Tottenham Supporters and "Yid": Oppressed Minorities and Reclaiming Terms

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Tottenham Supporters and
Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Tottenham supporters have used the term

Last week, the Football Association published a statement about the use of the word "Yid" at football grounds, including by Tottenham Hotspur supporters. In part, here it is:

The FA considers that the use of the term 'Yid' is likely to be considered offensive by the reasonable observer and considers the term to be inappropriate in a football setting. The FA would encourage fans to avoid using it in any situation. Use of the term in a public setting could amount to a criminal offence, and leave those fans liable to prosecution and potentially a lengthy Football Banning Order.

First, full disclosure: I am not Jewish.

Not even a bit, as far as I'm aware. My background is a common American mix of Northern and Western Europe, and predominantly Catholic. Based on the sensitive subject I'm going to address, I feel it's very important to be up front about who I am, and who I am not.

That having been said, I also have not lived my life free of bullying, name-calling, or being offended by other people, deliberately. I have not felt the kind of oppression that many members of minority cultures around the world feel all the time, and I do not pretend to know their struggle or feel their pain. But all of us know what it is like to be attacked for who we are.

Now, the FA have every right to ask this of Tottenham. The term is offensive, a slang term not unlike other racial and ethnic epithets we all have heard, and I won't be repeating here.

But the club have responded, claiming, in part:

We are acutely aware of the sensitivity of this issue. Our fans historically adopted the chant as a defence mechanism in order to own the term and thereby deflect anti-semitic abuse. They do not use the term with any deliberate intent to cause offence.

I understand what they're saying. The Tottenham neighborhood has traditionally had a larger Jewish population than most areas of London, and Tottenham Hotspur have traditionally had a larger percentage of Jewish fans than most clubs in England. Adopting the term as a defense mechanism makes sense.

As long as you're Jewish. Seriously. You can't take an epithet "back" for someone else. Only members of the oppressed minority being harassed by the word can take it back.

Just because Tottenham may have more Jewish supporters than other clubs, it does not mean that most of Tottenham's supporters are, themselves, Jewish. There are, according to Wikipedia, approximately 267,000 Brits who self-identified as Jewish on the 2012 U.K. Census. That's 0.5%.

Even if we posit that 100% of them live in London, they would make up just over 3% of Londoners. Can anyone really claim that more than, say, 4-5% of match-going Tottenham supporters are, themselves, Jewish?

It's time to give the term up. It may have been time to give the term up years ago, but it certainly is so now. Some Tottenham supporters may have come to find identity in the terms "Yid," "Yiddo," and "Yid Army," but the fact remains that these are offensive terms to millions of people around the world. And all the claims of "taking the word back" seem incredibly hollow when the vast majority of the people using the word in reference to the club aren't even part of the minority group offended by it.

There is no reason for Tottenham Hotspur and its supporters to maintain a relationship with this ethnic and religious epithet. As a supporter, I hope the club see reason and support the FA's decision to ban the word from the grounds and, as much as they can, discourage its use among their supporters.

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