Oklahoma state Rep. Dennis Johnson says "Jew me down" and "apologizes"

Here is Oklahoma state Rep. Dennis Johnson (R-Duncan) using the phrase "Jew me down" when talking about small business owners. Someone pointed it out to him and he quickly "apologized," saying "I apologize to the Jews. They're good small businessmen as well." He's since given a more formal apology. "It just came out of one of the wrinkles of my brain and it was not something that was intentional,” Johnson told The Oklahoman. “I certainly didn't mean to offend anyone and I apologize for the folks I did offend. It is a comment that should never be made. I will never do it again."


  1. The shit-eating grin after his “apology” says everything you need to know about how he really feels.

  2. Oh, ok, he’s never going to talk about “Jew”ing down the price.  10:1 he’ll replace that phrase with “Gyp”.

    1.  A heck of a lot of people don’t even know the connection of that one to “Gypsies” or even what a Gypsy is.  (Given that most self proclaimed “Gypsies” don’t know what they are either and even ethnologists don’t exactly agree if there is even such a thing other than as self-proclaimed doesn’t help.)

      1. I find that it helps to ask people who use it how to spell it.

        “Spell it? Uh, j, i . . . g, i? Um…”

        “It’s actually g-y-p . . . ”

        “Ooooooooh. Huh!”

    2. On the other hand, I didn’t realize that phrase referred to “gypsies” until I was in high school.

  3. As I said to a friend of mine last week, he’s in Oklahome. The last time this poor shmuck even saw a Jew was when he channel-surfed past a Woody Allen movie on his way to the monster truck rally channel.

    1. “on his way to the monster truck rally channel.”

      Yes, let’s fling classist stereotypes back at him like so much poo. That’ll help for sure.

    2. There are Jews in Oklahoma.  Prominent ones, even.  The Schusterman family from Tulsa is one of the most generous philanthropic families in the Jewish world, and they’re also a major force in local philanthropy in Tulsa. 

      Here’s a list of synagogues in case you’re ever passing through.

      1. They comprise about 1-1.5% of the Oklahoman population, one of the lowest percentages in the country.

  4. It clearly wasn’t his fault.  The man can’t help it if his head is full of anti-Semitic brain wrinkles!

  5. An insincere apology in under 30 seconds?

    But that usually takes DAYS!

    The GOP is makin’ progress, I tells ya.

  6. “I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone and I apologize for the folks I
    did offend. It is a comment that should never be made. I will never do
    it again.”

    Wow, he came so close to almost making a real apology. If only he’d cut out the parts that aren’t bolded……

    1. Yeah. It’s always “I didn’t mean to offend anyone who did get offended,” rather than simply, “I fucked up and I’m sorry I did so.”

      1. I’ve often wondered whether that’s become such a part of the “Public Apology” script that people don’t even think about what the phrasing actually means. Which of course goes to the sincerishness of the apology, but I can actually see a valid thought process that goes something like, “I am apologizing to the people I offended,” rather than adopting a more universal “This is wrong everywhere always” attitude.

        Much of what goes awry in the public square stems from the fact that many people simply don’t pay close enough attention to language…which is a real problem when part of your job description as a politician involves “communication” and “write legislation.”

  7. I’ve heard people use “Jew me down” before–mostly in the Midwest.  I suspect, though, that just as most people who say “I got Gypped” don’t even realize they’re insulting the Romani, that most people who still say “Jew me down” only have a vague (if any) sense that they’re insulting Jews by saying it.  It’s just another phrase in their lexicon that happens to have rather offensive origins. 

    A more sincere apology is still in order, though.

    1. I have relatives in Oklahoma, and used to visit there every summer.   I heard this phrase once or twice from an older person (we’re talking someone who would be 90 now).   I had no idea what it meant (I was a teenager at the time, raised in a very WASPy town), but it sounded offensive, and the person who said was someone who made a habit of deliberately saying offensive things, so it wasn’t a shock to me.

      So on the one hand yes, this is, or at least was, a common term in some circles in Oklahoma.   There’s a pretty good chance this gaffe will not cost the guy the next election.   But I don’t think there’s any chance he thought it was an okay thing to say in polite company.   It wouldn’t have slipped out if it wasn’t a term he uses or at least tolerates relatively frequently in private conversations.

      I’m all in favor of forgiving this guy for what he said, when it becomes appropriate.   But it should require more than just an apology—it should involve some real soul-searching and some concentrated action on his part, not just a pro forma acknowledgment that it was a bad thing to say in public. 

      I want to know that he’s lost sleep over it.   Losing sleep over something stupid you said builds character.   Changing because you regret saying it, even though change is hard, is worthy of forgiveness.

  8. I’m not convinced that demonizing him, although appealing, is a productive step.  He acknowledges what he said was inappropriate and said that he’d never do it again.  “Jew me” is something I commonly heard in my childhood, and I said “gyp me” without realizing its racial connotations.  These sort of things since they were socially normal can get in one’s mind and slip out at the wrong time.  What he said to the Oklahoman sounds like a pretty sincere apology to me.  And I don’t think that the fact that he made this mistake means that he is secretly evil and that this is just the tiniest crack of his true evil showing through.  We’re all a little imperfect on issues of race.

    As Jay Smooth says in his TEDx talk, we don’t all bat 1000 on race.  http://www.illdoctrine.com/2011/11/my_tedx_talk_how_i_stopped_wor.html
    And by the standards of discourse about race that Jay Smooth puts forth, this whole conversation we’re having right here feels like a step in the wrong direction.

    1. The slip-up is one thing, but his apology is the real indication of how he feels. And it is a shitty fucking apology.  Read the break-down of @Petzl:disqus . The guy is an anti-Semite. 

      1.  It’s an expression that he probably first heard as a kid before he even knew what a jew was. He should have expunged it from his vocabulary a long time ago, but most likely since he never thought of it in a racial context he figured he wasn’t racist if he continued to use it. If he was racist he either never would have given an initial apology or would have defended his use of the phrase. The appology he did give indicated that he didn’t think it was a big deal. The guy’s insensitive but not an anti-Semite.

        1. You know that one of the most racist things about racists is that they don’t believe that they’re racist?

          1.  Everyone is racist to an extent, the question here is the degree. The worst extreme is Mississippi burning or white supremacists. Next is the ugly element of the Republican party, anti-arab, anti-immigrant, dog whistles about welfare and black people. Then you have passive racists, they feel a bit weird about certain groups and might have a bad first impression about someone but quickly overcome it once they engage with them. I’d say most people are part of the 3rd group, we all make assumptions to an extent but throw them away once we know the person, and I haven’t seen anything to convince me Johnson is any worse than that.

            The expression has racist origins but has since become a regional expression. I don’t think Johnson thinks poorly of Jews, I just think he’s insular and inconsiderate. That doesn’t mean people can’t be outraged by the expression (if I was Jewish I’d probably find it hurtful) but it doesn’t mean Johnson shares that understanding.

          2. but it doesn’t mean Johnson shares that understanding.

            Thank you, Captain Whoosh.  The expression was anti-Semitic.  Anyone with enough brains to graduate fourth grade can figure that out.  It’s not a fucking “regionalism”.

          3. “It’s not bigoted, sort of the way that feeling free and comfortable to say “ni@@er” in The South while in mixed company isn’t bigoted. It’s just a regionalism”……..

          4.  Navin,
            EVERYONE understands that “ni@@er”  is an incredibly offensive term for white people to use. While ‘Jew me down” is a phrase that most people have never heard of.

          5. I agreed the expression was anti-semitic, what I disagree with is the idea that anyone who uses it is automatically an anti-semite. People aren’t rational, if you’re raised with an expression you don’t think of it as racist, and if you don’t think of it as racist you’ll generally assume other people will feel the same way.

          6. Stupidity is not an excuse for racism. If he’s that dense, shouldn’t he be immediately recalled and replaced with someone with a brain?

          7.  If he’s crappy at his job for sure get rid of him (though I’d say to do it in an election) but don’t do it on the basis of this one clip. There are incidents such as ‘macaca’ that I think do justify getting booted out of office based on that singular incident, but I don’t think this reaches that standard.

        2. an asian person I know who does anti-racism programs told me his father used to use that expression thinking that it was ‘chew down’ .  He stopped using it after the meaning was explained. 

        3. “The appology he did give indicated that he didn’t think it was a big deal. ”

          No shit sherlock.  And why do you think that is? THINK ABOUT IT HARDER.

          Someone who is actually not an anti-Semite should be HORRIFIED at the thought of sounding like one.

    2. I’m not convinced that demonizing him, although appealing, is a productive step.

      “Demonize” is a word that assholes use when someone criticizes them for being racist/ sexist/ homophobic/ etc.

  9. I like the “Did I?” when someone points out his “jew down” comment — he didn’t even know he’d said anything offensive.

    “I apologize to The Jews.”  It was about most offensive way to apologize I’ve ever seen.  Then, the “They’re small business men too” seals the deal.  What we realize is: he doesn’t consider Jews to be remotely comparable to his Oklahoman Christian self. The Jews are separate and apart from Dennis Johnson. The man is an irredentist anti-semite.

    1.  This isn’t comparable to the n-word, everyone knows the n-word is highly offensive.

      Here’s my alternate armchair psychologizing. “Hey, what’s on this note? Did I say that? Oh yeah, that ‘jew me down’ thing is something I shouldn’t use around jewish people (though I’ve never thought deeply about it and won’t start now). Let’s see, it might offend jews so I’ll appologize to jews and then show I feel kinship to them by saying they’re part of the group of good people I’m talking about.”

      The laughter is because the guy just did the classic politician sticking his foot in his mouth.

      Everyone is racist to a degree, but I see this guy’s expression as more a result of regional culture than actual racisism.

      Should those casual sterotypes be stamped out? Of course. Is he insensitive for not realizing it could be a very hurtful expression? Definitely. But that doesn’t make him a serious anti-semite.

        1. It’s like a game figuring out what was meant. I’m going with “unrepentant.” 

  10. Jon Benjamin and David Cross have been trying to combat this stereotype, clearly their work is not done.

  11. I grew up in Chicago with the term “Paddy Wagon” and thought  that was the real name for police vans for transporitng prisoners.  It was years before I relized that the “paddies” were the Irish cops and that the term was probably offensive.

    Being a slow learner, I didn’t realize the meaning of gyp until reading this tread

    That said, it is harder to not understand the true meaning of the representative’s statment. No excuse for that coming from someone’s mouth today

    1. That’s fine. I knew the meaning of “gyp”, but not of “Paddy Wagon” until you just spelled it out! I also thought that’s what they’re actually called.

    2. Not that you’re necessarily drawing equivalences there, but I’ll care about “Paddy wagon” (and Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish mascot) when Irish Americans start facing widespread institutional and personal racism again. Which isn’t likely, since they’ve become “white.”

  12. I think it would be a lot easier to forgive those. A LOT of people don’t know that “gyp” is offensive, or even that it’s spelled with a g and a y. But “Jew me down”? That’s like saying “I got totally gypsied!” or referring to the paddy wagon as the “Drunken Stereotypical Irish Copmobile”. Kind of hard to plead ignorance on that one.

    EDIT: This was meant to be a response to Timmo above, but Disqus can’t seem to remember who I am or what I’m replying to for more than 1 minute at a time.

    1. [Irrelevant To Thread] Are you on a mobile device by any chance? I find that Disqus regularly crashes Safari on the iPad. And on Macbook/Chrome, the thread page often gets hung up on ad content and fails to load. I am gathering anecdotal Disqus-hatin’ data. [/Irrelevant To Thread]

  13. Apology not accepted because racist remarks are unacceptable. I hate to think about what he says in private. His apology is politically motivated. The Republican party is in serious trouble. Yeah!

  14. “I will never do it again…” where any of you bastards can hear me say it.

    Maybe at the next Mitt Romney Fundraiser?

  15.  “It is a comment that should never be made. I will never do it again.” A perfect apology. If only that was the whole apology, without all the “if you were offended” bits. Also, I had no idea that’s where gypped came from! “I’m sorry I ever said it and will never say it again.” – Me. (Apologies are really not as hard as politicians make them.)

  16. Well I’m sure he didn’t mean to offend anyone and he is certainly sorry that he did offend someone … but that doesn’t make him any less of a racist. 

    It isn’t about what he says. Its about who he is. Saying things like this just reveal to us who he is. He can stop saying racist things all together, that doesn’t make him no longer racist.

  17. Well, I for one think that it was “mighty white” of him to immediately recognize that he had erred, and to issue an apology (though it was a rather weak one).  

    Anyone else think that this is the sort of thing that one’s offensive grandma says?  A friend’s grandma had a nickname for brazil nuts that probably wouldn’t be taken too well in african american circles.  Ahh…  the midwest, “The USA’s outdated grandma with the offensive lexicon”.

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