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My Turn: The poverty of racialist thinking

I read with interest the series the Monitor published in December about the New Hampshire prison gang with a white supremacist ideology. Some readers objected that the Monitor should not have run the story because it gave the gang too much undeserved publicity.

I disagree. I think the Monitor performed a public service by exposing that a group like that exists and is organizing in New Hampshire. We should be vigilant and have no illusions about racist movements and their agenda. Better to know about them than to pretend they do not exist.

One thing missing in the series was much of an explanation of what these white supremacists believe. Clearly it is far more than alleged white pride, and the whole picture should not be ignored. I suspect the white supremacists were deliberately fuzzy because their message is so offensive. Unfortunately, there is a wealth of depressing history which leaves no doubt about their beliefs.

The most fully realized example of white supremacy was Nazi Germany. There the beliefs were fully put into action. Nineteenth-century American slavery and South Africa under apartheid were also contenders. All lived out a racist vision.

The Nazis sought unity of the German people through racism. Racism and anti-Semitism were official state ideology. They obsessed about the racial purity of the German people and constantly worried about mingling between races they considered higher and lower. They passed many laws to prevent that mingling.

The Nazis designated many categories of people as defective and subhuman. These groups included, among others, Jews, Blacks, Slavs, gays, gypsies and the physically and mentally disabled. As these groups were by definition enemies of the Reich, they needed to be eliminated.

Their plan was to create a world of Aryan perfection by removing all the groups considered defective. The 6 million Jews who died in Hitler’s concentration camps and ovens were no aberration. Those murders followed directly from a racist ideology and plan, as did the millions of other murders perpetrated by the Nazis.

The Hitler vision was based on hatred of all deemed “non-Aryan.” The Nazis created a pseudo-science to certify Aryan background, blood and traits. They identified facial features and head shapes they felt were characteristic of subhumans. This would all be laughable except that it was in the service of their eliminationist agenda.

Nazi racist ideology desensitized the Germans to the plight of the Jews and others. There was a long incubation period prior to the Final Solution. The Nazis gradually escalated the level of public hatred. I would note that the Nazis saw hatred as noble and they coached Germans to feel no pity when they inflicted pain on those considered inferiors.

Dehumanization allowed the Nazis to categorize their opponents as “human trash” and “useless eaters.” That created justification for all the unspeakable acts of cruelty, including their sick medical experiments and the millions of premeditated murders.

A direct line from ‘pride’ to murder

When the white supremacists say they only support white pride, skepticism is more than called for. There was a direct line from Aryan pride to the concentration camps and murder on a mass scale.

I do not know if New Hampshire white supremacists would object to my use of the Nazis as expressing their values. Not that I am listening that hard, but to this day, you do not hear white supremacists saying Hitler got it wrong. Some deny the Holocaust happened, but you do not hear criticisms of Hitler from them. As far as I know, they still celebrate Hitler’s birthday. Also, there must be a reason so many racist prison gangs love their swastika tattoos.

An accident of birth

White pride is an utterly false category. It is like having pride in green eyes, O+ blood or skinny legs. It is a wrong-headed basis for a group association. Why have pride in an accidental feature of your genetic make-up? Pride, in this instance, is not based on something good you did. It is based on an accident of your birth. Nobody has control over the skin color they get when they are born. It is the luck of the draw.

Having a group identity based on white pride is what Kurt Vonnegut called a granfalloon. A granfalloon is when a group of people affect a shared identity or purpose and the association is meaningless.

Human beings have plenty of differences, including genetic differences, but all of us are fundamentally the same. We all have good and bad complicated baggage. We feel the same range of emotions. We are all struggling to find some meaning in this life and we are all going to suffer. What we have in common is far more profound than our differences.

Given the appalling history of the Nazis alone, white pride is a scary concept. In a place like New Hampshire where racial diversity is lacking, it is especially pernicious. I would submit that racism is more likely to flourish in places where people have less contact with minorities. There are always exceptions but it is easier to maintain false racial stereotypes when they remain unchallenged in daily life. I think personal contact generally challenges the stereotypes because that experience will show the falsity of racism and racial hatred.

I hope that white racist prison gangs and white racists generally can come to see the error of that kind of hateful thinking. The 21st century world so needs us to move beyond that outdated and viciously destructive mindset.

(Jonathan P. Baird of Wilmot is an administrative law judge. This column reflects his views and not those of his employer, the Social Security Administration.)

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