Stop calling American terrorist Nazis
Once again, citizens across the country are forced to mourn because of the hateful actions of a backwards few. In our attempts to cope, process, and heal many of us have rallied behind the call of fighting Nazism. While I admire the fervor and stand in solidarity with anyone condemning hate, I challenge these Nazi fighting patriots to be more thoughtful and frankly more truthful about what took place this weekend. It is 2017. This is not 1942. The Nazis are dead. Charlottesville was not overrun by Nazis this weekend; it was overtaken by racist fascist Americans.
Let’s be clear. Nazis were born out of Germany’s dark past, and defeated by a coalition of countries who would later go on to form NATO. What we saw this weekend had nothing to do with Germany, Hitler, nor Nazis. This weekend was the product of home grown, American hatred. If you really want to “call them what they are,” than do so. They are American born terrorist. They are the embodiment of American racism, a spirit and entity that has existed on this continent since 1492 and codified in US law since 1790.
To label these domestic terrorists Nazis is to let this country off the hook. We no longer have to look ourselves in the mirror because the evil doers are not Americans, no, they’re Nazis. We label them “other” so that we don’t have to face the hard cold truth that they are in fact one of us. I’m sure if you asked any of them how they identify, surely they would proudly and without hesitation proclaim their American heritage. But this of course does not sit well with your average American liberal. This weekend doesn’t fit in the narrative of the land of the free, the refuge of the huddled masses the world over. It forces the allied liberal to think, “How can ‘I’ and ‘them’ both be American? “What guilt, what blood might be on my hands if they are as much of an American as I?”
I’m not here to answer those questions for anyone, and would never assert the authority to do so. Do not look for me, my brothers, or my sisters to wipe the tears from your cheeks because we ourselves have our own cause for grieving. This weekend hurt all of us who care. Instead, let me evoke the words of Dr. King, and afford you the chance to “get the language right” in the cause for social justice in America. In that spirit here are three suggestions on how we should articulate the current moment in American society.
1. Stop viewing history in a vacuum- I teach what the world would consider American history to middle schoolers, but I would never tell you I teach a history. Instead, I will tell you that I teach social justice narratives throughout history and current affairs. Far too often we as Americans like to act as if history is merely a list of things that started and ended sometime in the past. We focus more on chronology than causation, which is why we see history repeat itself time and time again, and this is especially true when dealing with race in this country. We fail to talk about how our reality is shaped by the events of the pasts. We cannot move forward until we can deal with brutal honestly about our past and its implications on our lives today. This racist, fascist riot did not spring out of nowhere nor did its ripple-effect stop when Americans turned off the new to prepare for another case of the Monday blues.
2. You cannot cherry pick the narrative- if we are going to have these tough conversations we don’t get to pick and choose which parts of our history we want to deal and which parts we rather leave unsaid. No one wants to talk about the reason Robert E. Lee’s statue is being removed from Virginia state property. Yes, he was a great military mind, but more notably he was traitor to the Union and fought to protect the South’s right enslave Africans. The image of the righteous general is a myth. I’ve also noticed how shocked folks are that hate has come out of the shadows, seemingly out of the blue. This same breed of hate emboldened by the election of a man who encouraged violence at campaign rallies. This hate is supported by a man joking tells police officers to rough up the citizens they are sworn to protect with due process of the law. Let us not forget that this name made a political name for himself by doing everything in his power to invalid that first black president. Trump and his agenda of hate won the presidential election of 2016 and if you take a look at the numbers Trump didn’t win the minority vote. Nor do we see the Congressional Black Caucus aligning with the values of the Tea Party. We have to come to terms with all of this. We cannot be serious about having conversations about justice with half-truths and incomplete narratives.
3. It is nothing new- This is not a new phenomenon. American hate is an American as apple pie. If you trace the history of American you will see the themes of hatred repeated through eras of racism, nativism, and xenophobia. American values would be in name only had it not been for the sacrifices of brave citizens who fought explicitly against the above evils and called this country to a higher consciousness. The cause of the marginalized has always been the voice of inclusion and equity in America.
We have to get the language right if want to talk seriously about perfecting this far from perfect union. Contrary to how it might feel it is actually among the highest forms of patriotism. James Baldwin once said, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” For those familiar with Christian tradition, when dispelling demons Christ called the evil spirit by its name. We too must be forthright and unrelenting. We must speak in the full truth if we are to speak truth to power. White supremacy has had its moment in the sunlight this weekend and we, the woke, can do one of two things. We can label them “other” and allow racist to retreat back to their sunken place until emboldened again. Or we can acknowledge them for what they are, racist Americans and domestic terrorists. When we take the latter approach we can begin to reflect truthfully on the complicit actions and systems that breed this brand of American hate. Only then, only when we are able to look our collective self in the mirror, can we remove the safe havens that allow hate to grow in our American society. Remember, the enemy is not the Nazi, the enemy is American systemic racism.
Wallace is an educator, writer, and activist based in Philadelphia. As a Seton Hall graduate, Wallace began his teaching career in Newark, NJ before coming back to his hometown. In addition to his work in the classroom, he has community organizing background stemming from national campaigns to local educational justice initiatives.
IG @Mister_Weaver & TW @WallaceQ41