reminding his delightfully
chubby 8-year-old daughter that she should only eat half of
her pie because she didn't want to be fat like her auntie
Rozzie. My Israeli father, never known for his tact, added,
"Quiet you with this nonsense. You will all cry that you are
fat and then you will eat all the day. Just eat the pie, then
go be fatsos on a diet tomorrow."
to say, I lost my appetite.
this posterior postulation leads to a bigger, blunter question:
Are Jews white? On one level, the answer is duh, of
course not; we exist in many colors and nationalities. My
own father is regularly mistaken for Mexican in our provincial
hometown. But as American racial politics define whiteness,
we are peeps of the paler persuasion.
And, dare I say it, the average American Jew is more than
okay with that. Caught like "Moishe in the Middle" between
the extreme stereotypes of "black" and "white," which side
do Jewish folks choose? Let's see, there are the darker people
on the six o'clock news getting clubbed by police officers
(hello, pogroms) and forced to live in impoverished ghettos
(hello, Eastern Europe). Then there are the even-toothed WASPs
livin' large on yachts, decked in nautical gear the price
of a small apartment (hello, assimilation; good-bye persecution,
McCarthyism, immigrant poverty, Holocaust). Who wouldn't want
to change his name to Blair and move to Connecticut?
I'm being outrageous here. But I believe Jews with white skin
have found a buffer zone in assimilation and the somewhat
naive belief that we are average Americans, really no different
from our German or Irish neighbors. In many cases, there is
great truth to this. Other times, Jews mythologize white America,
acting out a cartoonish imitation. A Jewish couple invented
the Barbie doll--the ultimate icon of Aryanism--in 1959. Even
my own father, despite his Sephardic heritage, dark skin,
and strong accent, believes himself to be a white man.
not trying to form conspiracy theories against my own people.
I just believe we suffer when we deny our unique connections
to people of color. American Jews have been part of many multiracial
coalitions and movements, from civil rights to hip-hop. Some
of us are either mistaken for--or (gasp) literally are--black,
biracial, Latino, Mizrahi, Middle Eastern, African, and so
on. Jews can and do swing both ways. But that seems to be
a well-kept secret, perhaps out of fear that once Jews are
"racialized" it will spawn another Nazi-style conspiracy that
will lead to our demise.
help us if we admit in public that, you know, a lot of Jews
do have kinky hair, or full lips, or prominent noses, or big
butts. And slap on a gag order if we dare say that these traits
triggered our "Jewdar" (my Semitic equivalent of gaydar) and
allowed us to identify someone as a fellow Jew. "Oh come on,
Ophi," I've been chastised wearily. "Not all Jews have those
features." No kidding, I say, pointing out my own stick-straight
hair. But not all black people can be identified on
sight as black, either. Isn't it human nature to seek out
reflections of yourself in others, or connections between
your group and another?
maybe not. But I imagine that Jews might have a lot less body
neurosis and a lot more fun if we took a page from some of
our darker brethren and widened the scope of body types we
consider beautiful. My God, we might even let ourselves eat
the vast amounts of food we prepare. I mean, how many holidays
are in a Jewish year, each one requiring an elaborate meal?
Likewise, we could teach the rest of the world to make really
good matzoh ball soup. It would be a cultural exchange of
sorts, our way of saying thank you.
fair enough to me. Perhaps my fellow Jews are, um, a little
behind the curve. I guess I'll just have to sit on this one
until they come around.
in Nov-Dec 2000 issue of Utne