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.