Why does everyone think the Nazis were racist?
Sure, Hitler was definitely racist. He ordered the extermination of the Jews from Germany and later from all over Europe once he became chancellor of Germany. Sure, He built the Third Reich—a political, social and economic regime based on the idea of Aryan supremacy. Sure Nazi soldiers built death camps to facilitate one of the biggest mass murders in history while, according to Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw, Hitler kept his hands clean.
“What is surprising, then, is that Hitler never visited a single concentration camp, let alone death camp,” Kershaw writes. “He kept himself aloof from the dirtiest work of his regime. He did not speak about the ‘Final Solution,’ even to his closest entourage, other than in vague terms.”
Maybe Nazis weren’t racist. Perhaps they were just compelled to build and uphold a racist system created at the behest of a white supremacist maniac who was careful not to overtly spell out his agenda.
Should we blame them for that?
On October 30, 1943, while Hitler was still alive, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Russian leader Joseph Stalin in Moscow to sign a statement declaring their intentions to support the punishment of any Germans who participated in Nazi Germany’s “atrocities, massacres and cold-blooded mass executions.”
But they didn’t just focus on Hitler. The “Declaration of Atrocities” (pdf) also condemned “Germans who take part in wholesale shootings of Italian officers or in the execution of French, Dutch, Belgian or Norwegian hostages or of Cretan peasants, or who have shared in the slaughters inflicted on the people of Poland or in the territories of the Soviet Union which are now being swept clear of the enemy.” The declaration also warned anyone who would act on behalf of the “Hitlerite forces” in the future, declaring:
“Let those who have hitherto not imbued their hands with innocent blood beware lest they join the ranks of the guilty, for most assuredly the three Allied Powers will pursue them to the uttermost ends of the earth and will deliver them to the accusers in order that justice may be done.”
According to Donald Trump administration, Nazis weren’t racist.
On June 7, Attorney General William Barr, the nation’s highest law enforcement official, told Face the Nation’s Margaret Brennan:
“I think there’s racism in the United States still but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist. I understand the- the distrust, however, of the African-American community given the history in this country. I think we have to recognize that for most of our history, our institutions were explicitly racist.”
A few days later, Larry Kudlow repeatedly denied the existence of systemic racism while noting that “some very bad apples on the law enforcement side” was easily mitigated by the fact that many negroes have jobs.
See? There were just a few bad Nazis on the mass extermination side. Most Nazis were just doing their jobs protecting, defending and extending a white supremacist empire.
Like the police.
Let’s begin with a few facts:
- According to 2017 data from the United States Sentencing Commission, black male offenders received sentences that are, on average, 19.1 percent longer than white male offenders who commit the same crimes and have the same criminal history.
- White people use and sell illegal drugs at higher rates than black people but black people are six-and-a-half times more likely to be arrested and convicted for drugs.
- The Stanford Open Policing Project analyzed data from more than 200 million traffic stops and found that black people are 2.5 times more likely to be stopped and 4 times more likely to be searched than white drivers but white drivers were more likely to have contraband.
- Police are twice as likely to use force on black people versus white suspects, according to a 2015 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- Over the course of their life, black men are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than are white men and black women are about 1.4 times more likely to be killed by police than are white women.
- A study by the National Registry of Exonerations found that “African Americans are only 13% of the American population but...They constitute 47% of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations (as of October 2016), and the great majority of more than 1,800 additional innocent defendants who were framed and convicted of crimes in 15 large-scale police scandals and later cleared in ‘group exonerations.’”
There can be no doubt, the way black people in America are policed is undeniably racist.
But who is to blame?
The white supremacy embedded in the national criminal justice system existed long before any police officer in America was ever born. It predates William Barr, George Floyd or even (and I know this is hard to believe) Donald Trump. They did not build it. They are simply caretakers of white supremacy.
Similarly, police officers did not create the laws they enforce. However, they do enforce existing statutes in a way that disproportionately harms black people. It is not racist to arrest people for having dope in their pockets but if white people use more cocaine, heroin and opioids, (pdf) but black people are arrested more often for illegal possession of drugs, then the police are enforcing the laws in a racist manner (pdf).
Perhaps the most accurate way to define a racist is by the acts of racism they commit. Even though we have known the facts on how the long arm of the law disproportionately chokes the life out of black people, the silence from the law enforcement community is deafening.
This is not to say all police officers hate black people any more than workers at McDonald’s employees support heart attacks. However, if one were to ask a McDonald’s employee whether it was safe to eat two Big Macs and a large fry, they wouldn’t try to convince you that the burgers were actually protecting your arteries. Yet, whenever someone points out racial injustice, many—if not most cops—will vehemently defend the white supremacist institutions instead of the people they are charged with protecting and serving. Not only do police uphold, defend and offer excuses for acts of racism, but they also want to extend their empire.
And if the facts are too much, this argument boils down to its most literal terms. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for racism is “a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles” or “a political or social system based on racism”
Sounds like the police to me.
Perhaps comparing police to Nazis is insensitive.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like to be hunted by one of the most feared military forces in the world, taken from your home and shipped to a place where you will serve your oppressors until they decide to kill you. I cannot fathom a mass extermination on those levels.
I definitely can’t imagine how it must feel to know that shadow of terror that hangs over your head has been eliminated.
Maybe one day.
Perhaps a day will come, in the near future, where someone will offer justice to us the way this country has offered it to everyone in the world except black people.
There are many who will say it’s incendiary at best and tone-deaf at worst to compare police officers to Nazis.
I agree with those people.
After all, who am I to judge what Nazis did? Who among us is even qualified to judge the people who rained down heinous atrocities against black people for 400 years?
Well, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin and the Allied Powers had a very definitive answer for how true justice should be delivered:
“[T]hey will be brought back to the scene of their crimes and judged on the spot by the peoples whom they have outraged.”