I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie in the title (with Hilary Swank and Patrick Dempsey). The premise according to Google: “A dedicated teacher (Hilary Swank) in a racially divided Los Angeles school has a class of at-risk teenagers deemed incapable of learning. Instead of giving up, she inspires her students to take an interest in their education and planning their future. She assigns reading material that relates to their lives and encourages them all to keep journals.”
There is a scene in the movie in which Hilary discovers a very racially biased drawing (an African American child with big lips) and says “This is how a holocaust happens.” The kids didn’t know what the Holocaust was and that leads to the real meat of the movie.
That moment happened to me in real life Sept 27. And I need to talk about it.
I’m gonna link to the videos of the portion I’m talking about. I’m sorry it’s not one video. The first one is the intro (poor quality) the second one sounds reminiscent of my class discussion today (better quality), the third one is where healing begins (but also is heart breaking-because they are high school kids) (has subtitles). And this video plays into what I need to say.
I walk by thousands of posters every week. They hang on bulletin boards in buildings, outside, on sign posts, everywhere. Flyers, ads, everything. I pay attention to them a little because I hang up some of them (academic ones, on my floor at the department). But most of them I miss because I’m very busy.
My first class this morning, the professor (who I find delightful) burst through and was quite visibly shaken. She mentioned that we were not going to be taking class the direction she’d originally planned and held up these two posters (I’ll explain why I have them when we come to that point in the story).
These posters didn’t immediately mean anything to me, as I am used to seeing Greco-Roman sculpture (I’ve taken a fair few Art History classes, and Archaeology courses). I thought it was advertising a study abroad or something. DO NOT MAKE MY MISTAKES. The professor was shaking, as she asked if we knew what they meant, who “Identity Europa” was. No one did. And she pulled up the links she’d found this morning to the Twitter feed of the group. I’m going to post the pictures here, because you need to be informed.
I’m posting screenshots because I don’t want to give them any more traffic than is necessary. If I gave you links to these tweets, they would get more views. More views=more validation and that is something I cannot get behind.
This group’s mission, essentially, is to deport anyone from America who isn’t white (read: European). Their targets are obviously people of color, people of Muslim heritage. Less obviously, their targets are members of the SAGA (LGBT) community and other religious minorities. Does this sound familiar? And as if this could be any more shocking, they don’t appear to be Donald Trump supporters.
We spent the entire class period discussing this information, these images and groups. I came away with the following pieces of information. (I’m only going to bring up some highlights-this conversation lasted almost two hours.)
The triangle thing (Twitter profile picture): This is actually coded messaging. The triangle is actually a three armed swastika (used by the Neo-Nazi movement) as a way to identify other fascist/racists without calling it what it is. It is also tied back to the original Nazi movement-because triangles were how prisoners were identified (they were color coded).
Response One: There’s a self-identified Japanese-African-American girl in that class who was also disturbed by this news-and shared that it is things like this that made her mother give her an 8PM curfew (the girl is 20) and she said that her time living in Okinawa was spent being racially profiled, but she feels unsafe in America now. She moved here last year from Japan. Her contribution to this conversation (one of many she had) was that the oppression of the minorities does not need to be a source of shame-it needs to be acknowledged, fixed and then left in the past, where it belongs.
Response Two: There’s a self-identified Mexican-American in that class. He was actually the most insightful person I heard all day. He spoke of how he wanted to sit down and talk with these people-to find out what it was that motivated them to feel this way. His contribution (amongst many) was that if all sides of the argument come to the table with respect, perhaps we will all walk away with a better understanding of the motivations of others.
Response Three: There’s a military man (of 20 years of service) who spoke up as well-about how he fought to defend the ability to speak out, even when others do not agree. (Which I can respect.) But he then compared this movement to BLM (Black Lives Matter) and my respect for him was markedly diminished. His “white male” privilege was mentioned by someone I didn’t see. He also chuckled at these posters-but perhaps it was out of the fact that they are absurd. I don’t find them funny.
Response Four: There’s a blonde girl who sits on the far other side of the room who brought up how “white” isn’t something that belonged to the Greeks or Romans-who were Mediterranean and therefore more olive skinned than the marble they carved. I appreciated this. As the lines between skin colors are muddled more than ever.
Response (Mine): Where is the line? I asked the professor, because I needed to know. I needed to know if I needed to be scared. I brought up that skin color is a very poor indicator of heritage and ethnicity-about how my grandfather was an immigrant from Russia, my grandmother from Poland, I was told as a child that I have native blood, I did a DNA test and I have African blood as well. I’m not Christian. I know multiple languages. I enjoy other cultures deeply. I’m part of the SAGA community. I’m mentally ill. I’m a woman. (I could go on.) Should I be afraid? My brain felt like screaming it. And that is how we learned that not only Muslims and people of color are targeted by this group, but several labels I use to self-identify. Apparently quite a few people in that classroom (my professor included) have things to worry about. We spent a few minutes talking about heritage pride as something that’s acceptable and to be enjoyed. We talked about how identity is something we make for ourselves. We talked about how differing opinions are beautiful-until they disrespect someone else. We discussed fear. But we can’t let fear win. And I’m going to keep on keeping on. Because fear will never win.
This is how a holocaust happens.
Not loudly and with much gusto-but quietly, with covert symbols and language choices. With seemingly harmless posters and images. With hidden meanings, hidden identities and hidden agendas.
This is how a holocaust is prevented. Not with apathy and fear-but with knowledge and openness. With communication and collaboration. With respect and understanding.
So I ripped down the posters I saw hung up, just as my professor had done this morning. I will continue to do so for every single IE poster I see. But I kept two. And I want to tell you why.
I’m not racist. I don’t agree with ANYTHING this movement stands for. I loathe it entirely. I felt like a shitty person carrying around racist, borderline-terrorist propaganda in my bag today.
I have the posters for the same reason that World War II holocaust propaganda is in museums: because people need to be warned, so that history is not repeated. When my children (if I have children) grow up, I need them to know that this is what the dregs of society look like-welcoming and filled with deceit. I need them to know that they need to break apart the messages that they interpret and see the truth. I need them to know the same lesson in the videos I shared up top: what may seem innocent on the surface can be filled with hatred. And hatred will fill a person up with poison until they become lethal to everyone they come in contact with.
So yes, I kept these posters. I will bury them in the back of my closet, away from the light of day until one day in the future I open that box and look back, thankful that these people did not succeed in their endeavors. I will look at these disgraceful posters and remind myself that there are good people in the world, and the darkness will not win. I will keep these pieces of history and one day place them in a museum-right next to other relics of domestic terrorism, racism, bigotry and fear mongering so that generations long after my own will see them and know that if they do not learn from the past, they are doomed to repeat it.