It is about 4,800 miles from the American South to the center of Germany. But perhaps it is really much closer.
The New York Times [09/26/2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/world/europe/germany-far-right-neo-nazi.html] recently reported on the 8th anniversary of Eichsfeld Day, a German folk celebration taken over by nationalists. It was held in Leinefelde, in the center of the country. With a combination of face painting, balloons, and White Power T-shirts, the festival included immigration-bashing similar to what we have witnessed before in Europe. It attracted about 200 people (though in past years it has attracted up to four times this number).
Surprising, perhaps, was the stated American connection—“solidarity with the American South”—along with the waving of Confederate flags. Attendees seemed to be making a connection between African-Americans’ “taking over” the South, and the more than 1 million immigrants who have flooded Germany in the past 3 years. The hate from America seemed to have made the ocean crossing without difficulty; a balladeer was singing this KKK tune:
In the good old South crosses burned in the night and riders in white robes kept watch on the hill.
The story was written by a black reporter, who was watched warily; some even admitted to “not liking people like you.” One told the reporter,
“Whenever someone says to me, ‘You are racist,’ I say, ‘Yeah, I am racist,’ ” he said. “Do I have something against black people? At the moment, yes, I have to unfortunately say, even though you are black.” Racism was not about the individual person, said Stephan, who withheld his last name for fear of the consequences that come with his beliefs. It stemmed, rather, from letting refugees into the country. “Right now, it’s like this for me: When I drive through the city, I see black people and immediately — pooh,” he said, spitting on the ground. “I’m filled with hate because there’s always more and more coming. I am not at home when everyone looks different than me.” [Emphasis added.]
Think about that. I am not at home when everyone looks different than me.” Is this not the bare-bones feeling that we can all identify with, even as we reject it and overcome our initial discomfort and fear? In its naked honesty, this reveals the pure gut-level emotion perhaps driving all bigotry and bias: He is not like me. I don’t know what to do with that.
Maybe this is the human condition. But we need to find a way to handle it.
The other question, however, remains: Why did American racism become so appealing to some Germans and other Europeans? Were they looking for a historical analog to their own distaste for immigrants, reaching for American history as validation? Sometime-Trump-whisperer and social bomb-thrower Steve Bannon has for months set his sights on a disunited Europe, trying to pull apart the European Union and empower nation-states. While he has been embraced by far-right nationalists in such places as France, Germany, and Italy, others in those countries are warning against what he is trying to accomplish. Of course, the more influence he wields, the better things look for Russia and one V. Putin.
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