"Schvartze" is a Yiddish word that means black. In its denotative meaning, there’s nothing pejorative about the word. Just like the German word, it simply means the color black. Still, many of the PC police in Jewish life say it should not be used.
Twenty years ago, comedian Jackie Mason got in trouble when he referred to David Dinkins, then a candidate for New York City mayor, as a "fancy shvartze with a mustache" while campaigning for Rudy Giuliani. Last week, Mason used the Yiddish term again, this time to describe the president, reports TMZ.com:
Comedian Jackie Mason used what some say is a racial epithet in describing President Barack Obama during his act Thursday night, infuriating at least several people in the crowd.
During a performance at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in NYC, Mason referred to Obama as a "schwartza" — some say it’s equivalent to the "N" word — others say it’s just part of the Yiddish culture and a literal translation of the word "Black."
We’re told one person walked out fuming, "He’s more offensive to the Jews than Madoff tonight."
We spoke with Mason by phone a few minutes ago, and he was outraged at the criticism, saying, "I’m not going to defend myself. Chris Rock has told a lot more jokes about whites than I have against Blacks. What about the demeaning words Blacks say about Jews?"
Mason added, "If it’s a racist society, the white people are the ones being persecuted because they have to defend themselves." Mason called people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson "professional racists."
Mason added, "I’m an old Jew. I was raised in a Jewish family where ‘schwartza’ was used. It’s not a demeaning word and I’m not going to defend myself."
And here’s a TMZ video of Mason responding to the original TMZ report, in which he says he’s called other ethnic groups "a lot worse" and once again brings up Chris Rock, who he confuses with the singer "Kid Rock." (The best part of the video is probably when the woman he’s with gives him the smart advice to get in the car, but he just keeps talking.)
LUKE SAYS: A few weeks ago, JTA read me the riot act for quoting nine paragraphs from their 32-paragraph report and told me no one should ever quote more than two paragraphs from one of their reports, but as the above shows, JTA has no compunction with quoting six paragraphs from TMZ.com. Pot, kettle, black.
I implored my moral leader David Deutsch to comment and he told me: "I’d want to hear the routine, but I would say that while the term is offensive, in the context of a routine, it’s not necessarily a problem, since it’s supposed to be offensive. To a certain extent, the real issue may not be what Jackie Mason says in a show, but what he says out of the show. Don Rickles has a rep for being a sweetheart, so he says what he wants, and nobody thinks he’s really a bigot. Jackie Mason has a rep for being a bigot, so when he makes a comment like that, it may be a joke but it’s not just a joke.”