The Accidental Slurrist

It’s happened twice in the last four years: I’ve been in the middle of a lovely conversation with someone, and the “accidental slur” popped out: Jewing someone down.

Now, these two conversations were both with different people. Both of these individuals know I am Jewish, and both of them care deeply about me and have a definite respect for Judaism.  So why would they say this? Well, they just didn’t know any better … but the real question each time, after someone said it to me, immediately became: what should I do?

They were very different situations, and very different people: one was my 30-something hairdresser. The accidental slur came up when he was sharing a story about buying a horse. Then, there it was: the slur.

I had been going to him for several years at the time, and my mind began reeling as he said it, knowing he meant no malice but… what to do about it?

The next case was when I met a delightful 70-something woman. It was our first meeting, but she also knew I was Jewish and had no malice in her heart for Judaism, or for me.  I admired a sculpture in her home, and she then told me the story of how her deceased husband, um …  effectively bargained to get it.  (The slur again!)

In the first case, with the young hairdresser, I decided that for both our sakes, I needed to point out what he said. I explained that had I been a new customer, I never would have come back, but because I knew him well by now, and knew his heart and knew it was unintentional. I thought it better to explain why the “good old boy” expression was offensive.  It was a good move, and he was grateful.

In the second case, although the friend I was with nearly had a coronary on the spot when he heard the older woman’s use of the slur, I silently waved him off. I quickly decided that if I were to share with her how the slur is offensive, it would have caused her great shame and humiliation, so my decision was to simply let it go.

Living in the South, or anywhere where Jews are true minority, these situations can provide quite the dilemma. How would you have handled these or other similar situations?

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