The New York Times ran a profile on a Nazi from Ohio. I won’t link it, but you’ve probably read it. It’s a “thought provoking” look. Yes, I quoted that with an eyeroll.
It’s drivel, from beginning to end. Sure it mentions some of the gross beliefs he has, but the entire article points out that he might think white people are better, but he doesn’t look down his nose at interracial couples. Look at his pop culture flavored tattoos! And all his cats. He’s just like us.
As if we should be surprised that Nazis are just like us. To every person of color out there, it’s hardly a surprise that a racist can seem normal. Some of the most racist comments came from people that shocked me. It wasn’t the skinheads, it was the women who we saw all the time at the school. The teacher I thought I trusted. Every POC has stories like this. Heck, most people read anecdotes during school about how Nazis weren’t just villainous monsters – they were neighbors and every day people.
But we love trying to humanize monsters. There’s this mistaken idea that if we understand them, we might be able to catch them. It’s why you see profiles of white shooters or white serial killers, talking about their quirky habits. Like, if we see them as people, somehow we’ll reconcile the rest. People of Color don’t get that luxury, by the way. Even POC victims are vilified, their humanity stripped away. But… that isn’t what this post is about.
Back to the Nazis. I would argue that every white person has seen The Sound of Music at least once. A huge part of it deals with Liesl discovering that the nice young messenger she’s in love with, is actually a Nazi. And that he didn’t care enough for her to let her family go.
And everyone had to read the Diary of Anne Frank, where you read the heart wrenchingly normal diary of a girl, and then at the end the discussion of who turned the Franks in. All of whom were normal people, people they trusted.
When confronted, the NYT posted their response. Which just like the article itself, missed the boat. They said the writer and editors agonized over the tone. That they felt it was important for people to understand the creator of some of the movements.
But the piece itself didn’t even tackle what this group believed. It actually linked to Swastika armbands (though they’ve removed the link, since apparently they realized critics were right and that was in poor taste). There were no hard hitting questions to juxtapose the hatred against the banality of their day to day life.
How on earth are you supposed to believe that this was supposed to do anything other than paint a human face on hate, if you aren’t accurately representing his life… all aspects of it.
Sadly, this isn’t anything new for the New York Times. Back in the 30s, they did the same thing with Hitler. Talked about his quirks and interests. Not the hate he spoke of.
So, think piece writers – if you’re going to tackle a profile on a hateful person, make sure you have at least one POC involved. One person from a group that person actively hates, who can make sure you aren’t writing a puff piece. Otherwise, all you’re doing is normalizing hatred. Instead of pointing out how out of place it should be.
Edit: I’m embedding a tweet thread that raised another point about what the NYT piece missed – and completely misrepresented. It’s worth a read. If you didn’t read the piece (which I know, I didn’t link), they mention the podcast that the profiled man is part of. They refer to him as a white nationalist or a Nazi sympathizer. Never outright as simply a Nazi.
One more quick thing about that NYT profile of Hovater. Remember the podcast the author mentions? Well, I listened to a couple of episodes.
— Angus Johnston (@studentactivism) November 27, 2017