Any White, non-Jew who wants to offer his opinions on both the Holocaust and US slavery has got to be a fool.
Nevertheless, I’m going to do both.
I’m prompted by the issue of Nike deciding not to feature the flag of the 13 original US colonies on one of its shoe styles.
All countries do horrific things. States have always been founded by killing enough people so that a new political authority can reign. The Romans did it, the Egyptians, the Japanese, the French and so on.
In most cases, it’s just a garden variety military slaughter of enough of the other country’s army to take over the pre-existing levers of power over a population. Europe is full of examples of these “heroic” wars to expand the territory of whoever had enough money at the time to pull it off.
But sometimes a country does something so fantastically egregious that it stands out as a beacon of moral teaching.
Most people agree than Nazi Germany is one of those examples. Twelve years of systematic genocide of Jews (mostly) in addition to Roma, homosexuals, handicapped, and political enemies.
Millions of voters were convinced of the idea of German exceptionalism that made them superior to other countries and to other races. Laws were embraced that favored Aryan heritage over all other heritage.
Of course, it was so overt that it required concentration camps and death chambers where millions were systematically killed. All done under 100% legal circumstances. In fact, it was illegal to not assist in the capture and imprisonment of Jews and other legally defined inferiors.
So how does the world feel about openly displaying the Nazi swastika flag today?
Well, it’s almost universally seen as (at a minimum) fantastically insensitive to the Jews who suffered under 12 years of that particular 100% legal, voted-in-by-a-majority, political regime.
And what would most of us think about the people who instead say, “Look, Germany made some mistakes in those 12 years, but Hitler also created the fantastic autobahn highway system and he commissioned the Volkswagen Beetle, one of the most successful cars of all time that brought utility, prosperity, and enjoyment to millions of people worldwide. We should all respect and appreciate the positive that happened during those years, including the brilliant work the Nazi’s did on rocket technology that was indispensable in reaching the moon. Not appreciating Hitler is spitting in the face of Neil Armstrong and the other Apollo astronauts!”
Anybody think that line of reasoning is good and proper in light of what was done to millions of Jews deemed inferior human beings and sentenced to death?
So now we have Nike and its controversy with the flag of the 13 colonies.
Slavery of African blacks was 100% legal in those 13 colonies. All of them. Slavery was legal for 245 years of early American history.
Twelve million Africans were kidnapped from their homes and taken across the ocean. More than half a million were sold in the United States.
They weren’t put in death camps and gassed, or shot in the back of the head next to a deep ditch and bulldozed over. Instead they were sentenced to a lifetime of rape, beatings, hard labor, mutilation, and captivity in chains.
Girls 13 years old and up were openly sold for sex. They were also used for sex on the trip across the ocean. Owners were expected to keep all females of child bearing age pregnant at all times. Slaves were bred like cattle.
Rebellion or escape was answered with removal of toes, or feet, or hands. Beatings were routine.
It was illegal to help a slave escape. Slaves lived with no hope of a better life, in total captivity, and sentenced to relentless hard labor until dead.
To me it’s an academic argument over who had it worse; a Jew under Hitler, or a Slave under the US government. I won’t argue with a person who says death in a mass gas chamber is worse. But I also won’t argue with the person who says a lifetime of you and your family being raped, beaten, and forced to perform hard labor in shackles is worse.
Both governments should be utterly ashamed of what they did. Germany for 12 years. America for 245 years.
But here’s a distinction.
The Germans ARE ashamed of it. They have huge memorials to the victims. They have museums detailing all of the historical records of the Nazi era. They teach German school children all about those years. They pay to preserve the camps as museums. Politicians and public intellectuals mention those years and remind everyone of the lessons from it.
And of course, Germany has a magnificent history of massive contribution to science, medicine industry, philosophy, music, arts and more. Germans are proud of all that. But they don’t dismiss those other 12 years casually.
Nobody says to Jews today “Oh, get over it. It was in the past. It has nothing to do with Germans born since 1945. You shouldn’t be so sensitive to seeing the Nazi flag – you weren’t even born then! You’re just being a snowflake. No county is perfect.”
OK, now let’s look at how 245 years of institutionalized, 100% legal, rape, brutal imprisonment, and sale of humans is handled in the United States.
- Texas school textbooks are deliberately edited with descriptions like “workers were brought from Africa to support agricultural plantations” and “some owners were kind and generous.”
- Students are asked to look at slavery with a “balanced view” discussing pros and cons
- Three of four students can’t explain how the US Constitution used wording in support of slavery (oblivious that a black person was legally 3/5 of a white person)
- Students are taught that “not all slaves were unhappy“
- Politicians on US currency were slave owners
- “Founding Fathers” are always revered and never seen in shame as slave owners and legislative supporters of the trade in and legal rape of fellow humans
- Pickup trucks proudly display the flag of the slave era and the drivers esteem “our heritage” with unmitigated pride
- Activists who want to bring attention to the issue are labeled “people who hate America” and “people who don’t respect the greatness and exceptionalism of the greatest country the world has ever known.”
Today’s black decedents of the slaves are told, “Oh, get over it. It was in the past. It has nothing to do with Americans born since 1865. You shouldn’t be so sensitive to seeing the Colonial or Confederate flag – you weren’t even born then! You’re just being a snowflake. No county is perfect.”
People of the United States, like the people of Germany, have made magnificent contributions to the betterment of mankind. Again, in medicine, science, technology, engineering, arts, humanities and in the millions of day to day workers who do positive things large and small.
There is no moral requirement for any individual to carry the blame and guilt for the uncounted injustices done to innocent victims over the centuries.
But it is beyond disrespectful to shout down or marginalize the efforts and voices of people who want those injustices exposed, highly visible, acknowledged as injustices, and widely discussed and taught as moral lessons of grave human error and despicable political policy.
That’s why you won’t see me displaying flags of the slave era, despite me not being black, nor a flag of the Nazi era, despite me not being Jewish.
These are moral lessons for all of humanity, present and future, – and there are no exceptions or “exceptionalism” in cases of deeming other people as sub-human. There is no “balanced, pro and con viewpoint” on the systematic abuse of other people.
The real snowflakes are the people who need to insist otherwise lest their beloved illusion of their country be seen in full daylight.
(And let’s leave the genocidal atrocities – including biological warfare – committed against Native Americans for another post.)