Maybe I was naïve, but until the last couple years I thought most people had figured out the whole "Nazis are bad" thing. But then came the resurgence of explicit white nationalism and the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, VA. More recently such hate has found its way to my own backyard: there was white nationalist propaganda featuring a picture of Hitler saying "Hitler was Right" pasted over a Black History Month sign at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Wed. Feb. 7, 2018. (See the image below).
This incident has been condemned by the Freshman Senate, Student Government Association, the University Chancellor, the President of the UT system, and many others. I'd like to add my own name to the list.
|White nationalist vandalism at the U. of Tennessee Chattanooga, Feb. 7, 2018 |
I thought my own condemnation might take a form different than the usual sort of "we condemn racism and hate in all its forms, etc." Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's a good form. But as I think about this what astounds me is that we have come to a place where people need some basic reminders.
Here's the first reminder: Nazis are bad.
Hitler was not right. We had a whole big war about it 75 years ago. Nazis were committed to genocide and systematically murdered millions of human beings based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation, political beliefs, and so forth. Nazis were quite literally opposed to everything America is supposed to stand for. They tried to take over a big chunk of the world to impose their racist ideology. Such racism has absolutely no scientific basis. It is morally bankrupt. Didn't you see Indiana Jones?
I realize that my reminder may not reach those who most need to hear it, but if by some chance a wayward denizen of 4chan or some other online back alley where white supremacists peddle their wares is reading this, posting an image of Hitler from with the logo of a known white nationalist organization on top of a Black History Month poster is not edgy or pushing the envelope. It's not a mischievous schoolboy prank or sticking it to "political correctness run amok" for the lolz.
It is saying that you want to incite violence toward African Americans and other people of color, to forcibly remove millions of your fellow Americans from our country. It is to consider cold-blooded murder of your fellow human beings for no reason aside from the fact that they don't look like you. This is, to put it mildly, not cool. While shame is perhaps in short supply at least in the ways we tend to present ourselves in anonymous online forums, one hopes a reminder of the stark and vile reality of white nationalism and white supremacy will have some effect.
So, what to do in the face of this resurgence of explicitly stated hatred?
I'm not sure. Perhaps finding other ways to channel the economic anxieties of young white men is a start (blaming your economic problems on immigrants or people of color makes no sense at all if you think about it for a second; they didn't create the economic structures that oppress you). Staying aware of the reality of white nationalism is another good idea, perhaps with help from the Anti-Defamation League or the Southern Poverty Law Center.
As I struggled with this in the last few days, I had an idea. Maybe one way to respond is to support the very thing the white nationalists were targeting: Black History Month.
So here's my second reminder: February is Black History Month here in the United States.
If you're in the Chattanooga area, why not come to some UTC Black History Month events? There are film screenings, panel discussions, and an African dance class! Showing up for these events will not only show your support for our students, but you might even learn something!
If you're not in Chattanooga, find some Black History Month events near you. If you're not in the United States, try to learn about some black American history on your own.
Learning about black history in America shows, I think, that white nationalism is not only evil, it is sadly misinformed. Black history is American history. We have always been a diverse, yet troubled nation. I don't mean to downplay the troubles, of which we still have plenty.
But it's worth reflecting that an America without African Americans would have been an America without jazz, blues, rock 'n roll, R&B, funk, or hip hop. Without Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, or Angela Y. Davis. Without Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, or Octavia Butler. Without Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, or Wanda Sykes. Without Jackie Robinson or Michael Jordan. Without Janelle Monáe. Without Will Smith or Samuel L. Jackson. Without Mae Jemison. Without Barack Obama. Without Oprah. Without our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Without our fellow Americans.
So what I want to say to any real or would be white nationalists is this: An America without African Americans would not be America. As a white American, I want no part of your racist fantasy. Our diversity is our strength. And it will defeat you.