A well-loved columnist expressed his offense at a perceived rudeness of Bernie Sanders’ in the PBS debate and he cautioned that Bernie wouldn’t be well-received among Southerners, and especially older Black women in the South as Sanders’ kind of hand gesturing is considered offensive in Southern Black culture.
It has long been known that Italians and Jews talk with their hands. Many other cultures are known for their propensity to include a fair amount of hand-gesturing. It is one of the most recognizable cultural features many groups share, and these particular two are best known for, among other features. Here, in this episode of Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, watch Carl Reiner and Jerry Seinfeld at about 2:45. Reiner’s hands go up as soon as he begins talking. If you stick around, you’ll get to see another big hand talker, the great Mel Brooks.
Now, this columnist has been living and working among Jews and Italians in New York for a couple of decades and it is odd that he hasn’t noticed the hand talking in all that time. Be that as it may, The New York Times published some pieces on the topic, including this review, “It’s Not Just a Myth: They Do Speak With Their Hands,” which begins:
“Mr. Stellino makes a colorful point that is central to the premise of this one-hour documentary. In all of the distinctive characteristics of America’s various ethnic groups — those quirks and curiosities that have often formed the basis of ethnic jokes and stereotypes — there is, upon closer inspection, complexity and richness. Hence, Mr. Stellino embraces that old ethnic saw that Italians ”speak with their hands” and shows us that in all those flying hands, there is a depth of feeling and a flair for individual expression that is to be envied, not mocked.”
Jews and Italians, historically, were racially-profiled, ridiculed, and even physically battered, based on cultural stereotyping of this particular cultural trait. One antisemitic insult was to couch Jews as vulgar because they hand talk. This profiling was very prominent in popular art, the first movies and animations in the early part of last century, for example. While the conversation about America’s varied cultures has not focused on this aspect in some time, these cultural mannerisms still exist. Jews have been around for a long time in this nation, as have Italians, including in the Deep South. When commenting on culture and social issues, it is a must to have as wide-ranging a knowledge as possible about cultural differences among different groups of Americans before making public judgments.
There really was no rudeness involved here. We are all different. Hand talking isn’t rude. Now that you know, please pass it on. We need more, not less tolerance.
PS: Guess who else is a “yuge” finger wagger?
Blog#42 is a reader-supported site and my full-time job. I cannot do more without your financial support. Please click here to help me take Blog#42 to the next level!
Additional reading on gesturing:
MSNBC’s Irin Carmon: What’s in a gesture? To some, a double standard