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.

White Supremacy & Antisemitism After Charlottesville

Although I’ve always known my grandmother, Sara Atzmon, was a survivor of the Holocaust, it took me over 18 years to work up the courage to ask her about her experiences as a Jew in Nazi occupied Europe. As a child, I was terrified of knowing what my grandmother had gone through. On the other hand, as a student of Jewish history, I knew that these stories must be told to prevent their future reoccurrence. When we would discuss her experiences, I would ask about “the war”—always being careful not to ask about a specific incident, but allowing her to share what she was ready and willing to. One of her most vivid and often reflected upon memories was her recounting of the day the Nazi occupation force came to her rural farm to seize her and her family. She was always careful to note that the family who disclosed their Jewish identity was the same local farming family who had come by to sing them Christmas carols for many years. She made sure I understood that when antisemitism becomes promoted by the powerful (Nazis in occupied Europe) that the antisemitism of everyday “good” white Christians will surface for all to see clearly.

On August 15, 2017, the lessons my grandmother taught me began ringing in my ears so loudly I could barely hear myself think. With the election of Donald Trump, open and overt white supremacist demonstrations have once again become common place in the United States. I can see my Jewish friends across the nation begin to uneasily question our place as Jews in white America as I scroll through my Facebook feed. They have good reason to, as well. Despite a recent Pew Research study showing that 90% of Jewish Americans self-identify as white, white supremacists have clearly separated Jews from their socially constructed white racial category. For example, at the recent white nationalist rally held in Charlottesville Virginia, Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke told the crowd

the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause

while supremacist Richard Spencer taunted Charlottesville’s Jewish Mayor, Mike Singer, and asked the crowd how to pronounce his name. They answered by chanting “Jew, Jew, Jew.” Furthermore, a crowd of hundreds of white supremacists marched with lit torches, many of the participants proudly displayed swastikas and images of Hitler while they chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” (and English translation of the old German Nazi “blut und boden”). This recent uptick in overt and public displays of white supremacy begs the following questions: 1) Why are Jews targeted by white supremacists? 2) Where is the resurgence in white supremacy and racialized antisemitism coming from? 3) What can we do, as self-identified white Jews, to combat white supremacy?

To answer the first question, I turn to the work of linguist and cognitive scientist, George Lakoff, and sociologist, Joe Feagin. For the sake of simplicity, frames are worldviews that people operate out of in everyday life, and the white racial frame is the racial worldview that the vast majority of white actors in the U.S. and Western societies operate out of.

Central to the white racial frame is the view, or subframe, that most whites are virtuous actors. In addition, anti-“other” views are incorporated into this larger racial worldview—-taking the form of anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Latino, and others including anti-Jewish. In fact, almost immediately after terms like “race” and “black and white race” were developed by Europeans in the 17th century, elite white American men used these socially constructed categories to impose a non-white identity on Jews. For example, in 1654, Peter Stuyvesant, who governed the New Amsterdam colony described the first Jewish immigrants to the American colonies as “a deceitful race”—clearly separating them from the “virtuous” white Protestants whom were welcomed in New Amsterdam.

While racialized antisemitism has become less acceptable (yet still present and accepted in white backstage settings) after the 1940s fall of Nazi Germany—-leading most white Americans to impose an off-white identity on Jews-—white supremacists have held fast to this idea that Jews are non-white.

Now that we understand the links between white racial framing, white supremacy, and racialized antisemitism, we can move to a discussion of where this resurgence is coming from. Joe Feagin and Kimberley Ducey note the central role of elite white men in the production and reproduction of systemic white racism, systemic sexism, and systemic capitalism. This also holds true for racialized antisemitism—-a subframe in the larger white racial worldview that justifies and upholds systemic white racism. Today, elite white men, such as financier William H. Regnery II, continue to be at the center of the promotion of this white racial framing, much the way Peter Stuyvesant was in 1654—-complete with narratives of white virtuosity, and overt racialized antisemitism that work in tandem with various anti-“other” frames to reproduce systemic white racism. For example, Regnery has described his greatest political achievement as his discovery of white supremacist Richard Spencer! In addition, Spencer himself has noted that Regnery has played a “vitally important and indispensable” part in the formation of the so-called alt-right movement. Sadly, not much has changed in terms of the central actors who maintain and promote racism and racialized forms of antisemitism in the U.S. over the past four hundred years—they remain elite white men.

How can we combat white supremacy? My answer here is twofold.

1) As scholars of U.S. antisemitism, we must begin to focus on white, and particularly elite white, antisemitism—-a topic that is rarely discussed in studies of contemporary U.S. antisemitism in favor continued discussions of antisemitism in Muslim and black communities.
2) We must begin to work toward building coalitions with communities of color to combat white supremacy. This second goal will require self-reflection regarding the way we, self-identified white Jewish Americans, actively participate in, and passively support through our silence, white supremacy.

What do I mean by actively promoting white supremacy? I refer to the racist language and actions that some Jewish Americans engage in. For example, look to the AEPi chapter of the University of Chicago—a historically Jewish fraternity—and their leaked listserv emails in 2016. In these emails, that span from 2011 through 2015, these Jewish students sound much like white supremacists who do not target Jews. For example, these students planned to celebrate MLK Day at a fried chicken restaurant and regularly used the “N-word” as well as associated other slurs to refer to African Americans. They also regularly used labels like “terrorist” when talking about Muslim students. Yet, perhaps the most telling example of how their emails resemble old white supremacist rhetoric can be found in an email from July 2011. In this email, a member asks other members not to publicly use his newly given nickname because it has the N-word embedded in it. While he is careful to point out to them that he finds it “very, very, funny,” he also notes that it is “very, very, racist” and should be kept to private spaces (their backstage) unless “you need to satisfy your inner klansman.”

What do I mean by silence? I refer to the fact that there is often no outcry or action by leaders of the Jewish community when people of color are murdered by state officials, when Indigenous people’s lands and water are stolen by elite-white-male-owned corporations, and when the myriad of other everyday events occur which promote white supremacy and other aspects of systemic white racism in the United States. We must not be silent any longer and we must teach the next generation of white Jewish Americans to actively and openly engage anti-racist viewpoints and actions. Some groups, such as Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, have begun this work but need more active support from more Jewish Americans.

This is how we, as self-identified white Jews, begin to move toward dismantling white supremacy in America. This must happen now. By participating in, and being silent about, white supremacy, we are breathing life into it and spreading it. If we do not work against white supremacy, it is just a matter of time before our own white neighbors point us out as the local Jews.

Thaddeus Atzmon is a Ph.D. student in Sociology at Texas A&M University. His current research focuses on the co-reproduction of systemic white racism and antisemitism in the United States. He can be contacted at tadd1145@tamu.edu