Heath: Reflections on an American tragedy


Imagine for a moment if after the Nazi holocaust, Germany passed segregation legislation, circumscribing where Jewish survivors could live, work, eat and play.

Imagine that instead of being persecuted for their despicable crimes, the architects of the concentration camps found leading roles in government, academia, and other privileged positions in public life.

Imagine if, in addition, ex-Nazis banded together to form a domestic terrorism group, the Aryan Klux Klan, with the express purpose of roaming the country and keeping the Jews in line.
More specifically, this group reacts to the slightest indiscretion – rolling one’s eyes, talking back to an Aryan, engaging in interracial romance – by punishing and sometimes torturing Jews, sometimes in front of a cheering crowd.

Imagine if Aryan Germans conspired to keep the Jews economically downtrodden by underfunding their schools, segregating them into ghettos, and only hiring them for the most menial, low-wage positions. And then when the Jews suffered disproportionate rates of poverty and crime, Aryans claimed it was due to their inherent inferiority.

Imagine that this same demographic worked to eliminate Jewish voting rights through discriminatory laws and threats of violence, so no pro-Jewish politicians could have a chance of getting elected.

Imagine this status quo lasted for a century, until a Jewish civil rights movement emerged, that – only after decades of mass protest – eliminated all these unjust laws and conditions.

Imagine that even this modicum of progress was tainted in that Aryan Germans only agreed to eliminate legal bigotry and did little to close the disparities in wealth, education, and access to health care Jews suffered from.

Imagine that, as a result, Jews today had less than a tenth of the wealth Aryans did, a shorter life expectancy, twice as much poverty, and were far more likely to die in childbirth.

Imagine that Aryans did little to help Jews in the ghettos and instead turned a blind eye as they became crime-ridden killing fields, destroyers of children and the aged alike.

Imagine that, after all that trauma, injustice and terror, the first Jewish president of Germany managed to be elected. He is the ideal man, elegant, educated, well-spoken, with a beautiful family to boot, a gift to his nation.

Morally, he is magnanimous enough to forgive his countrymen for their crimes against his community. He shockingly believes deep in his bones that national unity – Ayrans and Jews standing together – is not only necessary, but possible.

Then imagine if, in response, Aryan citizens doubted his legitimacy, his worth as a German, and claimed he was really born in Israel.

Image that this charge was given weight by some of the nation’s most prominent leaders, and that one of these men, a billionaire business tycoon, used his attack on the president to launch his political career.

Imagine that after eight years of the first Jewish president, of his legitimacy, dignity, and character being constantly attacked, that same tycoon gets elected to office himself.

Imagine this all occurs during a time when German police slaughter hundreds of Jewish citizens every year for such acts as selling cigarettes, playing with a toy gun, reaching for a wallet, or leaving a house party. Consequently, this circumstance makes Jews so afraid that their kids can be found at city council meetings with wet tears on their cheeks, begging for the violence to stop.

Imagine that even the cries of children weren’t enough for Aryan society to change.

I, of course, am not talking about Germany’s history, but our own.

As the terrorism in Charlottesville revealed this month, the same evil that animated slavery, Jim Crow, and the creation of the ghettos is alive and well in our country. It is with us for a very simple reason: as a people, we have not truly reckoned with our history and taken the steps needed to bring justice to the African American community.

After World War II, Germany took a series of transformative measures to atone for its sins: it paid Jewish citizens reparations, banned public displays of Nazism and enacted legislation to ensure future generations of Germans would know the full extent of the Holocaust.

By contrast, this country turned the other way as many African Americans languish without economic opportunity, whitewashed its history, and still has regular debates over whether the confederate flag is heritage or hate.

If Germany treated its Jewish citizens the way we treat African Americans,
we would think the Germans were a bunch of barbarians. And so the question remains: how should we view ourselves?

Joshua Heath is a Stevenson Ranch resident and a political science student at UCLA. He has served two terms as a delegate to the California Democratic Party.

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