The following is a post I wrote a few months ago. After reading the comments to my last post I decided to post it now. I don’t believe most Americans have acknowledged racism the way Germans acknowledged the atrocities of the Third Reich. (((I heard somebody call it the Turd Reich and I think that’s pretty good))) As long as the real history is not taught in every school in the USA nothing will change and we are long way from that.
As a teenager in Germany in the mid-seventies I had to hear about our history’s darkest moments. In school I had to watch photos and films that showed the concentration camps and the emaciated and tortured bodies of Jews and Romani and political prisoners. I had to read how some people of my grandparents’ generation turned on their Jewish neighbors and denounced them. I remember sitting in class and weeping. I remember weeping at home before I fell asleep, because those images refused to stop flickering in my head.
Compared to the suffering of so many people under the Nazis my pain was like the momentary prick of a needle and, perhaps, it was like an immunization against that kind of discrimination and violence.
They were difficult lessons but I am grateful that I had to learn them. It is important to know what humans, even countrymen, can do in dark hours. It’s important to know what propaganda can accomplish in the hand of evil men and women.
I think many white Americans are scared to take a hard look at the systemic racism that exists in this country because they are afraid of the feelings they will encounter. They might feel a sense of shame for not having seen the extent of racism before, or for not having listened to the cries of injustice from the communities of people of color.
Yes, allowing yourself to empathically feel the pain that other people have had to endure will hurt, and it will hurt for a long time. The memory of that pain will become a tattoo on your heart, like the images of Auschwitz I carry on mine. It will start with letting events like George Floyd’s murder resonate with your heart instead of your head. Imagine that George Floyd was your father, instead of a man you did not know. Now the pain feels differently; it becomes a heart pain rather than a head pain.
This is a tempering of the heart, like the tempering of a hot iron in a tub of cold water. The tempering makes the iron stronger and likewise this tempering will make a heart stronger.
Recommended reading: A People’s History of the United States