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Berkeley Store Slammed for Peddling Stereotypes

By Jakob Schiller
Friday December 26, 2003

Urban Outfitters, the clothing and boutique chain that found itself mired in controversy over the board game “Ghettopoly,” might draw heat again after distributing a shirt that some say stereotypes Jewish women. 

Berkeley resident Baitiya Jacobs found the t-shirts, featuring the words “Everybody Loves a Jewish Girl,” accompanied by several dollar signs, sufficiently outrageous to consider filing a complaint. 

“It’s a very negative cultural stereotype that’s dangerous,” said Jacobs, who is Jewish. “It’s really offensive.” 

The shirt is one of a series that include other ethnic stereotypes, including “Everybody Loves an Italian Girl” with a picture of a pizza slice, “Everybody Loves a German Girl” alongside a beer mug, and “Everybody Loves an Irish Girl,” featuring a shamrock. 

“I don’t even know why they threw ‘Jew’ in,” said Jacobs. “And if they did, it could have been a bagel.” 

The release of the shirts follows last year’s uproar over a series of shirts released by Abercrombie & Fitch that featured caricatures similar to those produced in the early 20th century of Asian men with slanted eyes and conical hats. The shirts bore the slogan “Wong Brothers Laundry Service—Two Wongs Can Make It White.” 

After protests erupted across the country outside the stores the shirts were yanked in less than a week. 

“The t-shirts were caricatures, and it’s something that our society would certainly be outraged about if it was a depiction of African Americans or Latinos here in California, but there is not that same level of awareness about the Asian American community,” said Vic Malhotra, a policy advocate for Chinese for Affirmative Action, a San Francisco based organization. 

“It was important for the community to voice that outrage, not only to force them to pull the t-shirts, but also to build awareness that this kind of humor is completely unacceptable,” he said. 

Urban Outfitter’s Regional Director refused to comment on the shirts other than to say no official complaints had been filed. Nonetheless, organizations in the Bay Area, when alerted, said the imagery raises concern. 

“I’m frankly very concerned,” said Abby Porth, from the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the public affairs arm for the numerous Jewish organizations in the Bay Area. “That kind of stereotyping is dangerous for a variety of reasons. Jewish women, like all women, are multi-dimensional beings. They are diverse in their perspectives and beliefs.” 

Porth, along with Deborah Louria, regional director for the JCRC’s East Bay office, say the imagery also promotes the image of what is commonly referred to as a JAP, or Jewish American Princess. 

“This introduces the idea to a whole new generation after so much work to try and put the stereotype to rest,” said Louria. “It does a disservice to not just Jewish women but to all women.” 

The imagery of money is the real sticking point for most organizations contacted, referring back to the age-old derogatory classification of Jews as greedy. 

A representative from the National Italian American Foundation took offense at the imagery of a pizza slice on the “Everybody Loves an Italian Girl” but was able to distinguish between that and the severity of the dollar signs on the Jewish shirt. 

“Historically Italian Americans have a problem where we’re stereotyped as gangsters, buffoons, and restaurant workers,” he said.  

“The [Italian shirt] is much more benign than some of these other ones… The difference is in the Italian American community nobody bats an eye when [Italians are stereotyped]. It’s acceptable.”  

Because the shirts haven’t generated much criticism yet, both Porth and Louria say the JCRC has not investigated. Meantime, they urged consumers to voice their concern to the store. 

“I would hope that people don’t purchase and wear the shirts, but also communicate to the people who are trying to make a profit from them that they be removed from the shelves,” said Porth. “This isn’t about freedom of speech but about negative stereotyping that disintegrates the moral fabric of society.”