It was admittedly an unnerving question, especially since it was thrown out pointblank on social media for all the world to read, asked by someone who has known me since the seventh grade. In fact, the question was quite jarring emotionally and psychologically, as it probably should have been since it had to do with something so loathsome as the swastika and the ethnocentric racism it represents.
“Didn’t you used to like the swastika and all it stands for?” he asked in response to a report I posted on how the alt-right, neo-Nazis, and white supremists generally identify politically, as well as, more specifically, their use of Twitter and this company’s response to date. Bottom line, the folks at Twitter have hesitated to weed out racial, ethnic, and religious hate speech by algorithm because it would allegedly target an entire group of people who tend to identify with one particular political party.
The swastika appeared in the illustration for the article, which is what (I suppose) gave rise to the question concerning my past feelings and viewpoints. Of course, I answered the question, which really came across more like an indictment (which I can guess it was meant to be … as well as an embarrassment), and in doing so reminded this person that he was referring all the way back to our adolescence … basically at a time when I was young and stupid. However, when I reflected a bit more on that period of my life, I realized that the charge against me was really more important than I first imagined.
The truth is, even though I was only an adolescent, the fact that I was fascinated by Hitler, Nazi Germany, the swastika and all that rubbish is serious. Yes, I grew out of that quickly — certainly before graduating high school — but, still, I had entered into the darkness of racial/ethnic extremism for some (thankfully) short period of time. And the question naturally arises: Why? What happened to me from around 12 to 14 years old? Or what had I allowed to happen to me?
Well, the answer to these queries may honestly escape me — and by this I mean the “correct” answers, psychologically speaking — but I think I may at least have some ideas. For one thing, I had grown up in and lived within a culture — the southeastern United States — of embedded racism, oppression, marginalization and suspicion of non-Caucasians and non-Christians. In this cultural milieu it was expected that white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (or WASPs) would keep themselves separate and pure from all others, even while hypocritically claiming to be unprejudiced.
Along with this was really ludicrous rhetoric so many of us imbibed, such as: “We’re not prejudice, they are just culturally different and it’s not good to ‘mix’ with them, at least not too much.” And, of course, “there are some ‘good ones,’ but most of them are lazy and no-good, and they can’t really reach the intellectual, spiritual, and economic achievements achieved by the white, European, Protestant Christian race.” And, then, “it’s not that they shouldn’t have the same rights… It’s just they can’t really handle the responsibility. They really need to be supervised, guided and directed, almost like children.” And one of my favorites, “They’ve never had it as good as they’ve had it here, and they couldn’t move anywhere else and hope to have it as good as they do now.”
This is not all, though, as I strongly suspect my own terrible and deep insecurities played a role in my short-lived fascination with Hitler and his Nazi regime. I mean, my personal insecurity must be at least one reason I felt so attracted (at that point in my life) to raw power. You know, the fact that Adolf Hitler could seemingly hypnotize and control an entire nation stirred something inside me that to this day I can’t really fully explain. But it was almost as if the achievements of powerful figures, however nefarious and ultimately doomed, gave me some sense of … what? Safety? It did seem to embolden me (at that time in my adolescent life.) As a side-note, it’s also intriguing that, for some reason, I found no solace or sense of security in my faith-religion or spiritual tradition.
Finally, the third idea that comes to mind is tied to the first two, and it’s certainly a common problem for young people, and that is peer pressure. No, no one in my rank of friends told me to like the swastika and all it stood for, but there was plenty of racial/ethnic prejudice, accompanied by all of the racist remarks and misguided notions and jokes, etc. To fit in and, more importantly (at the time), to be truly accepted, I had to be an ethnocentric racist, who used the same language and laughed at all the jokes and whatnot. This does not excuse me, but it is part of an overall understanding of who and what I was during that confusing, oftentimes turbulent chapter in my life.
More than anything, I wish I could undo it all. Hitler, the Nazis, as well as white supremists and neo-Nazis today, are vile and reprehensible … and very dangerous. I can truly say I am deeply and forever thankful that I left that diabolical garbage behind before I even reached adulthood. More than this, I’m very thankful that my life pilgrimage has led me to this point in life in which I can truly see and appreciate the beauty of all people, all races and ethnicities, each and every culture, and every spiritual-religious tradition. I’m really in a much better place in life, and for this I’m a better person overall.
Unfortunately, the swastika and what it stands for was not all I had to grow through and leave behind. There were other, more deeply rooted beliefs, perspectives, and practices I needed to shed, like Calvinism, “Christian Reconstructionism,” sympathy for the old Confederacy, and what has now come to be called “alt-right conservativism.” All of this would take time, the patience of really good and caring people, and progressive maturation, as well as good old-fashioned life experience … but more on this next time.