Atlantic writer and Disney producer Jemele Hill recently took to Twitter to say that the United States was as bad as Nazi Germany.
Been reading Isabel Wilkerson’s new book, “Caste,” and if you were of the opinion that the United States wasn’t nearly as bad as Nazi Germany, how wrong you are. Can’t encourage you enough to read this masterpiece.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) August 23, 2020
However, Hill’s tweet points to a more serious — and even potentially deadly — problem of how segments of society misunderstand and/or distort history to categorize present-day reality.
Several years ago, political disagreements began to devolve with opponents hyperbolically labeling each other as “Nazis.” It become the “in” word word for calling someone a “fascist.”
By 2015, graphics began circulating turning childhood books into memes titled, “Everyone I Don’t Like is Hitler.”
References to Nazi Germany as a base point for understanding the fascist leanings of modern politics have now become common place. But what used to be a snide remark used for its shock value to jab at or shut down a political opponents has now become a serious accusation as demonstrated by Hill’s pronouncement.
(Not that the snide remarks were acceptable — they weren’t.)
It matters not that Hill later clarified that she wasn’t saying that the current state of America is as bad as Nazi Germany; she still stood by the original intent of her remarks: the parallels between the two societies.
Just the basic fact that you have a huge platform/make a solid living shitting on the President and haven’t been locked in a labor camp says this is the complete opposite of nazi germany.
— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) August 23, 2020
In fact, she continued to double down when challenged:
What I’m attacking here is our sense of superiority when it comes to our racial history. The Nazis were impressed with us because of our ability to have high standing in the world, despite clear persecution and oppression taking place in our country.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) August 24, 2020
While she may have been comparing the incomparable Nuremberg laws of the Third Reich to the Jim Crow laws of the American South, what is important is that she failed to acknowledge the obvious and important difference in outcome that makes her analogy false.
Jemele Hill is essentially comparing the rounding up in concentration camps and subsequent extermination of six million Jews (with the intent to kill every last one of them in the entire world) by Nazi Germany to America’s reversal of its racist policies, including:
- the integration of the military by President Harry Truman in 1948
- the Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which ended educational segregation
- the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ended the Jim Crow segregation laws
- the Voting Rights Act in 1965, which stopped efforts to keep Blacks from voting
- the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which ended discrimination in renting and selling homes to Blacks
Ironically, writing in The Atlantic just 32 days before her August 24 tweet comparing America to Nazi Germany, Hill writes about another one of her “Nazi” faux pas remarks:
Like DeSean Jackson, the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver who is being condemned for posting a fake Adolf Hitler quote on his Instagram feed last week, I too have had an ill-advised Hitler moment.
In 2008, I was a general columnist for ESPN.com, covering the NBA Finals series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Heading into Game 5, I wrote a piece about how it saddened me, as a lifelong Detroit Pistons fan, to see that the Celtics were no longer as widely hated as they had once been. Trying to be funny and whimsical, I drew upon my memories of the Pistons having to beat the Celtics before winning their first NBA championship in 1989. I ended up writing, “Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim.”
More than a decade later, I still cringe when I think about it. Not only had I severely insulted the Celtics’ fan base, but I had made a joke about the Nazi leader who orchestrated the murder of 6 million Jewish people. I was, of course, aware of the Holocaust, but I had given little thought to the feelings of the Jewish community because, frankly, it wasn’t my own. When others pointed out the insensitivity of my statement, I was mortified. I apologized and wrote an entire column asking for forgiveness. ESPN suspended me for a week, a punishment that I deserved.
Like Jackson, I am Black. And had anyone made a remark trivializing slavery, I would have been incensed. I learned that just because I’m aware of the destruction caused by racism, that doesn’t mean I’m automatically sensitive to other forms of racism, or in this case, anti-Semitism. Black people, too, are capable of being culturally arrogant.
But making such a comment, especially in today’s political climate isn’t just about “sensitivity.” The memory of those six million Jews, their descendants as well as the entire Jewish people have been insulted before and will most likely continue to be insulted until the end of times. Jews have gotten pretty thick-skinned when it comes to the world’s oldest hatred being directed towards them..
Rather, the distortion of history by Hill and those pushing the same narrative serves to enable the violence that has increasingly accompanied the political climate that we find ourselves in today.
This past weekend in Portland, Antifa carried out its first open assassination of a political opponent that the “anti-fascist” group identified as a fascist. He was part of a organization called Patriot Prayer. And it is in this murder that we find the logic of the narrative that Hill and others like her are pushing: If America is as bad as Nazi Germany, then those who are loyal to America — i.e., “patriots” — are as bad as Nazis themselves.
Of course, Hill is not responsible for the reprehensible action of the person who pulled the trigger. He acted totally on his own moral agency.
But history tells us is it’s never just one person or one leader that facilitates a culture or country’s destruction. It takes an entire support structure.
In the situation we find ourselves in today, the eye of the maelstrom isn’t one, two or any number of tweets or stump speeches; it’s the collective rage it produces.
Whether America will embody the ideology of one of the most nefarious extremist ideologies in modern history is exclusively in the hands of its people and how they choose to conduct themselves during this time in history.