Introduction to “Representations of Genocide in Cartoons”

When you think of genocide and how it’s represented in popular media you might think of the movie Schindler’s List.  You might think of Hotel Rwanda.  You might think of The Book Thief or Sarah’s Key.  It’s is entirely doubtful that what will spring to mind is cartoons.  Still, genocide is a theme or trope that is used in cartoons often enough to be noticed.  Before we get onto the topic of how genocide is represented in cartoons, and why that’s important, we first have to define what genocide is.  The first mention of the term genocide comes from a Polish man named Raphael Lemkin in 1933.  Lemkin was the father of the term genocide, and the term was codified into international law in 1948 when the UN created the Convention for the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG).  The legal definition of genocide contains multitudes of nuance and is still being debated to this day.  

For our purposes we will simplify the definition to the following: The following acts done with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group.  Killing members of the group (in part or in whole), inflicting on the group conditions of life designed to destroy them, transferring children from one group to another, preventing births within the group, and destroying the culture of the group.  When dealing with cartoons it is far more common to see genocide portrayed simply as an attempt to exterminate a group, and while this is genocide, the definition is broader than simply killing.  

Despite the fact that many cartoons are designed for an adult audience, the word genocide is rarely, if ever, uttered by animated characters.  Yet its existence is without question, both in adult, and children’s cartoons.  This heavy and important topic should be a part of all types media.  It is important that genocide be represented, both in non-fiction, but also in fictional media.  Genocide in cartoons is usually being committed by some evil overlord.  The easily recognizable villain who seeks to dominate the world, or too remove from existence some group or another who might stand in his way.  We’ll return to motivations for genocide later in this paper.  First we have to point out that it is not just villains who have committed genocide in cartoons.  On more than one occasion we are shown a hero, or even the hero of the show, committing genocide against a race of “pure evil”.  When this happens we usually applaud, because the “evil” has finally been defeated.  That is, frankly, a terrifying narrative that mirrors potential narratives of successful genocidal regimes.  Imagine the Nazis having succeeded in killing off every single Jew on the planet.  They would have applauded in the same way that you applaud when the Hero destroys the “Evil Race of Villainous Creatures”.  

Every genocidal regime paints their victims as being villains.  Dehumanization is a necessary step in convincing a populace to commit genocide.  You can’t convince your citizenry to kill off an entire group of people who they still consider people.  In every case of genocide that has ever existed in the Real World the genocidal regime begins their genocide with a campaign of hate speech and discriminatory legislation.  The most commonly used technique is to connect the victim group with something considered loathsome or dangerous.  The Nazis regularly described the Jews as vermin or as a disease.  Both things that we don’t want to have in our society.  The Hutus of Rwanda described the Tutsi as cockroaches (inyenzi), the average person will step on a cockroach if they see one.  In the case of an infestation the only thing to do is to call an exterminator and kill them all.  The Ottoman Turks regularly described the Armenians “as gâvur (infidel) and rajah (cattle).”*  Most humans, especially those of us who are not of a vegetarian bend, do not flinch at the idea of slaughtering cattle.  Hitler had many things to say about the Jews in his infamous book Mein Kampf, but one of the simplest and most telling ideas is this “If the Jews were alone in this world they would stifle in filth and offal…”*.  For Hitler and the Nazis the Jews were a useless band of criminals and vermin.  This theme can be found in every genocide of the 20th and 21st century.  

Television is made up of themes.  When dealing with a audio-visual medium such as television it is important to be able to portray themes and concepts without having to spell it out in detail each time it appears on screen.  In popular media, the concept of portraying important ideas without spelling them out is usually referred to as a trope.  TVTropes.org* is a good resource to use when seeking to understand what tropes are and how they are used in television and other media.  Readers should be warned though, it is easy to be sucked into the never ending black hole of this website.  Genocide is such a commonly used trope in television and other media that there is an entire subsection of the site devoted to it.  While there are a large number of cartoons devoted exclusively to an adult audience, cartoons are still largely seen as being for children’s entertainment.  This paper deals with both kinds of cartoons, and pulls from Western Animation as well as Japanese Anime.

*Elisabeth Hope Murray, Disrupting Pathways to Genocide: The Process of Ideological Radicalisation (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). 88
*Adolf Hitler. “Nation and Race” in Mein Kampf. (Germany: Eher Valeg. 1925), 302
TV Tropes: Genocide Tropes.         http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GenocideTropes

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Conclusion from “A Comprehensive Analysis of How Governments Use Words to Inspire Genocide”

Most people who have heard the term genocide don’t really understand what it means.  Intellectually, they’ll probably be able to tell you the definition that you could find in a dictionary.  They might know the roots of the word.  They might even know about the UN’s CPPCG, but none of that really helps you understand what genocide is.  Trying to understand what genocide is by looking at the definition is like trying to understand a cube by drawing it on a piece of paper.  It gives you a basic understanding of its shape, without truly allowing you to understand the depth of it.  Genocide is a deep and powerful field of study that, unfortunately, touches on almost every era of history.  

Genocide studies should be a necessary part of every school curriculum.  The only real way to prevent such horrors as the Holocaust in the future is to make sure that everyone knows that it happened, and that they understand how and why it happened.  Events like these do not happen in a vacuum, and they cannot happen except by the will of the people.  Genocide is by its very nature democratic.  Through the use of propaganda and systematic oppression and prejudice people are taught to hate.  They decide, each step of the way, that these ideas are ideas worth remembering.  They decide as a society, or as part of a society, that another group of people aren’t really people.  Then they decide to kill them.  No one can be forced to kill 12 million of their fellows.  It simply cannot happen.  You cannot force a nation of angry, shamed, and armed people to do anything.  What you can do is convince them to choose one truth over another.  When that truth comes wrapped in a shifting of the blame, then it becomes all the more enticing.  Suddenly it’s not your fault that your country’s economy is in shambles and you have more shame than valuable currency.  Suddenly it’s the fault of the Armenians, or the Jews, or the Tutsi.  Then no one has to be forced to kill them.  Suddenly they want to, and the choice becomes easy to make.

It is always a choice.  The Pyramid of Hate* is often a slow progression.  Nations can spend generations on the first two levels, simmering that low level of hate and scorn.  It’s just words, and especially in countries that boast freedom of speech, you can’t stop people from saying what they want.  You certainly can’t stop them from thinking it.  People will believe what they want to believe.  They will believe what they are shown.  Like children first learning to speak, they will imitate the sounds they hear until they utter their first word.  If your government and your society speak in a language of hate, citizens will absorb that language.  They will marinate in it for years, never even noticing how it seeps into their skin until they utter their first slur.  

It would be easy to say that the most powerful weapon nations possess is the atomic bomb.  Every developing nation and wannabe super power wants to have “the bomb”, but to say that would be to speak incorrectly.  The most powerful weapons that any nation, president or dictator wields are words.  An atomic bomb, for all its terrifying force and ability to destroy, never killed 12 million people.  An atomic bomb never inspired a nation to want to destroy every trace of the Jewish people from the face of Europe.  Words did that.  Language and the way we use it.  The most terrible weapon in the arsenal of hate and genocide is also the only way to beat it.  Where governments and demagogues spout hate, it must be answered with love and equality.  It must be answered with the message that all people are people and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

*For those unfamiliar with the Pyramid of Hate, more information can be found about it on the Anti-Defamation League’s Website.

Now Entering the New America

There has been a huge amount of activity in the sphere of public interest recently.  Since the ‘election’ of President 45 we’ve seen 25 executive orders signed and put into power.  Some of these orders have been met with controversy and protest from portions of the American public.  Most of the recent protest and outrage has come from 45’s Muslim Ban and the executive order which calls for the deportation of any non-citizens with a criminal record.  What do these executive orders entail?  What do they mean for America moving forward?  How does the New America stack up to the Old America.  I will seek to answer these and many other questions that have arisen in the wake of 45’s orders.

What is the Muslim Ban?

The Muslim Ban is the colloquial name for Executive Order 13769 “Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States”.  The executive order contains a number of clauses, the key ones being:

  1. An indefinite suspension of Syrian refugees entering the United States
  2. A 120 day shutdown of the US Refugee Admission Program
  3. A 90 day suspension of entry into the US of nationals from:
    1. Iraq
    2. Iran
    3. Lybia
    4. Somalia
    5. Sudan
    6. Yeman
    7. Syria
  4. A reduced cap on the number of refugees admitted for the 2017 fiscal year.  Down to 50,000 from 110,000

The ban is supposed to help keep ‘radical Islamist terrorists’ out of our country.  45 says he intends to establish new, stricter vetting measures (what he calls extreme vetting).

That sounds like a good thing, we don’t want terrorists in our country.

Of course.  We absolutely don’t want terrorists in our country, threatening our lives and way of life.  This order has nothing to do with terrorism.

But you said…

First of all, Executive Order 13769 said.  Not me, I’m just repeating it.  Now, on the subject of terrorism from majority Islamic countries, let’s examine that list again: Iraq, Iran, Lybia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and Syria.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the top three nationalities of people arrested for terrorism or terrorism related acts in the US following 9/11 are: The United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.  In fact, of the 19 men involved in the 9/11 attacks, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, 2 were from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 2 were from Egypt and 1 was from Lebanon.  Notice how none of those countries appear in 45’s order.  11 terrorists have been arrested in the US from those 7 countries.  None of the terror attacks they instituted involved fatalities.  Of all the major terror attacks on US soil since 9/11, none have involved nationals from the 7 countries listed.  In response to this information the White House released a list of 78 terror attacks since September of 2014 that they felt the media had underreported.  The majority of those terror attacks happened outside of the United States and using them to justify the Ban makes no sense.  Of those terror attacks that happened in the US most were committed by US citizens.  The only two whose perpetrators were born outside the US had no fatalities and the two men were from Kenya and Afghanistan.  Neither of those countries is part of the Ban.  Halting immigration from the seven countries listed in the Ban makes no sense if the goal is to try and preserve national security.

Wait… why isn’t Saudi Arabia part of the Ban?

Well, at one point Trump Organization incorporated several limited liability companies in Saudi Arabia in preparation to try and build a hotel there.  The company cancelled those corporations in December, but it is interesting to note that 45 has had business dealings with Saudi Arabia.  It should also be noted that for decades, a fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism has held sway among the country’s top clerics, and the ruling al-Saud dynasty, who derive much of their legitimacy from these clerics, have long avoided confronting it.  So if Saudi Arabia is home to much of the virulent Islamic extremism that 45 claims to want to protect us against, why isn’t it on the list?  That is a very good question indeed.  One to which I don’t have a definitive answer.  Though 45 also has business dealings in the UAE and Egypt as well, and both of those Muslim majority countries are absent from the Ban as well.  We can easily infer a conflict of interest here.

Still, what’s wrong with wanting stricter vetting procedures?

I’m really not sure how we can make our standards any stricter.  There are about 20 million refugees worldwide.  Most living in refugee camps and hoping their countries will calm down enough for them to return.  Only about 1% of refugees are resettled in other countries.  All of those refugees pass through the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  It’s the job of the UNHCR to handle paperwork, preliminary interviews, and scanning of the refugees eyes for a biometrics database.  Then the UNHCR or some other involved organization refers refugees to a country that might take them in.  From there the hard work begins.  When refugees are sent to the US to be vetted, they have to deal with several US Government agencies.  Among these the departments of State, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Defense, as well as the FBI and other parts of the US Intelligence Community.  They are subject to biographic and biometric tests many times over.  They are also subject to interview after interview, many asking the same questions over and over again checking for any discrepancy.  The State Department says that the process should take between 18-24 months, but immigration lawyers say that most cases actually take between 4-8 years.  The US has the strictest standards of any country that admits refugees and American refugee officers look for any reason to say no.  Less than 50% of refugees who apply make it through.  

According to a Cato Institute study, from September of 2016, your chances of being killed by a refugee committing a terrorist act on US soil is about 1 in 3.6 billion per year.  There’s no way to get the vetting process 100% certain that we’ll never admit a terrorist, but it’s such a difficult and rigorous process that it makes no sense to try and get admitted that way.

Didn’t Obama do the same thing in 2011?

Not even close.  This is a false equivalency of such magnitude that they can feel it in China right now.  45 has halted any entry to the US from the 7 listed countries for at least 90 days.  This includes Visa holders, Green Card holders, and other legal residents of the United States from those countries.  Permanent legal residents of the US were denied entry because the order didn’t really have enough detail on what their status entailed and agencies were too confused to know what to do.  According to Homeland Security those cases are being dealt with case by case, with no decision being made that affects all legal residents.  Though there have been multiple reports from immigration lawyers of Border Patrol agents ‘vetting’ Green Card holders by checking their phones and social media for their political views.  The implications of that are terrifying.  What happened in the case of former President Obama was directly linked to a terror threat.  Two men of Iraqi nationality, living in Kentucky were facing federal terrorism charges.  Fingerprints from one of the men had been found on a bomb fragment from an attack in 2005.  Due to this direct link to terrorist activity and the fact that the two men were originally from Iraq, the US halted processing new refugees from Iraq for 6 months.  This did not affect refugees who had already been processed, or were being processed, nor did it affect other forms of immigration, nor did it affect any country except Iraq.  This was also before our current standards had been implemented.  We updated our standards to what they are today in response to this potential terror threat.  So no, Obama didn’t do even nearly the same thing.

Why does the Ban mention Syria twice?

45’s focus on Syria is largely due to the presence of The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  That’s why refugees from Syria and regular immigrants from Syria are both being halted.  

What is ISIS?

Oh man, so that is a question.  ISIS is likely the most successful militant group in recent history.  They began as al Qaeda, in Iraq in 2004, but two years later they changed their name to ISIS after taking over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria, and holding them.  ISIS declared itself a legitimate state in 2014, established a government and continues its war even today.  ISIS not only wages war against Iraq and Syria, but it also conducts and inspires terrorist attacks around the world.  

Now, Syria has been engaged in a civil war since 2011, following the Arab Spring, and the situation is such a hopeless quagmire that it makes World War I look simple.  There are four main groups fighting in the war.  The Syrian Government, ISIS, a Sunni Arab rebel group called the Free Syrian Army, and The Syrian Democratic Forces.  Half of the country’s pre-war inhabitants, around 11 million people, have been killed or displaced.  The Syrian Civil War is the single largest humanitarian crisis of the past 20 years.  Syrian refugees are fleeing for their lives from a horror that I can’t even imagine.  

ISIS has never conducted a terrorist attack inside US borders, and with the US’s strict standards for refugees they are not getting in that way.  Halting all processing of Syrian refugees indefinitely is the act of a callous and cruel man.  Compassion alone dictates that we let in as many refugees as we can support.  

Wait, I still don’t understand what the Muslim Ban is all about.

It’s about fear.

But you said it didn’t have anything to do with terrorism.

I did, you’re right.  The Muslim Ban doesn’t have anything to do with Islamic terrorism, but it does have to do with fear.  The politics of fear is something that dictators use all the time, and it’s something that occurs in every single genocidal regime that the 20th and 21st century have seen.  For the Nazis it was, and still is, the Jews.  For the Ottoman Turks it was the Armenians.  For 45 it’s… mostly Islamic Terrorists and Illegal Immigrants.  If the Muslim Ban was really about protecting our country from terror attacks it would address those countries where lethal terror attacks on US soil have originated from.  It doesn’t though.  All it does is put Syrian refugees further at risk and create needless and sourceless fear among the American populace over attacks that won’t come from refugees.  The Ban makes people afraid, that was its purpose.  It’s not the first time 45 has used these tactics.  Back in August he made a speech on immigration where he called immigrants a dangerous threat to American people.  In that same speech he called refugees a ‘Trojan horse’ and falsely claimed that many Americans would still be alive today if not for the open door policy of the Obama Administration.  As we’ve seen from our overview of the Obama Administration Refugee Vetting procedure, and our overview of Islamic Terror Attacks on US Soil.  45 lies.

You mentioned Genocidal regimes, should we be worried?

Yes.  Now, is 45 committing genocide?  Hell no.  Let’s be clear that the US has not sunk to that level yet (again).  However the politics of fear that 45 uses and the specific targeting of minority groups like Muslims is a huge part of the Pyramid of Hate that the Anti-Defamation League created back in 2005*.  The Pyramid is a useful tool in genocide prevention because it show the steps that government policy and public rhetoric take as countries progress towards genocide.  It has five levels, with the final level being genocide itself.  45’s divisive rhetoric is indicative of the type of governing he plans to do.  He continues to point to immigrants as a something that should b
e a source of fear for the American public.  There’s no reason to try and incite such fear in the American public.  He paints all Muslims with the same brush that’s used for terrorists and it’s terrifying to see it happen.  Scholars of Third Reich Germany agree that there are dangerous echoes between 45’s rhetoric and that used by Hitler.  Their rises to power are not the same, but they are close enough that it is very uncomfortable.  

What about this new executive order on criminal immigrants?

Remember that Wall that 45 said was going to be built along the Mexican border?  Well he’s ordered it built.  The White House cites about $15 billion to build it, but analysts at the Washington Post feel like it would probably be around $25 billion.  We’ll put the Wall aside for now because I really don’t want to get into it.  The order also says that it will cut federal funding to ‘sanctuary cities’ a term that has never really been defined but generally means those cities who refuse to give their undocumented immigrants over to the Federal Government for deportment.  The really frightening part of the order comes from how it defines who is eligible for deportment.

How does it define that category of people?

Undocumented Immigrant Criminals

And how is that a bad thing?

Just wait until you hear how the order defines criminals.  The order mentions unauthorized immigrants who have been charged with a crime, whether or not that lead to a conviction.  It also mentions those people who committed acts that constitute a chargeable offense, whether or not they were even charged with a crime.  It also mentions anyone who, in the judgement of an immigration officer, poses a risk to public safety or national security.  That part is particularly awful because it gives individual immigration officers a massive amount of leeway and no oversight.  It should be mentioned that crossing the border illegally isn’t a felony, but is only considered a criminal misdemeanor.  Under the Obama Administration the focus was narrowed and the standards for deportment were raised.  The US Department of Homeland Security Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) was tasked with finding specific people who were here illegally who were guilty of serious crimes.  The ICE has a broad mandate that deals with much more than just catching undocumented immigrants and sending them home though.  Not all of the immigrants that the ICE deals with are even those who have crossed the border illegally.  Many are people who have entered the country legally and have stayed past their allowance.  Regardless of how they became illegal residents of the US, there is still some level of due process accorded them under the law.  Warrants for arrest must be issued.  ICE agents can not enter a private residence with an administrative warrant, they need an arrest warrant.  Illegal immigrants in the US are still people and are still to be accorded dignity.  They still have rights.  

According to a former head of the ICE, Sarah Saldaña, the executive order, which allows for the deportation of people even suspected of a crime will affect a huge number of people, but she also says that there won’t be enough money in the budget for what 45 wants to do.  Since the order was signed ICE has raided cities across the country.  6 cities were cited by the ICE as being targeted for ‘enforcement action’.  Hundreds of people were swept up in the raids on communities.  

But Illegal immigration is… well… illegal.

Look, illegal immigration is a weird topic of conversation for human rights scholars and historians.  I mean, you’re basically making people illegal.   You’re saying that this certain class of people’s existence is illegal.  That’s a weird area that I really don’t like to get into.  Rounding up people because you don’t think they have legal status or rights in your country sounds a lot like what the Nazis did to the Jews.  It sounds a lot like what Andrew Jackson did to the First Nation people before the Trail of Tears.  Neither of those are policy decisions that should be emulated and both ended in massive amounts of death.

Panic and terror are running through the American immigrant community right now.  People are terrified that they or their kids will be ripped from their homes.  Most undocumented immigrants aren’t a threat to public safety or national security.  They’re just people who are here because they wanted a better life for themselves and their children.  45 has enacted another policy that has produced massive amounts of fear amongst people living within his borders.  Time and again we have seen, in a disturbingly brief window, policies whose sole product is fear.  All people have rights in this country.  Even criminals.  A serial killer gets a fair and speedy trial, a jury of his peers, the right to face his accuser, the right against double jeopardy and self-incrimination, the right against cruel and unusual punishment, etc.  A serial killer gets that.  

But they’re not citizens, so they don’t get Rights.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), passed by the UN in 1948, those rights and more apply to everyone living anywhere.  The US signed the Declaration.  We’re supposed to hold to those rights for all people.  We should be treating all people with dignity.  We shouldn’t have created a world where people are afraid to leave their homes because they think they’ll get snatched off the street.  Article 13 of the UDHR says that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state’.  Article 15 says that ‘no one can be denied their nationality or the right to change their nationality’.  These people have come into our country because they want to be a part of it.  They want the opportunities that America is supposed to represent.  They came here to escape fear and find opportunity.  They didn’t come here to find another opportunity for fear.

45 will continue to use divisive rhetoric to make the people of this country afraid.  Afraid of Refugees, Immigrants, Muslims, and whatever group comes into his crosshairs next.  Policy and government shouldn’t be based around fear.  It should be based around compassion.  As a scholar of Genocide Studies, the current administration makes me afraid for the future of minorities in our country.  America has internment camps in its past, and I’d rather not see them in our future.

*

pyramid-of-hate
Enter a caption

 

Dear White People and the Concept of White Genocide

The other day a friend of mine brought something to my attention.  It was an article concerning the upcoming Netflix show Dear White People.  The trailer came out a little while ago and for some reason it has White America in quite a tizzy.  Some people, the ‘alt-right’ (Nazis) key among them, have said that the show promotes ‘white genocide’.  I’m going to take this opportunity to address some of the issues that have arisen in the wake of the show’s announcement.

What is ‘Dear White People’?

[Spoilers ahead]

Dear White People is a new Netflix produced show based around a film from 2014 by the same name, both created by Justin Simien.  There is little information about the plot of the new show except that it will deal with ‘post racial America as students of color navigate a predominantly white Ivy league school’.  In the movie, the main character Samantha White (a bi-racial film production major) attends fictional Winchester University and hosts a radio show called, you guessed it, Dear White People.  Samantha uses her show to provide social commentary on white people in general and on racist transgressions of the school specifically.  In response to White’s show a character named Kurt (son of the school’s president) organizes a themed party with his social club.  The theme?  Blackface.  Black students appear at the party and a confrontation ensues over the overt racism of the Blackface party.  There is a brawl.  When asked about the message of his film Simien had this to say in an interview with Indiewire:

“My film isn’t about ‘white racism’ or racism at all. My film is about identity. It’s about the difference between how the mass culture responds to a person because of their race and who that person understands themselves to truly be. All explored through the microcosm of a success-oriented Ivy League college.”

What is Blackface?

When I decided to do this I didn’t think I’d have to lay out the history of blackface and why it’s racist, but that’s the life of a historian right?  So blackface is defined as a type of theatrical makeup used by non-black performers to represent a black person.

Well that doesn’t sound so bad…

Hold on, I haven’t even started yet.  Blackface gained popularity in the 19th century and is partially responsible for the spread of racial stereotypes.  Blackface directly influenced the cementing of and the proliferation of racist ideas and images around the world.  Blackface wasn’t used to display Black people and Black culture in a positive way.  Characters in Blackface are displayed as being ridiculous.  It was never intended to be an accurate depiction of Black people or Black culture.  It was used as a caricature to mock Black culture.  Historically, portrayal of Black people and culture in this way has been used to further oppress and demean Black people.  You might not think that Blackface is a bad thing, you might think that it’s something that you should be allowed to do because ‘it’s art’ or you’re ‘just expressing yourself’.  The objective reality of Blackface is that it was used to mock and demean Black people and culture and to further the idea that Black people are inherently inferior.  When the only representation of Black people and culture in performance art is through white people in a Blackface caricature then the public will only ever see Black people and culture as something to laugh at.  It was also used as a tool to keep Black people away from the acting stage.  The characters were created by White people and played by White people with no input from actual Black people.  

You can’t divorce Blackface from its historical context.  You can’t ‘take it back’ partially because it was never a positive thing to begin with.  The history of Black people and culture in America is one of oppression and marginalization.  The legal system of this country did, and in many ways still does, view Black people as less than full citizens with equal rights.  We are not living in a world where racism is a thing of the past.  It’s still part of our lives.  So when you decide that Blackface is fine because ‘I’m not racist’ or ’cause I want to’ you’re acting from a place of privilege and racism.  Hopefully your racism is unintentional and merely a part of your privilege and you don’t actually view Black people and culture as the caricature you are attempting to portray.  Concepts, ideas, and actions that have historically been used to oppress people cannot be removed from that context.  To give an example out of my field of expertise: The swastika began its life as a Hindu symbol of luck and a symbol of the sun and the Creator.  It is now associated so heavily with the Nazis that to use it, while attempting to represent Hinduism, would be misunderstood as Nazi sympathies.  History doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens to people and it happens right now.  The history of Black people in America is filled with violence and racism, and this is a history that they carry with them from day to day.  White people have never had to deal with issues like that and we lack a fundamental frame of reference for understanding how it impacts the daily lives of Black people.

Well I heard that the show promotes White Stereotypes.

Well, sure.  In the 30 seconds of trailer we are treated to some images of classic white stereotypes.  Here’s the thing about that, and why it’s ok to stereotype white people.  White people have never been marginalized by their government.  44 of the Presidents of the US have been white.  As of the 2013 Census, White people make up 63% of the population.  There is nothing in the history of the US that has marginalized white people the way that we’ve marginalized Black people, Asian people, First Nation people, etc.  Stereotyping can’t actually hurt White America.  None of those stereotypes will adversely affect how society as a whole perceives us.  A stereotype of white people is that they can’t dance.  A stereotype of Black people is that they’re thugs and criminals.  There is a massive difference.

I also heard that the show promotes White Genocide.

So this is the big one.  This is the fly in the soup.  This is what Twitter is apparently shouting about.  The show doesn’t promote White Genocide.  There is no White Genocide.

But…

White Genocide is a conspiracy theory cooked up by white supremacists and white nationalists that says immigration, societal integration, cross-cultural or interethnic marriage, and abortion in White majority countries are all a plot to make White people the minority in the population and then make us extinct through forced assimilation.  The thing is though, it’s impossible to assimilate ‘White People’ because there’s no White Culture.  There’s no White Ethnicity.  There’s Italian culture (a lot of different types), there’s Russian, French, English, and even White American.  You can absolutely have a genocide of Italians (don’t), but there’s no overriding White Culture or Ethnicity to destroy.  The current trumpeting of ‘White Genocide’ is being done by members of the ‘alt-right’ (Nazis).  These aren’t groups whose ideas we should be entertaining.  There is no White Genocide.  Dear White People doesn’t promote White Genocide.  White Genocide doesn’t exist.

Alright, so technically there is a concept of White Genocide that exists in the world, but it’s not this one that’s being shouted by White Supremacists.  Following the Armenian Genocide many people of Armenian national and ethnic background found themselves in Diaspora.  The Diaspora means Armenians living outside of their homeland of Armenia.  There have been Armenians living outside of Armenia for several hundred years, but the scale and scope of the modern Diaspora was caused by the genocide.  Many Armenians fear the assimilation of their people and culture into mainstream Western culture.  This is what they mean by White Genocide and it is a term that I accept.  

Can’t there be a White Genocide though?

Alright, so we’re doing this.  The United Nations defined genocide in 1948 thusly:

“…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

This definition was based almost entirely on work done by Raphael Lemkin.  Lemkin tried to include political groups in the definition, but the Soviet Union refused to allow it to be a part of the definition.  Lemkin didn’t fight to hard to keep those groups in the definition though.  His focus was on nationality and ethnicity for their cultural carrying capacity.  The focus for Lemkin and the Convention was on culture.  As I explained earlier there is no White Culture and there is no White Ethnicity.  There is no overriding culture to destroy.  White Genocide isn’t a real concept outside of the White Supremacist ideal of ‘racial purity’, which again isn’t an idea that should be entertained.

The UN definition included racial groups…

Right, it does, it also never goes on to define what a racial group is.  Preventgenocide.org defines racial groups as being defined by shared physical characteristics.  So, ok.  We’ll kill all the people with white skin.  Except there are a large number of ‘white passing’ People of Color, especially in the Latino/Hispanic community.  Those are distinct cultural groups who are not part of the White Nationalist’s views of Whiteness.  What if we just used ‘People of European Descent’ as our categorization.  Ok, but again you’ll find numerous PoC whose families have been living in Europe for centuries.  There’s no way to actually define what the White Race is.  Race is an important and pervasive concept in our society.  It affects our daily lives and it is regularly used to judge PoC.  Racism is here and it’s constantly damaging how different cultures interact, but for the purposes of defining genocide it is far too open to interpretation to be useful.  Following the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the UN set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the ICTR decreed that ‘any stable and permanent group’ is to be awarded protection under the Convention.  This is likely to become the norm in future UN Genocide Tribunals.

When the UN Convention came out in 1948, Race Theory was still battling with the concept of race as a scientific method of differentiating different groups of people.  Today we accept that race is a social construct open to interpretation on the whims of aggressors.  There was an effort made by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1950 to drop the use of the term ‘race’ altogether and instead use ‘ethnic group’.  During this time though the UN still accepted race as a valid method of biological categorization (which it isn’t) and their efforts to drop ‘race’ as a term failed.  Still, for the purposes of genocide studies I prefer to use Lemkin’s original intention and the intention of UNESCO to focus on nationality and ethnicity for their cultural carrying capacity.  Again, race is important for its use in day to day relations between people of different skin colors, and skin color is still used as a way judge people, but a genocide of Italians is not a genocide of the Irish.  Nor is a genocide of Rwandan Tutsi a genocide of all Rwandan people.  For my purposes and the purposes of Genocide Studies, ethnic, religious, and cultural groups are more important categories, and are much easier to define.  When so much of Genocide Studies has to deal with legal systems, those definitions are important.  



We’ve gotten a little of track here.  The point of this was to determine that
Dear White People doesn’t promote White Genocide.  I didn’t initially realize the work that would be involved in that.  Dear White People, is a show about race relations on a college campus, and after a 30 second trailer White America was up in arms because they were shown in a less than stellar fashion.  If behavior like that doesn’t perfectly underline the need for a show like this then I don’t know what will. The show isn’t an attack on White people nor is it saying that all White people are racist.  Dear White People is a story about the experiences of Black people in a predominantly White school.  The characters might be fictional, but what the characters experience is a reality that Black people face daily.  

White people, we’re not perfect.  We’re flawed human beings who exist in a world which was designed by us for our benefit.  We built society for White People.  It’s our job to recognize how the system benefits us and work to ensure that we don’t abuse our privilege.  The benefits we have should be open to all, and they aren’t yet.  No one is saying that you can’t have a difficult life as a White Person in America.  We’re saying that your life isn’t difficult because you’re White.  

Thanks for sticking with me through this whole thing, and I hope that you’ve learned something that will help you moving forward in your life.  I, for one, support Netflix, Justin Simien, and Dear White People.  I look forward to the show’s release and intend to watch it.

 

The Ethics of Punching Nazis

So, I’m still seeing a bunch of people debating the ethics of punching Nazis. Now you’re all entitled to your opinions, and no one is saying that you have to punch Nazis, but allow me to answer a few questions I see floating around.

Are these people even Nazis?

Well, some of them call themselves the ‘alt-right’. Some might just be garden variety fascists. A whole host of them just cut out the middle man and call themselves Neo-Nazis. All of that is just semantics. It’s a group of racist, genocidal assholes trying to hide behind the guise of “a legitimate political platform”. These people are engaging in gross amounts of hate speech and are advocating genocide against minority groups that they feel ‘aren’t worthwhile members of society’ or are ‘less than human’. So yeah, they’re Nazis.

Doesn’t the Nazi Party believe in a strong welfare state and social programs like that?

Sure, the original National Socialist Worker’s Party kept the welfare programs that had been instituted by the Weimar Republic. They also created affordable automobiles for the people and believed in the strength of the working class.

So the ‘alt-right’ aren’t Nazis then, they don’t want those things, right?

The ‘alt-right’ believes in a limited government, low taxes, and strict law and order. They describe themselves as a populist right wing political movement. They also believe in white supremacy and white nationalism, ‘scientific racism’, anti-semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. Members of the ‘alt-right’ have used Nazi propaganda terms and the Nazi salute in meetings and conferences. No one cares that the Nazis used to believe in a welfare state. The key parts of Nazi policy that are important to remember are the parts that caused the Holocaust. These are all policies that the ‘alt-right’ shares. They’re Nazis.

Ok, so they’re Nazis, doesn’t free speech protect their right to say what they want?

No.

But…

The answer is still no, but I’ll go into more detail cause you’ll keep asking. The First Amendment ensures that the Federal Government won’t infringe on your right to say things. This right does not protect you from how private citizens react to what you’re saying. Advocating genocide and engaging in hate speech is wrong, and while the US doesn’t have any laws saying that it’s illegal, it should. Germany understands the horror of that type of language and where it leads. Hate speech, genocidal rhetoric, and Holocaust denial are illegal in Germany.

But assault is still illegal, you’re assaulting someone who hasn’t offered you violence.

Yes and no. Technically they haven’t thrown a punch at me. They have offered violence though.

How? They’re just talking.

If you can’t understand the power of speech and how it affects people’s perceptions of the world then you haven’t paid attention to this last election cycle. Words are power. Words shape our reality. When people and government stand by and allow virulent hate speech and genocidal rhetoric, they endorse it. These people are advocating for genocide. The only way they could get more violent is by actually attempting genocide. The first step in genocide is always hate speech. Actually, it’s usually based in humor. Racist jokes are the first, most basic step on an eventual road to genocide. It is our duty as moral human beings to make a statement that such hate will not be tolerated in our country. That all people are endowed with certain unalienable rights among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But you’re still committing assault.

Yes

Why can’t you just talk to them? Refute their points and engage in debate?

They don’t want to debate us. They don’t want a dialogue. Sure, talk. Shoot down their points every chance you get. I’ll give you your line for this one. Every single person who exists deserves equality and dignity under the law. Shout that from the rooftops. It won’t convince the Nazis. Might convince some of the moderates or the privileged intellectual liberals who hold free speech up as the Golden Law of the Universe. Won’t convince Nazis though. I’m not saying don’t talk. I’m saying that it won’t be enough.

But won’t punching Nazis just add fuel to their fire?

Sure it will. They’ll try and paint us as the bad guys. They’ll hold up free speech and say that we’re trying to censor them. Technically I am trying to censor them. They’re advocating genocide. Their ideas are wrong and shouldn’t exist. There is no forum where that is appropriate. Punching Nazis will give them some fuel, it also might make them afraid. And they should be. We’ll lose some of these battles. They’ll convince the angry teenagers of America. They’ll convince part of the rural working class. The racists and bigots who want to feel vindicated. We weren’t going to win those people over in the short term anyway. What we can do is make a statement so clear that it cannot be ignored. Never again.

So much for the tolerant left I guess.

I believe that all human life is precious and should be preserved. I believe that every single human being deserves rights and dignity under the law. When someone steps up and says that certain people aren’t people, you bet your ass I’m intolerant of that. You bet your ass that I will fight against that. Nazis don’t deserve a voice. The last time they had one, they killed over 12 million people.

Look folks, I study genocide for a living. I am telling you, as an expert in the field, that the US is well on its way to being a genocidal state. We are in horrifically dangerous times right now. Legitimizing genocidal rhetoric as ‘just part of the political dialogue’ is unconscionable. Stand up to Nazis any way you can. Stand up to hate. Stand up to racists and sexists and anyone who stands in the way of LGBT rights. If you think that the best way for you to do that is to engage in dialogue and try and convince them out of their racism then I wish you all the luck in the world. If you think the best way to do that is to call your Representatives and Senators then please do that. If you think the best way to combat hate is to shut it down hard whenever you hear it. Do it. Punching Nazis isn’t the whole solution, but it is a vital part of one.

I’m tired of having to have this conversation, y’all don’t have to agree with me. I’m not trying to convince you. I’ve laid out my thoughts as an expert in the field. Take them or leave them.