I was standing outside a tall antiquated college building that looks more like a parking garage than a classroom. Long sweeping ramps, bathrooms on alternate floors, an impractical design. Near the adjacent Frank Lloyd Wright ranch style administration building, columns were forming. Two neat rows of guys in brown shirts, brown pants, and green caps. Each soldier held a white UALR plastic bag, and seemed impatient. They weren’t holding their ranks very well. I had a strange flash— I wondered if the Hitler youth were making a comeback. Except for the green insignia on the shirts, which I wasn’t close enough to read, and the green caps, the Aryan assortment was remarkably similar in appearance. Then I wondered if they were beer drinkers. I remembered a hypothesis by Frank Zappa that seems reasonable— only beer drinking cultures like Germany, England, and America succumb to marching.
When I got home tonight, Youth of the Third Reich was on the History channel. The episode was “Seduction.” It features interviews with former female members of Hitler’s BDM, and deep discussions about Hitler’s view of women as objects of beauty, and baby factories. The portrayal is skewed, as all of these easily consumable histories are, with the idea that only Germany placed an emphasis on eugenics, an emphasis on race, and carefully measured the features of children with calipers and rules weeding out those that did not fit the aesthetic concerns of a master race. While it’s easy to feel sympathy for the women interviewed who were only children at the time, locked into the childish games of bonding excluding all those who were different, I began to wonder how much stock we can place in the excuse “We didn’t know any better.” The supposedly enlightened English and American people played the same game, locking races on an evolutionary scale across the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It didn’t just happen in Germany alone. None of the “anglos” seemed to know any better either.
The most striking interviews were with a gypsy woman, survivor of a death camp, who talked about being spat upon and called gypsy trash by the cute little braided girls of the BDM.
I was thinking about what it was like in my high school growing up. There were black student associations, Mexican American student associations, and alliances available to most ethnic groups. Whites were only about 40 percent at the school. Stupid me, I wondered why we didn’t have an association. The answer always seems to be— “What are you talking about? Don’t you know that white society already has all the privileges?” I’ve got a different perspective on it now. I never found any of those privileges. Somehow I wasn’t comfortable with the labels people wanted to give me like cracker or pindeho— they never really fit. I like wheat or rye bread, not white. If anything, I must be a gypsy child.
Not in the sense of ethnic heritage, but in the sense of a lack of one. I did some tracing on a family tree a while ago and found that my family comes from virtually nowhere, and just wandered across the country— the deepest branch I traced came from London in the 1600s, entered in Maine, moved to Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, California, Arizona, etc. They were never in any single place for longer than a generation or so. There are no real roots to be found, except perhaps in the lower class drive to wander to greener pastures, new hopes of economic security, etc. I suppose I’ve always been envious of those who can say they are Irish-American, or African-American, or Polish-American, or whatever. I’m hyphen challenged. Just a mutt, a gypsy.
Ethnic roots give people a sense of continuity, of belonging. A feeling that you are not alone, a feeling that a line precedes you and will follow. But it’s such a thin line between ethnic pride and wearing brown shirts, though instead of screaming that a race is genetically superior, we now argue about which race was most oppressed. When ethnicity becomes a badge, it also becomes a weight. And it is all too tempting to measure that weight relatively, to create self-serving discourse aimed at propping up positions that only separate, weigh, and measure the relative worth of cultures. There has been far too much of that across history. I feel pretty good about just opting out, although I really have no choice. Garden variety white-guy, nothing special. But that’s just as well, I don’t want to be special if it involves marching. I’ll keep the beer, but skip the marching.