I recently went to Target to buy a birthday card for my grandma. I spent quite a while looking at all the cards because she’s hard to pick things out for (even a card). It was only because I was scrutinizing every single row of cards that I came upon the Jewish card section, way down on the bottom row. I could tell it was the Jewish section because all of the dividers that tell you what kind of card is in that slot (birthday, anniversary, etc.) had a Star of David on them.
I was interested in what a specifically Jewish birthday card might look like, so I picked this one up:
I was initially confused and thought it must have been misplaced until I finally noticed that the two pink packages have Stars of David on them. I also thought maybe there’s a stereotype that Jews feel guilty a lot, since the word “guilty” was emphasized on the front. (Ok, I googled it and apparently I’m the only person who didn’t know that’s a common association.)
Mary Waters found that people often believe that ethnicity explains all types of behavior even though that behavior is in fact very widespread and claimed as typical of many ethnic groups. She interviewed White ethnics in the U.S.; they often attributed their families’ characteristics to their ethnicity. Take the idea of the loud, boisterous family, often including a mother who is constantly trying to get the kids to eat more of her homecooked meals and worrying if they aren’t married. Many individuals depicted their family this way and claimed that their ethnicity was the reason.
People who identified their background as Italian, Greek, Jewish, Polish, and others all believed that the way their family interacted was a unique custom of their ethnic group. Yet they all described pretty much the same characteristics. The cardmakers’ (and others’) allusion to guilt to signify Jewishness seems to me to fall into this category: take out the Stars of David and I bet a range of religious/ethnic groups would think it was tailored to them specifically.
So you take a card, say guilt in it, add a Star of David, and you’ve got a Jewish card. Take out the Star of David, maybe it’s a Catholic card, especially if you added a cross, since they’re often portrayed as feeling a lot of guilt. I’ve had friends who grew up Southern Baptist or Pentecostal joke about having felt guilty about everything (especially stuff related to sex or, for one friend, secretly eating Halloween candy), so you could market the card to them, too! I think it’s a good example of how we often treat characteristics or behaviors as somehow meaningfully connected to a specific ethnic background rather than being a pretty common way that people in general, across ethnic lines, behave.
UPDATE: Reader The Martian makes another point:
The card could be seen as reinforcing the stereotype of the “Jewish American Princess.” Notice the high-heeled slipper and the allusion to lots of shoes; the “spoiled” Jewish woman who spends lots of money (implicitly, daddy’s or her husband’s money) on clothes, etc. I’m not saying this was intentional, but that this could be the consequence.