It is a question that has been asked so many times, it seems almost stale at this point: where does the uncontrollable, modern-day urge to position one historic genocide as more cruel than another comes from?
I suppose if you are a journalist weighing the cruelty of atrocities committed by different nationalist groups throughout history, you might claim that the group from which you descended suffered the most.
For those unfamiliar with this concept, it is known as bias, and modernly, it fits in seamlessly with Western society’s tendency to characterize the historic suffering endured by Black and brown people as either a thing of the past, or simply, as less pronounced than the suffering endured by white people.
In practice, it might manifest as a non-Black or –brown person claiming that, relative to the slaughter of the indigenous peoples of America, or the enslavement, lynching, and legal segregation of Black people, Nazism was extraordinarily horrendous.
This was the case in an article published earlier today by NPR’s Scott Simon.
According to Mr. Simon, Nazi Germany’s legal implementation of Aryan supremacy laws, the “[engineered] murder of millions,” and so on, are what made it extraordinarily evil.
Never mind that over half the countries in the world have either English, French, or Spanish as their official language, despite the fact that there are only fifty countries in Europe. Or the fact that over a third of the world’s religious adherents are Christian (and yes, I am referring to the brands of Christianity that were imparted by European colonialism).
In the early eighteenth century, French colonists reacted to the population boom of the Haitian people by indiscriminately raping, killing, and torturing them in a multitude of ways, including by way of pathologic castration and mutilation. The French methods were graphic and beyond inhumane—monstrous and almost unthinkable—except they were documented. But this was in the early 1700s, so maybe it’s old news?
When do human rights violations stop being par for the course and start being, for all their heinousness, "extraordinary"? When the folks upon whom they're exacted are European-descended? Or is there a timeline, also designated by those with European heritage? How recently do they have to have occurred?
I wonder: what do journalists, like Mr. Simon, suppose was going on in the minds of European imperialists—whose colonization of the world spanned literal centuries and claimed millions (upon millions) of lives? How do these authors think the imperialists perceived the Black and brown people they ruthlessly murdered, tore from their families and homelands, and/or stripped of their cultural and religious traditions?
By now, many folks are aware that the eugenic practices of Nazi Germany were famously inspired by those of the United States, which hinged on the belief that those who were poor, non-white, queer, and disabled were genetically inferior to…everyone who didn’t fall into those categories.
Mr. Simon’s characterization of contemporary white supremacists as clueless “clods” who whose only concerns are “skin color and ethnicity” is, to put it gently, ignorant, and of no comfort to those whose skin colors and ethnicities make them moving targets for these racist, xenophobic maniacs.
For example, in May, white supremacist Jeremy Joseph Christian was shouting Islamophobic slurs at two girls of color on a light-rail train in Portland when three passengers intervened. Christian stabbed all three, killing two of them. He had reportedly attended demonstrations in the past wherein he wrapped himself in an American flag and shouted the “n-word” at members of the crowd.
So for obvious reasons, Mr. Simon’s portrayal of white supremacists as bumbling characters—almost as though they were Disney’s rendition of the real thing (which, according to him, only existed in Nazi Germany)—is a dishonor to those who have been viciously murdered by these so-called “clods.”
By all means, Mr. Simon, continue enjoying friendly cups of tea with neo-Nazis and members of the KKK. But if you are to, you might be better off keeping this aspect of your social life private while folks whose skin colors and ethnic backgrounds don’t afford them the same senses of safety.
This article was originally published on August 19, 2017.