UPDATE: If you would like to donate to help those men and women who brought down the statue of the Confederate soldier in Durham with legal costs you can donate here: Durham Solidarity Center
These men and women are Americans. Nazis were Germans. Call them what they are in Charlottesville: White Supremacists, Klansmen, Confederates, Racists. When we call them Nazis, we associate them with the Other, we disassociate them from ourselves, from the United States, from our laws and from our history. It may be easier for some to use the word Nazi, it may ring more loudly and play more dramatically, particularly for the media, but the truth is these are our people, we need to own them, particularly white people, and so we must call them by the names of who and what they are and not give them names that make it easier for us to distance and disassociate ourselves.
If I use the word Nazi, I am protecting myself and those in my white American community, because the word is narrow and strictly defined; it’s limited, it’s grotesque, it’s hard for me to think of anyone I know whom I am related to by blood or by affection that I could fit into such a characterization, into such a costume. But, if I use a word other than Nazi, something broader, something more open, something more familiar, something more American, now I can think of people I know.
It is my fellow white brothers and sisters who have used the words and phrases that underline and validate the 60 million strong Trump movement that doesn’t just step and march underneath the banner of racism, but also beneath the flags of misogyny, homophobia and nationalism. The riposte from them will be that those historical elements and those openly racist personas apply to the fringes of the 60 million, because those I know who chose to vote for Trump did so because of tax cuts and jobs, want a wall because of jobs, want to privatize schools to allow for better economic competition etc, etc, etc… Ah, but of course…However, it is now necessary to quote the horribly influential, maniacally capable, and devilishly intelligent Lee Atwater, the man behind Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, a man who would not even be 70 years old today if he were still alive; imagine what Lee Atwater’s role would have been over the last 26 years if he had not died when he was 40? You think Karl Rove was bad? Karl Rove was an ersatz Lee Atwater for George Bush the Younger…
Lee Atwater explaining the Republican Southern Strategy, as quoted by Alexander Lamis in 1981:
“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”’
What it takes to defeat those marching in torchlight in Charlottesville, who are not the descendants of those of the Nuremberg rallies, but rather are American men and women walking in the steps of and with the purposes of those who committed the atrocities of the slave plantations and the Native American reservations, is to stand like those who opposed the Confederates, the Klansmen, and the Racists in Charlottesville. More so, it is to go beyond that and to speak with those who are carrying those torches, again particularly those of us who are white, in order to get them to extinguish the flames on the torches. Best would be to speak with these men and women to convince them that there is a better path to walk and that there is a community to join that does not require the carrying of torches, a community that does not have a history of hate, exclusion, and genocide, and that there is a community that fights, that marches, and that sacrifices to achieve and maintain true freedom and equality for all people.
To go farther though we have to recognize the injustices that are resident in the political system itself, and just as Northern businessmen in the first half of the 19th century were in no hurry to see slavery abolished in the United States, despite the very fanciful myth of an all encompassing and altruistic abolitionism in the North, so it must be recognized that the neoliberal policies of the Democratic Party of the last 30 years have shattered the lives of hundreds of millions of peoples both internally and externally to the United States, most predominately people of color. With this we must abandon old political loyalties, we must eschew political sensibilities, and we must break open a new economic and social justice for all people, because believing that the established political classes and authorities will do so is simply just insane.
The foundational documents that created the United States established our country within a political and economic system of racism. The electoral college system and its attendant Three/Fifths Compromise, that thing which gave us Donald Trump last November, not the Russians and Putin, is one of such pillars of that state system of slavery that to this day remains a functioning part of the US Constitution, our political process and our overt society.
Fortunately, protest and people coming together to change the system and our country for the better have also been a part of America’s history. I was in Chicago this past week at the Veterans For Peace convention, returning last night, and so I missed some very just, honorable and righteous people pulling down a statue in Durham, NC, a statue that had been dedicated to the men who were the guardians of slavery, a statue that should never have been raised. I happen to know one or two of those people who performed that toppling, better people I don’t know.
I believe in non-violence. Removing a statue that celebrates the guardians of slavery is a worthy and defendable non-violent action, and it is something I will always endorse.
My friends, let’s speak true words to one another and let’s wage peace.
5 thoughts on “Stop Calling Them Nazis”
Some Nazis were German. Some Nazis were Austrian. Some Nazis were Bavarian. Some Nazis were American. Some Nazis are Americans now. It’s a philosophy, not a nationality, not a race.
Matt, I like what you wrote, and especially this part:
“With this we must abandon old political loyalties, we must eschew political sensibilities, and we must break open a new economic and social justice for all people, because believing that the established political classes and authorities will do so is simply just insane.”
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Terrific post, Matt.
That’s what they call themselves. They claim the word and don’t see it as an epithet.
An important and very helpful message. For me, it clarified what’s really at stake during this fallout from the Charlottesville tragedy. Should be read by all…on both sides of the political divide.