Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

thescroll_header

“So…Are You Jewish?”

Inquiring Googlers want to know

Print Email
The Google logo.(Robert Scoble/Flickr)

I have a straight friend with a peculiar cross to bear: Whenever he starts to Google his name, there’s a suggestion of the word “gay” beside it. It turns out his is not the only name that prompts this pairing; “gay” is a frequent companion when Googlers input, say, presidential candidates. Given that Google’s autocomplete feature is based on algorithms of previous searches, the only explanation is that people have been curious enough to inquire before.

I was reminded of this scenario last night when I read about a slightly bizarre tiff between Google and France. The company has reached a deal with French anti-racism groups who object to the same sort of auto-correct awkwardness my friend has come across. Evidently, users of Google.fr really want to know whether politicians, actors or other celebrities are Jewish or not; Google apparently suggests that users add “Jew” to searches for prominent names quite often.  Since it’s illegal to record someone’s ethnicity in a database in France, six French groups argued that Google was breaking the law.

The Google vs. France showdown has its specific quirks, but it got me thinking about a larger truth. Minority groups who can “pass”—gay people, Jews, light-skinned black people, etc.—prompt a particular curiosity, one that isn’t necessarily insidious. It’s not like you can usually tell by looking at someone whether they’re gay or Jewish. Google searches are the natural habitat of private inquiries, one that sidesteps any accusations of bigotry. The anti-racist French groups are trying to protect their citizens from anti-Semitism, but shrouding minority groups (or anyone) with mystique may do more harm than good.

And when it comes to searching out your own community, the question becomes a secret passcode. I remember getting into a rowboat in a teeny-tiny village in Chile in 2004, when I was traveling alone on the North coast. There were about eight passengers, a hodge-podge of foreigners struggling to interpret the boatman’s slurred Chilean spanish. I felt almost proud that I was the only American—outing yourself as a gringa could be really embarrassing. Then, I heard a slightly hopeful question behind me, in a thick Israeli accent: “So…are you Jewish?” I wasn’t embarassed at all. It made me feel a little less lonely.

Google in deal with French groups over ‘Jew’ suggestion [AFP]

Print Email

COMMENTING CHARGES
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at letters@tabletmag.com. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

We all have the power to name ourselves, even as we face a myriad of interest groups who want to take that power from us. How we frame our own identities is core to what we are, which is in fact why so many people are interested in having a say. I’ve written more on this topic at my blog post below.

James LaForest
http://dailyreturns.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/no-7-son/

Raymond R. says:

NONA WILLIS ARONOWITZ, I highly suggest you do some research on the evil entity which hijacked the State of Israel and is now the wolf in sheep’s clothing…The Zionist Mossad did 9/11 and WE KNOW IT..!
http://martinezperspective.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/israeli-militarism-predicated-on-911-deception/

2000

Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

“So…Are You Jewish?”

Inquiring Googlers want to know

More on Tablet:

A Tale of Three Twitter Feeds: Hamas Tweets in Arabic, English, and Hebrew

By Aaron Magid — Analysis of the social-media messaging of Hamas’ military wing reveals distinct voices for the West, the Arab Middle East, and Israel