Antisemitism, in all its ugly forms reaching back thousands of years, is a vicious form of racism that began as anti-Judaism. It evolved throughout time from discrimination based solely on a person’s religious affiliation to a persecution based soley on being part of the “race” called Jewish. Everything done by powerful Christian Europeans to exclude Jews from society, business, and positions of power laid the groundwork for the racism and injustices in our country today.
When these same Europeans sailed the world during the Age of Exploration, they brought their deeply entrenched ideas of European superiority with them. Other civilizations and peoples looked different. They spoke differently, lived differently, created art differently, built dwellings differently, and worshipped differently. In the mind of the explorers, these differences meant inferiority. This perceived inferiority gave permission to exploit and subjugate rather than compromise and cooperate.
By the 1920’s, the US had created a complex system of laws that kept her White and Black members seperate and unequal. When the Nazis rose to power they researched ways to solve their “Jewish problem.” They looked to the USA as a leader in racist laws.
These ideas arrived at the shores of this country on trading ships; their holds packed with men, women, and children whose skins were shades of brown and black. These people had been princes, merchants, housewives, writers, poets, lawyers, students, craftsmen and women. They were brought to do the work of animals. New methods of control were adapted from and added to the Old World practices of legal and social discrimination. Many of these methods caused unspeakable suffering and death. When the Civil War outlawed legal slavery, methods of control were adapted, once again. By the 1920’s, the US had created a complex system of laws that kept her White and Black members seperate and unequal.
When Michelle Alexander visited Queens University to discuss her book, “The New Jim Crow,” she stated that she wished we taught the American history of enslavement and racism with the same urgency and excellence we use to teach about the Holocaust.
When the Nazis rose to power they researched ways to solve their “Jewish problem.” They looked to the USA as a leader in racist laws. The Nazis praised the US sterilization program, laws against interracial marriage, and propaganda used to maintain the idea that black people were subhuman. They believed, however, that some of the Jim Crow laws were “too harsh” for the “cultured” German population to accept. Leading Nazi research reposrts state that the physical isolation of Blacks from Whites, while beneficial, would not work if applied to Jews in Germany. Jews were already living among Germans and Nazi leadership feared a publilc outcry against such harsh treatment. The Nazi administration also admired but disregarded the “one drop rule”, which traced Black ancestry back as far as 7 or 8 generations. Instead, they only went back 4 generations, as far as a person’s great-grandparents. And so, carefully selected US racial laws provide the foundation for the Nuremberg Laws. The Nazis implemented their own Nuremberg Laws in 1935. This was the first step in the Nazi attempt to rid the world of all Jews.
It is time to face the failures of our country’s past, examine the brokenness of our present, and make lasting change for the future.
When Michelle Alexander visited Queens University to discuss her book, “The New Jim Crow,” she stated that she wished we taught the American history of enslavement and racism with the same urgency and excellence we use to teach about the Holocaust. It is not difficult to do this. The stories and lessons of the Holocaust are about the injustices perpetrated on a people because of hatred justified by the social construct we call “race”. The stories and lessons of American slavery and its lasting legacy, while different in many ways, are also about injustices fueled by hatred and “race.” Why is it that we have not taught the fullness of our own history? As Michelle Alexander shared: the Holocaust happened far away and was perpetrated by other people who were not us. And salvery is over, we’ve “moved on,” bringing it up will just cause problems!
Turn on your television, get on the internet, tune into a podcast or the radio, or perhaps just look out your window. The unrest and despair in our country are the results of ignoring the real and lasting legacy of slavery and racism. Close up and personal. Right here. Right now. It is time to face the failures of our country’s past, examine the brokenness of our present, and make lasting change for the future.
The Greenspon Center strives to teach lessons of the Holocaust while also addressing personal biases and broken systems that enable racism to flourish in our country today. If you would like to discuss how to bring these lessons to your faculty or school community, please contact Donna Tarney: firstname.lastname@example.org