Nazi Germany’s US Racial Model: Translocal Whiteness

With the rise of white nationalist political candidates and elected leaders throughout the world, the idea of global white identity and the question of how it arises and becomes salient to large populations is particularly pertinent. However there remains a dearth of information on this general topic. Rather, much of the historical scholarship that focuses on white nationalism in the United States does not consider the potential international impact of white supremacy in the U.S. Fortunately, the work of sociologist Jessie Daniels fills in this gap by noting the central role of translocal whiteness, or a “global white identity”, in the reproduction of white racism on the internet today.

Yet, the work of Daniels is also limited in its discussion of translocal whiteness in the sense that it only discusses contemporary manifestations of this phenomenon on the internet. Herein, I discuss one key historical moment when translocal whiteness had a vast impact on the globe—the influence of systemic white racism in the U.S. on Nazi Germany. In doing so, I focus specifically on the colonialist worldviews of both societies and their white racially framed laws that were key to setting up and reproducing each system of white racism. In conclusion, I argue that we can more fully understand this social phenomenon by looking at the various ways it has manifested across historical contexts—including prior to the invention of the internet.

As noted by historian Norman Rich,

…the United States policy of westward expansion, in the course of which the white man ruthlessly thrust aside the ‘inferior’ indigenous population, served as a model for Hitler’s entire concept of Lebensraum [living space].

Here we can begin to see that these white racially framed conceptions of space and race, first developed by elite white American men, served as a model for the Nazi regime’s decimation of the Slavic people on the eastern front. In fact, as early as 1928, Adolf Hitler was giving public speeches in which he spoke admirably about the way (white) Americans had

gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand, and now keep the modest remnant under observation in a cage.

Furthermore, Hitler regularly made private comments that were similar. For example, he predicted that “Here in the east, a similar process will repeat itself for a second time as in the conquest of America.” These quotes from Hitler himself, which were also regularly repeated by the Nazi elite—particularly on the eastern front—show the vast influence this white racially framed ideology of manifest destiny had on the Nazi elite and the immense degree with which they were consumed with these white racially framed narratives that began in the U.S. and easily took hold in Nazi Germany. In addition, in these quotes Hitler regularly referred to white Americans as “Nordics”—highlighting his (and many other elite Nazis’) view of Americans translocal whites, even when varying terminologies, such as Nordic or Volk, were used.

The white racially framed immigration and other racialized laws of the U.S. in the 1930’s also inspired Nazi Germany due to their ability to create a de facto second class status for Indigenous Americans, Chinese, Puerto Ricans, blacks, and several other groups. In fact, in 1936, as the Nuremberg Laws were being implemented in Germany, Nazi party officials were publicizing the US method of creating a racialized second class to average Germans, through official Nazi party publications, in an effort to normalize the German subjugation of a newly created de facto Jewish second class. In addition, these widely circulated magazine articles supported German racism against Jews and blacks by framing American racism as “natural”. For example, Nazi party officials published an article stating,

The United States too [just like Germany] has racist politics and policies. What is lynch justice, if not the natural resistance of the Volk to an alien race that is attempting to gain the upper hand? Most states of the Union have special laws directed against the Negroes, which limit their voting rights, freedom of movement, and career possibilities.

Here we can see how the racist laws of the United States were interpreted by elite Nazi officials who controlled party narratives and how these officials used a translocal white identity to convince the ordinary German population that the systemic oppression and murder of Jews was “natural” because it was something whites were engaged in on a global level. Furthermore, they invoke a translocal white identity by referring to white Americans who lynch African Americans as “Volks” who are engaged in a “natural resistance” to an “alien race”. The use of the term “natural resistance” promotes the pro-white center of the dominant white frame—-suggesting that both white Germans and white Americans (Volks) are virtuous actors. Furthermore, the suggestion that they are resisting a “alien” races serves to promote anti-“other” sub-framing for blacks and Jews. The Central message in all of this is that white Germans and Americans (Volks) share a translocal whiteness and thus are engaged in the same “natural” endeavor for systemic racialized oppression.

By looking at the way translocal whiteness operated in Nazi Germany through the U.S. model, we can gain a more holistic picture of the translocal whiteness phenomenon. As this post shows, the internet is just a new tool for the transference of translocal whiteness in the modern age. In the past, white racially framed legal codes, theories (e.g., eugenics), worldviews, and literatures served as models for the promotion of translocal systems of white racism in at least this one case.

However, I also note that there are important differences in the use of the internet to promote a translocal white identity. For example, the internet allows for translocal whiteness to be instantaneously spread to millions of everyday whites across the globe. With the advent of the internet, white supremacists can record their racist rant, upload it to the internet, go to sleep, and have hundreds of thousands of whites across the globe listen to it by the next morning.

In addition, due to this change in access, translocal whiteness on the internet can also take a bottom up approach to influencing whites across the globe whereas in the past translocal whiteness had to take a top down approach due to the fact that only elites had access to legal codes and other means of spreading translocal white identity. For example, German Nazis used the Nuremberg Laws, official party publications, etc., to promote translocal whiteness to the German population in a very controlled, top-down, approach to spread their dominant, Nazified, version of the old white racial frame. With the internet, this approach can be taken from the bottom up where everyday whites buy into the white racial frame and then vote for the creation or reproduction of white-racist systems throughout the world. By understanding the differences in these historical approaches to the transmission of translocal whiteness, we can learn more about how this process works, and thus work against it and the systemic racism it serves to justify, recreate, and reproduce.

Thaddeus Atzmon, M.A., is a graduate student in sociology at Texas A&M University.

“Terrorism”: A High-Stakes Convenience Label

“Terrorist” is an increasingly racialized label. In theory, a term can help to define a class of violence in order to combat it (for example, gun violence or domestic violence). In practice, the term “terrorism” is used to perpetuate structural violence against Muslims, not to mitigate any kind of violence.

Not only does the definition of terrorism vary widely across the globe, different agencies within the United States government have varying definitions. Media outlets are essentially free to use the term at their will. Terrorism is less structured than such a label implies. While it may be true that radicalized individuals or groups conspire to incite violence, violence has existed for all of human history, and labeling violent acts terrorism simply because they were committed by Muslims creates a false links between such acts, and perpetuates the fallacy of Islam as a violent religion and Islam as the link.

Those most affected by terrorism within the United States are the Muslims who are stereotyped and labeled terrorists simply because of their racialized religious identity. It is time to reevaluate the use of the terms terrorism and terrorist altogether and explain violent acts in new ways that will not instigate or perpetuate additional violence against those most harmed by a subjective and racist, and impractical label.

How “Terrorism” Protects Whites and Harms Muslims

In 1983, the US State Department defined terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” This definition is broad, leaves a substantial amount of room for the government’s own discretion, and even differs from the definition used by the FBI. Notably, it also excludes state actions. Because of this ambiguity, terrorism is not a stagnant concept – it is employed by government actors as a strategic label to uphold orientalism in order to strengthen support for the U.S. government’s constant state of war, specifically the War on Terror.

President Bush signed the Patriot Act in October of 2001 in response the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The act was designed to expand the power of the government to investigate acts they deemed terrorism. This law codified the government’s ability to, without due process, obtain private records, seize assets, and search property or person of anyone suspected to be engaged in “terrorist” activity. In the twelve months following the 9/11 attacks, according to a council on American-Islamic Relations report,

more that 60,000 individuals [were] affected by government actions of discrimination, interrogation, raids, arrests,detentions and institutional closures.

The subjective definition of the terrorism label precipitates that not only does the government have the power and discretion to determine whose behaviors constitute terrorist activity, they also and to arbitrarily revoke fundamental rights from whomever they consider to be posing that threat –- and they do. More recently, the Trump administration cast its thinly veiled Muslim Bans as a mechanism for perpetrating structural violence against Muslims -– restricting movement, separating families, and risking innocent lives, despite the true reality of that supposed “terrorism” threat being extremely small. The odds of being killed in an international terrorism attack in the United States are roughly the same as the odds of being struck by lightning. The number of people killed globally by international terrorism each year is comparable to the number of Americans who drown in their own bathtubs in the same span of time. Comparatively, epidemics of systemic and preventable violence, such as the traffic safety crisis in NYC, go unaddressed. One person dies every 38 hours in traffic in New York City, and yet the City will not make common sense changes to prevent the very real threat faced by its pedestrians.

The overreaction to extremely rare acts of violence that are labeled “terrorism,” both in the United States and globally, has contributed to far more deaths than the acts considered terrorism themselves have. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died as a result of the US Government’s counterterrorism strategies after 9/11 –- more than the number of fatalities caused by all global “terrorist attacks” in the last century. Refugees from Syria, Lybia, Yemen, and Somalia remain in danger because of this subjectively applied label and Trump’s essentially racist ban. Muslim communities around the country face surveillance, unjust imprisonment, and violence in part due to this label. White America has been primed to overlook legally sanctioned structural violence because the dominant framework has prescribed the belief that all Muslims are terrorists, and thus discrimination against Muslims is necessary and logical for the safety of the dominant group.

Selective Labeling

In reality, the government exercises its discretion by defining Muslims as the perpetrators of terrorism, accompanied by the portrayal of the victim of terrorism as only western white individuals. This was made especially clear through the media and government’s treatment of Dylan Roof, the white man who massacred nine African American men and women at a historically Black church in South Carolina in June of 2015. Despite the fact that Roof’s attack was meticulously planned and motivated by over white racism, he was indicted for federal hate crimes and firearms charges as opposed to domestic terrorism charges.

Roof’s actions were not attributed to his race or his religion and his friends were not subjected to interrogation and charged with conspiracy. His community of self-defined white supremacists was not threatened, intimidated, or entrapped by the FBI. White people were not banned from entering the United States based on his actions. His crime was not seen as politically motivated because the US government does not recognize racism as political, even when it is used as justification for overtly racist, violent actions and murder. His crime was not linked to other mass shootings as a systemic issue let alone mass shootings committed by white men, or other acts of violence and murder committed by white men against Black people.

There have been cases where white violent actors have been brought up on domestic terrorism charges, and yet white Americans have not been systemically surveiled and have not faced violence due to the actions of these white “terrorists.” Some advocates pushed for Dylan Roof to be called a “domestic terrorist.” Each time a mass shooter is identified as a white individual, there is a small chorus of voices advocating for the violent action to be labeled “terrorism.” Should we still be pushing to label any violent action terrorism when 1) it is clear at this point that the label has been constructed with the qualification of the perpetrator being a Muslim, and 2) Muslims living in the US, regardless of citizenship status, face structural violence because of the racist application of the term?

Putting the Label Behind Us

As academics and social justice advocates, abandoning the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” altogether may help to reclaim the power the label has given the U.S. Government to harm to Muslims in the United States and abroad. The racist history of the label’s application has rendered the term “terrorism” useless to those who seek to identify the true causes of violence, and to work to mitigate them.

The field of Critical Terrorism Studies provides some insights as to how we can better understand the label moving forward. Critical Terrorism Studies (CTS) is concerned with the security of the individual as paramount to the security of the state, and explicates that the best way of obtaining security for the individual may be through critical analysis of what terrorism really is. Terrorism

is not a self-evident, exceptional category of political violence. Rather, it is a social construction – a linguistic term or label that is applied to certain acts [and not to others] through a range of political, legal, and academic processes.

Cara Cancelmo currently works as the Development Director at the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. She plans to study sociology in graduate school.

Waking Up to the Racism of Cleveland Baseball

Growing up I was surrounded by Indigenous mascots from little league baseball to the pros. My confusion as a young white kid became an awakening to the reality of settler colonialism. When I moved to Cleveland, it became impossible for me to overlook the overt racism of the baseball team’s Indigenous mascot. The transition to a new name and logo cannot come soon enough.

 

(Image source)

Realizing something was wrong

When I was little I wondered why Cleveland’s baseball team was unique compared to others in the league. They weren’t the Cardinals, Giants, or Angels, but the “Indians.” I didn’t understand the significance then, I only noticed the pattern that one team was unlike the rest. Growing up outside Boston, I went downtown to Fenway Park each year to see a Red Sox game and would study the visiting team beforehand. For a handful of years, the Red Sox matched up with the Cleveland Indians in the playoffs. Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome were my favorite players for Cleveland, but when they came up to bat I was always confused by the logo on their uniforms featuring the red-faced man with a feather and an odd smile.

As a young white kid in a pretty insular community, my perception of Indigenous people was limited to mascots, museums and textbooks. From watching “Cowboys and Indians” films in elementary school to the Redskins and Indians teams on television, I internalized exotic images and mythical ideas of “ancient peoples” who had once roamed the US. Like any child I had a lot of questions, but my classes spent little time addressing them.

Then in college a close friend exposed me to a side of history omitted from my education and comfy childhood. He was from the Passamaquoddy Nation in northern Maine, and invited a couple of our friends to his home on the Passamaquoddy Reservation for an annual celebration with his family. Our friendship consisted of mostly humor that occasionally led to a more serious conversation, like the stark differences between our upbringings.

My friend spoke frequently about how resilient his community is in the face of struggle; his reservation, like many others, is in a state of economic and environmental devastation. From surviving genocide to ongoing federal disinvestment, he taught me history is no thing of the past for him. He also told me of the most pressing issues there, from high rates of youth suicide, to domestic violence and alcoholism. During a conversation one day about our jobs working with youth, he brought up the phenomenon of Indigenous mascotry. He didn’t go into depth, but told me that for the kids in his community, Indigenous mascots nationwide are one of the most harmful factors to their development. I didn’t press him to say more, but wanted to keep learning.

The following year back at college in Northeast Ohio, I took a Native Studies class, which featured a segment devoted to the history of Indigenous mascots across the country. We read scholarly articles of landmark lawsuits and social movements that focused on the many attempts to prevent these types of mascots from gaining ground in the US. Who knew that in 2001 the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights called for an end to the use of Native American mascots? My professor, the sole Indigenous professor at the school, told me about the annual demonstration against the Cleveland Indians on opening day at Progressive Field that had been going on since the 60s. He expressed that the annual event was a snapshot symbolic of late Native history in the US: white people yelling at Indigenous people for defending their basic human rights and dignity.

Soon after I graduated I moved to Cleveland. Some of the people here love the baseball team. Others refuse to acknowledge them until the name is changed. Most of us who live in Cleveland are aware of the local divide. At most home games you can find both sides represented: from Indigenous-led protests outside the stadium, to thousands of fans heading inside wearing Chief Wahoo regalia, chanting “Go Tribe!” Many lifelong fans express a deep connection to the image of Chief Wahoo and the team name. Diehard Clevelanders talk about what it means to have supported the team since childhood. For many others, primarily Indigenous people, the Cleveland Indians organization has been a lifelong source of pain. As the trend goes, the people most harmed by a situation often have the least power to correct it– and had nothing to do with creating the situation to begin with.

(Image source)

What will it take for those harmed to be heard, and at the center of change going forward?

The Indigenous-led grassroots activism across Northeast Ohio that began in the 1970s has now influenced top executives of Major League Baseball to discard the name and logo of the Cleveland baseball team. Last month the Cleveland Indians were in the news once again due to the continued dispute between team owner, Paul Dolan, and Major League Baseball officials concerning the removal of the “Chief Wahoo” mascot, in addition to the team name.

To learn more about the ongoing debate, I reached out to the Executive Director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, Philip Yenyo, who has organized for decades with Indigenous groups across the Midwest in efforts to abolish the team name and logo.

“We have never had a seat at the table in these discussions with the team owner. I have told Mr. [Paul] Dolan many times that this is no way to honor our people,” said Yenyo. “What the general public doesn’t realize is that we’ve been dehumanized down to a cartoon. A cartoon that perpetuates every negative stereotype of our people. I know children from our community who have been bullied because of it, who had to leave Cleveland schools.”

(Philip Yenyo, Executive Director of the American Indian Movement, Ohio, pictured left; unidentified Cleveland fan, right.  Image source)

Yenyo continued, “Our people are not extinct. Many Americans have been taught to think that we’re no longer here. Chief Wahoo and Native mascots across the country further the idea that we’re sub-human or an ancient people, and this hurts us. At demonstrations, fans with red-painted faces and fake feathers taped to their hats yell at us, ‘Go back to where you came from and get over it– stop living in the past!’”

What an irony– white folks telling Indigenous folks to go back to where they came from. I asked Mr. Yenyo what it would take for the name to change. He replied, “People have to be able to relate to the situation, or if nothing else put yourself in our shoes and hear our experience. If you remember your own ethnic history and the things that were done to your people, there are probably some similarities to our people, but for us it’s still going on. Many Irish people tell me they don’t like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish mascot, and I tell them, ‘When you have a demonstration over the Fighting Irish, I will stand by your side as a brother.’”

Of course, much of the disagreement over Cleveland’s team name boils down to identity and personal experience, between those impacted and those who are not. Like with most social issues, the less proximate we are to a problem, the less likely we are to relate to it, and in turn pay attention to it. I think it is impossible for most of us white Americans to imagine a reverse situation in which we had a genocide committed against us, were confined to reservations, then had our culture reduced to an exoticized symbol and exploited by a multi-billion-dollar business from which we don’t see a penny of. It is daunting to face our nation’s dark past, but too often history and context are absent from the Chief Wahoo discussion. An absence consistent across the board in misguided criticism of movements like Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, or NFL teams taking a knee.

The dominant narratives created by lifelong fans are that it’s ‘just a mascot’, that those protesting the name are too sensitive, or that Indigenous people don’t understand the name is actually honoring them. But when we listen to Indigenous voices across the country or outside Progressive Field, we learn otherwise—that the mascot is deeply harmful to them and their families. We also learn that everyone has a stake in this: non-Indigenous communities are also fed a myth by the perpetuation of these stereotypes, which plant seeds of racial bias in youth from a young age. A report by the American Psychological Association in 2001 states, “the continued use of American Indian mascots, symbols, images, and personalities undermines the educational experiences of members of all communities– especially those who have had little or no contact with Indigenous people.” To be clear, everyone will benefit once the name is changed. However, until we collectively realize this, we are presented with a choice: to maintain or relinquish our comfort in the face of people looking us in the eyes, asking us to listen and change. As the cliché goes, what side of history do we want to be on?

As Confederate statues continue to crumble in the wake of white terrorism in Charlottesville, it is evident how many symbols remain from the underbelly of US history that often go unchecked– many symbols that never should have been, like Chief Wahoo. Around 1,000 Native American-themed mascots still exist in schools around the US, with about 60 per year that decide to change their name. Furthermore, many professional teams have made smooth transitions to new names without losing their fan base. It is a pretty common occurrence. Many surveys have circulated inquiring about a new name, so it is time to pick one and keep it moving. In the meantime, it is difficult to find a greater irony in 2017 than driving down 90-East and seeing a stadium labeled “progressive” in all caps, with the name “Indians” just below, referring to an entire race of people.

Toward the end of my time with Mr. Yenyo, he told me he is a huge Browns fan, and would love to attend a baseball game as soon as the change comes. He recounted a brief story that summed up our conversation, when an elderly Polish man came up to him outside the stadium during a demonstration and asked what the fuss was. “He listened to me for a long time, and I saw a light bulb switch on in his head,” said Yenyo. “He began to tear up, then told me his story, and eventually took off his baseball cap. The Polish man said, ‘My grandfather bought me this hat a long time ago, but if I knew it hurt another person like that I never would’ve put it on.’”

 

~ Peter Saudek is a fair housing investigator in Cleveland, who writes and organizes around racial justice and mass incarceration.