My dad sent me this article yesterday about how the Society of Black Laywers is threatening to file a complaint with the police if Tottenham Hotspur does not stop fans from using the word “Yid” to describe themselves. I figured I would weigh in with my 2p, even if this is just my little blog.
I’m not terribly bothered by the use of “Yid” by Tottenham Hotspur fans. But I never use it myself, for a very basic reason: I’m a Spurs fan who is actually Jewish.
Jew-hatred is not a thing of the past. Jews are still singled out for attack based on our ethnicity/religion, in the UK and abroad. “Yids” is still being used to refer to us that way (though, to be completely honest, I’m more likely to get “Jewish bitch”). For us, it’s not as if it existed only zillions of years ago so the word no longer has that sting of hatred in it. It’s still there, built in to the very sound of it.
I know very well that when my fellow Spurs fans use “Yid,” they mean no offense to Jewish people like me. I know they’re not being anti-Semitic (Some of my best non-Jewish friends are vocal members of the Yid Army, etc etc). But the word is so loaded that some of us can’t simply shrug it off, say we’ve taken it back, and pretend that it’s not problematic.
You can only “take back” a derogatory term if you’re from the group being targeted by it. “Yids” refers first and foremost to Jews, not to Spurs fans. The vast majority of Spurs fans are not even Jewish, so it’s not as if they are reclaiming this term to take pride in their ethnicity. Go anywhere in London and ask somebody what “Yid” refers to, and they will immediately make the connection to Jews even if they also are aware of the Spurs link. It was only originally used as an insult against Spurs fans because that bit of North London used to have a large Jewish population. In essence, when “Tottenham” was synonymous with “Jewish,” there was no distinction made between the supporters at White Hart Lane and the shop owners on the High Road whose families lived in the surrounding streets. Most of the Jews of Tottenham, like other immigrant groups, have done well for themselves, and over the past several decades they have moved to elsewhere in North London as well as the Hertfordshire and Essex suburbs. The population addressed by the slur left, but because the football club is geographically tied to the neighbourhood, the slur remained. My point is: supporters of other clubs may use it against Spurs fans in general, but that was not its original nor its primary usage. Crucially, non-Jewish Spurs fans have never had to deal with it referring to their ethnic group, to their blood, and the consequences of that. If other JEWISH Spurs fans want to use “Yid,” that’s an entirely different story.
To draw the most obvious parallel, it’s like non-Black people using the N-word. If Black people want to use it, then that’s their choice because the original and enduring meaning of the word has always been against their ethnic group, used to disrespect them and keep them down. But there are a lot of Black people who hate the use of it, and likewise there are plenty of Jewish people who never want to hear anybody referred to as a Yid in any sense, ever again. Non-Jews don’t get to choose when it’s OK to use “Yid” because it’s not their insulting word. Down the road in Golders Green and Stamford Hill, Jews still get physically attacked because of who they are. Fists, bottles, even cars used as weapons. It’s a bit too close to home – literally, as Stamford Hill sits just south of Tottenham. “Yid” hasn’t been completely consigned to the past in North London, at least not yet. Even if Spurs fans mean it affectionately when they refer to themselves, it doesn’t change the fact that I typically hear that word used as a way to signify that my people are viewed as devious, sleazy scum taking advantage of non-Jewish English people because we’re obsessed with money and only care about our own people, or whatever is being said about us this year. I can’t forget that because it is still happening today. I don’t think we Spurs fans really need to take it back, either. We have plenty of other words for ourselves. We don’t need this one. Using it doesn’t improve anybody’s life – or fix our club’s issues on the pitch.
I am very grateful for the good will shown by the Society of Black Lawyers, but I think that “Yid” is by far not the worst thing people yell at matches. The bigger problem is the incidence of words which are flat-out hateful and have never been seen by the recipients of the abuse as a point of pride or defiance – like the abuse that Black players and those suspected of being gay get. I would also be a lot more concerned if Yossi Benayoun was getting abuse for being an Israeli Jew, or something along that line.
I’m not going to judge you if you’re a Spurs supporter and you call yourself a member of the Yid Army. I know you mean no insult by it. And to be honest, we Jews have much, much bigger problems to deal with than what people say at a football match. Just don’t expect me to join in with you.
I would definitely not go so far as to call it anti-Semitic abuse – it’s just football fans, who by definition need to show membership in the larger group, to signify a common identity. I’m a sociologist. I know how signs of group affiliation work. But I’m not going to say that hearing the word doesn’t leave a bit of a sting, and I would like Spurs supporters to at least take a second to remember that this word isn’t only their term of camaraderie. It’s my signifier that there are a hell of a lot of people out there who hate me just because of my ethnicity. For some of us, it’s far more difficult to see it as entirely harmless. It’s a massive grey area. I’m not a killjoy, I’m just Jewish. And we Jews have a good sense of humor when something’s actually funny.
I know this is not the most well-organised argument. I’m sure that plenty of Spurs fans are going to see me as some killjoy bitch who needs to shut up and stop getting in the way of their fun. As a Jewish fan, I feel obligated to weigh in with my opinion when it comes to this term. I wish I didn’t, but for as long as my people are getting stick – and worse – simply because of our background, I have to say something. I love Spurs and I want everybody to enjoy matches at White Hart Lane as much as I do (or did, because I moved to California in 2010). Can we do better? Yes, certainly. We can and we should. I’m not going to jump on you if you think my argument is crap, but I hold Spurs supporters to a high standard, and I think you can all live up to it. Think about it – if you respect the history of the club, and know the history of the neighbourhood, then you owe that tiny bit of respect to those of us tied to that particular part of history, those of us who have had to deal with the word “Yid” when it has been used in a not-so-casual way.