Talking to your child about Nazis

This week’s blog post is by The Paternity Test co-host Matt Boresi, who lives in the Edgewater Glen neighborhood of Chicago with his wife (“Professor Foster”) and their 5-year-old daughter Viva, who wishes she could’ve socked ol’ Hitler right in the mouth.

Note from the author: The upsetting news these days is coming so fast, it’s hard for a parent to handle, let alone for our little ones to process. Hopefully by next week we can all get back to fighting about hot dogs or that mothman that’s been flying around. In the meantime, here is another installment of my personal, biased, non-consecutive blog series about parenting in the era of ill-fitting-khaki clad hatemongers bearing tiki torches.

It seems like it should be easy. You sit next to your kid’s bed and you say, “Hey, we need to have a talk. Nazis … You know, the bad guys from Indiana Jones? The guys in the pillboxes at the top of the beach at Normandy? The guys who did the Holocaust? They’re not people we want to aspire to be like. They’re, dare I say it, ‘deplorable.’ (That means bad, by the way.)”

It should be a very non-controversial thing to tell your kids, “Don’t be a Nazi.” It should be a very simple thing for a president to tweet if a president must tweet. And it’s not just the Nazis we should easily be able to turn our kids away from, but also the KKK, Confederate sympathizers and other hate groups. In any sane, rational society it should be no sweat to say, “Don’t fly the flag of the villains from the Civil War.” “Don’t sympathize with humans who wanted to enslave other humans.” “Don’t worship at the feet of statues of people who committed treason in the name of human bondage.” “A Robert E. Lee statue isn’t a symbol of southern heritage — a statue of southern heritage would be a giant marble sculpture of biscuits and gravy.” These should be obvious truths. But something’s gone wrong.

Being a Nazi, being a Klansman has been rebranded. Now hatred and violence is new and improved and called the “alt-right,” like how Nirvana was alt-rock or how Patton Oswalt is alt-comedy. Nirvana was a rock group, just whiny. Patton Oswalt is a comedian, just nerdy. And dudes chanting “blood and soil”? Nazis.

Our children are trying to figure out what it means to be human, what it means to be American and what it means to be your kid. They’re in a delicate place. America, too, is in a delicate place, and trying to find out what it wants to be in the 21st century. Your child is coming of age at a time where the right path might not be as obvious as you’d like it to be, where there’s a dangerous fork in the road. If you don’t model the kind of human and the kind of citizen you want your kid to be, if you don’t offer your kid some advice on who you’d like to see them become … well, they’ll figure it out on their own, maybe in some dark corner of the internet populated by hateful cartoon frogs. Maybe they’ll find a role model bloviating from the TV or on Twitter about making America great again via intolerance, and if you don’t know what I mean by that, well, I have some rancid steaks I’d like to mail you.

2 percent of the American population died to put down the armies of Robert E. Lee. Approximately 185,000 soldiers died fighting Hitler. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists 74 people who died from racially motivated violence between 1952 and 1968, and 40 more martyred during the Civil Rights movement. Add to this all the slaves who died in the middle passage or in bondage, current American’s ancestors who died in the Holocaust, and — let’s not forget — most of the Native American population, and you have a whole lot of people who died because of hatred, mistrust, violence, greed and ignorance in this country’s short history. Now parades of keyboard warriors in white polo shirts and red trucker caps armed with machine guns and luau decorations are rising up across the country to say that flying flags of intolerance and cruelty demonstrates what it means to put “America First” — and a certain shrieking know-nothing dollop of clown pudding is calling them “very fine people.”

Without terrifying my daughter so that she never sleeps again, I need to tell her what the stars and bars and the crooked cross stand for, and it sure as hell ain’t “economic anxiety” or “combating political correctness run amok.” There are bad actors in this world, and I don’t just mean untalented thespians like James Woods. I mean people who espouse things on purpose because of selfishness, fear and bloodthirstiness — like James Woods.

There’s simply no reason to behave like the Dockersturmführers and Izod Hydras in Charlottesville. Not everyone is in a position or has the disposition to be a counter protester, but everyone must be willing to raise their voice in any way they can to defend our country from the moral decay and barbarism which attends racism. Everyone, adult or child, must live in accordance with the “better angels of our nature.” That’s a phrase made popular by Abraham Lincoln — another martyr in the fight against the flags the “very fine people” of the “alt-right” flew in Charlottesville.

Charlottesville is a possible jumping off point in teaching your kids about Nazis, Confederates and about intolerance in all its forms, no matter what political cabal or weaponized religion it seeps into. There are rhetorical moves to watch out for; hate groups have always had the same shtick:

Identify an undesirable trait, then call said trait an essential characteristic of a particular outgroup. (Most members of X group tend to commit sin Y.) 

Tell members of an in-group that members of the previously identified out-group are somehow less than human. (Most members of group X tend to commit sin Y and thus are less human than we.)

Then you can begin to exempt from your own culture’s tenets about violence, theft and murder. (X usually does Y and will hurt us, so let’s imprison or kill them and keep their stuff.)

The sooner your child realizes that undesirable traits are not baked into anyone’s skin color, and that there will always be public figures trying to make them believe otherwise, the better off they are.

There are some quick tips for teaching your kids about tolerance (which I found useful) at KidsHealth and Child Development Institute, and even some classroom resources by grade level at Tolerance.org. It’s never too soon to start your kids on a path to being decent, empathetic people and responsible American citizens. Never too soon for your child to understand the great sacrifices Americans who came before them made to help this country become a model of Western modernity. 

Take the time now and you might succeed in making your kid a good guy in the fight for reason and decency. Wait until their hearts are hard and you may never be able to snuff the torches of their hatred. (Even if your kid is wielding the kind of torch better paired with a mai-tai and a pupu platter.)

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