Had they not long ago demonstrated their capacity for sociopathy, Nazis would prove amusing. Amusing and not at all threatening or worrisome, sort of like those people who dress up their dogs in fancy sweaters when the weather turns cold, or those who enjoy pilates.
But as it is, Nazis (and note, I am using this term in its proper context, not loosely as is so common nowadays to refer merely to those with whom one disagrees), are not very amusing. At all. And this is in no small part due to their proven penchant for mass murder and their almost pathological detachment from any sense of a common humanity: things that make one worthy of being avoided, or, alternately locked away for a long stretch of time, rather than, say, being engaged by others in idle conversation.
I’ve had more than a few encounters with these types. And again, I mean real, honest-to-God Nazis, as in, admirers of Hitler. I would call them neo-Nazis, but seeing as how none of them have had an original thought since the fall of the German Reich, I’ll abstain from doing so. There is nothing new about them. They are decidedly old school in their fascism: Paleolithic Nazis, or perhaps Jurassic, but never neo.
Actually, my first such encounter with a Nazi was in high school, where I bumped up against a wanna-be skinhead. I say wanna-be, because as it turned out, this kid wasn’t very committed to the whole Hitler, master-race thing. He just thought it was cool and “punk” to wear leather jackets with swastikas on them, because Sid Vicious used to do it, or something to that effect. Once, when a bunch of us were hanging out at a friend’s house, this guy showed up to wish a happy birthday to one of the girls who was there — who was Jewish — and at some point, apparently gripped by a Nazi equivalent of Tourette’s shouted out “fuck Jews.” I responded by saying “fuck you,” and reminding him that not only was I Jewish, but so was the girl he had come to see. “Oh, sorry,” he said, before slinking away, somewhat embarrassed. He went on to be a concert promoter for a while, including for quite a few ska and reggae shows, so, ya know, that whole racist thing didn’t last long with him.
Later, my encounters with Nazis were of a decidedly more disturbing nature, tracking as they did my involvement with the statewide coalition in Louisiana that was implicated in the defeat of one of their own, David Duke, when he ran for U.S. Senate and Governor in 1990 and 1991. Both Duke and I are still around, me regretting the former and they the latter, and so it goes. These encounters were particularly unamusing, involving as they did death threats, skinheads (real ones this time) following me from work to my home, and others trying to run me off the road, as well as the receipt of envelopes filled with dead cockroaches, promises of future gas chambers, or even better, human fecal matter. At least I’m assuming it was human.
Then, once I began to speak around the country about issues of race and racism, I would occasionally be greeted by various white supremacists (most of them quite dedicated to Hitlerism), like the guys in Washington State who used to follow me around, and who once came to a reception held for me at Central Washington University. There, amid tea cakes, finger sandwiches, and, as I recall, some especially tasty lemon squares, Nazi Things 1 and 2 calmly pontificated about the “faddish” nature of jazz music, the inherent superiority of the “white-created” diatonic scale, and how polka would enjoy a renaissance once the white revolution triumphed. When one of the two young men that very month posted a profile on a Nazi web board, in which he indicated his desire to find a woman who could “get down and dirty” but still comport herself as a lady, I suggested to others on the campus (where the lonely heart was enrolled), that they should wheat-paste oversized posters everywhere they could, with his picture on them, alongside the singles ad verbiage he had posted, and the headline, “Find This Nazi a Date. Even Assholes Need Love.” I don’t know if they ever did it, but he left the school shortly thereafter, bringing to four the number of colleges at which this member of the self-proclaimed master race had failed to graduate.
Later, the hilarity continued with still more death threats, called in to schools where I was scheduled to speak, or, a few years ago, a call placed to my home by a Georgia-based bigot affiliated with Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance, who woke my wife and I from our sleep, talked all tough, and then, informed that I had his name and number thanks to the wonders of caller ID, went strangely silent. Then last year, a particularly awkward looking young man who claimed to be a member of the white terrorist group, The National Alliance (which group is basically defunct, but apparently forgot to tell this guy), came to one of my speeches in Kentucky. He — all 140 pounds of him, and even then only if he was soaking wet and carrying a lead-lined copy of Mein Kampf — was all big and bad until I began to verbally humiliate him in front of 300 people. At that point, he turned tail and ran, as Nazis always do nowadays, back to their bunkers, where sadly lacking access to their very own Walther PPK, they fail to emulate their hero fully and finally, if you know what I mean.
In any event, most such encounters in the past several years have been of an electronic kind, rather than up close and personal. E-thuggery is, after all, so much easier and less messy. And so I am regularly the subject of attack threads on Nazi websites, where Aryan warriors spend countless hours each day — rather than, you know, working — and seek to remind themselves how superior to everyone else they are, even as so many of them continue to live in their parents’ basements, long past the age of 40. They give themselves bad-ass Volkish nicknames, create avatars with swastikas, or SS lightning bolts, or pictures of Edward Norton as a skinhead in American History X, so as to compensate for their spectacular professional and social inadequacies. Oh, and they like to point out especially that I am…wait for it…Jewish.
And this they say as if it were news; like some big secret had just been revealed by they, the lords of research, the racist equivalent of CSI detectives or something. And I suppose my Jewishness is news to some, the same way it might be news to some that Simon and Garfunkel haven’t released new work in a really long time, or that that Captain guy, from the Captain and Tennille, has not really, ever, piloted a boat. Next thing you know they’ll be pointing out that I’m also a father, something about which they’ll be sure to let everyone know, right about the time our daughters are graduating from high school.
I, of course, have never denied being Jewish. Rather, I have spoken of it often, in public presentations, at least two dozen essays, and in my book, White Like Me, which has been out for five years.
It is this last matter that has them so steamed in fact. It’s the point they have tried to make on the Amazon.com review boards for the book; namely that I am an “imposter,” merely pretending to be white, when in fact I am a stealth Jew, or something to that effect. As is true for all Nazis, to be Jewish makes one a member of an entirely separate, distinct and evil race of Asiatics, and disqualifies the carrier of such genetic pathogens as these from being able to honestly claim kinship to real white people: principally good Nordic types like themselves. To white supremacists, the white race is a very special club to which membership is limited — and like Spanky and Alfalfa in the Little Rascals, who policed the borders of the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club — they and they alone know who belongs and who does not. Jews do not, and how dare we try and hitch our wagons to their superior race.
Whenever they have sent personal e-mails my way, to remind me (as if I had forgotten) that I’m not really white because of my Hebraic roots, I have wondered: do they really think I’m trying to fake my way in to their club so I can be one of the cool kids? So I can be one of them? Apparently this is what has them worried, which I find slightly hilarious, suggesting as it does that my lack of connection to a bunch of people with such a history of conquest, slaughter and genocide would somehow make me feel inferior.
In any event, what makes Nazis especially silly in this regard is that as they guard the borders of real whiteness they ignore two points in particular that render their objections to my claimed Jewish-whiteness moot. The first of these has to do with their claims to scientific certitude and the second — and even more important point — concerns the way in which I am using the notion of whiteness, as a social category, unrelated to any scientific notions of race whatsoever. And it is with regard to these two points that Nazis demonstrate their lack of intellectual heft and general all-around ignorance.
First, as per the science. Although Nazis insist Jews are a distinct biological population, separate and apart from white people — and although there is some recent haplotype research indicating specific Jewish clustering in Ashkenazi populations of Central and Eastern European Jews, which makes them more like Jews elsewhere than non-Jews in the same countries — there are a number of problems with this claim, and the insistence that it makes American Jews like myself something other than white.
To begin, whatever “genetic distance” exists in certain respects between Jews — who, due to low rates of intermarriage for most of recorded history have maintained certain gene frequencies over time — and non-Jews, that distance is not large enough to suggest sub-speciation, which is to say, the true creation of a uniquely “Jewish race.” This, according to the very scientists who have mapped the Jewish haplotypes, and whose work is seized on by Nazis to prove otherwise. In short, Nazis either can’t read academic research, or they can, but can’t manage to tell the truth about it.
More to the point, and as regards myself, my Jewish lineage extends only on my Y-chromosome, that is to say, my paternal paternal line, as three of my four grandparents are of Northern European and decidedly non-Jewish derivation. Which is to say, that unless the Nazis can explain — and they cannot — how the “Jew genes” arguably extant on one-fourth of my family line manage to cancel out the Gentile genes on the other three-quarters (and in which case, whiteness would seem to be awfully recessive, and indicative of biological inferiority rather than its preferable opposite), their attempt to erase me from the circle of whiteness amounts to a giant pseudo-scientific fail. The failure is made all the more acute when one considers that the research on Jewish genetic clustering was only done on a few hundred Jews, all of whom had four Jewish grandparents. For many American Jews, myself included, whose relatives married Gentiles, this research means literally nothing, as it does not speak to our genome in the least, no matter what the Nazis may think that genome portends.
Of course, and more importantly, that there may be certain genetic tendencies that cluster in populations of Jews says nothing about the larger point that Nazis seek to make: namely, that these genes confer upon their carriers an insatiable desire to destroy white people. No one — neither scientists nor Nazis (these being mutually exclusive categories almost by definition) — have ever demonstrated that the genes they find so important, and which suggest Jewish lineage, actually have any relationship to known characterological or behavioral traits. They merely take it on faith that Jews are evil because theological bigots like Martin Luther and insecure, impotent, and psychopathic killers like Adolf Hitler tell them so.
But finally, and this is the truly critical point: When persons like myself talk about our whiteness, or white privilege, we are not particularly concerned about genetics at all, and whatever biology may or may not say about race. By definition we are discussing race as a social category, with social meaning, irrespective of DNA. In other words, I am “white” in this society (and around the world) because to most anyone with whom I would interact, I will appear “white.” Employers, loan officers, police, teachers, and average everyday folks on the street would look at me, presume my whiteness, and treat me accordingly. Which is to say, I can reap the benefits of presumed whiteness — the presumptions of competence, and law-abidingness, and credit-worthiness, and general intelligence, none of which people of color can assume others will presume about them — no matter what my genes may or may not say about my ancestry. By the same token, historically there have been tens of thousands of folks who were African American by ancestry and most of their lineage, but who were light enough, and whose facial features and hair texture were sufficiently “white-like,” to be perceived as white and reap white privilege too.
In short, whiteness as I use the concept in my writing and work has nothing to do with genetics. Whiteness is conferred by the society based on what people presume you to be. And that presumption has nothing to do with genotype — since observers cannot know your DNA just by looking at you — but rather, everything to do with phenotype, which is to say the way certain genes are expressed outwardly, as with skin pigmentation, and a handful of other characteristics, which are controlled by about six genes out of 30,000 in the overall human genome. So I am not “pretending” to be anything. I couldn’t care less about genetic whiteness and my relationship to it, as I find the entire concept absurd. But mostly, it just doesn’t matter. My experiences with whiteness and white privilege have to do with the way I am received and perceived by others. Others, that is, besides Nazis, whose judgments matter quite little.