Seventy-four years ago today, the prisoners of Auschwitz were liberated and the world finally woke up to the horrors of the Holocaust. As images of emaciated survivors and bodies stacked in mass graves were seared into the minds of people around the planet, humanity witnessed first-hand the gruesome result of collective judgment.
Adolph Hitler rose to power by stirring the emotions of disgruntled Germans and scapegoating Jews in the process. Instead of offering solutions, Hitler and his enablers demonized Jews and blamed them for the ills of post-World War I Germany. What began with vilification ended with the dissolution of countless millions of Jews and millions more who were deemed undesirable by Nazis.
The appalling events that led up to Hitler’s genocidal campaign and paved the way for his final solution are not outliers when it comes to the history of systematic oppression. Native Americans wiped out by colonialists, Africans exterminated by the tens of millions and millions more turned into chattel, Chinese being decimated by imperialists; history books are replete with one example after another of organized carnage.
Every time a Holocaust was unleashed, it was at the behest of a few demagogues who dehumanized out-groups and the public who fed into these lies. This is why fascism and totalitarianism break out during times of extreme duress, societies become vulnerable to the noxious rhetoric of firebrands who pin the blames of a few on all. Agitators latch on to our grievances and misdirect our anger towards those who are being victimized just like us.
This is precisely what Hitler did, far from offering Germans hope, he intentionally fed into their fears and their frustrations. Jews were not the only marginalized group he chose to go after, he also targeted Gypsies, Afro-Germans, gays, people with disabilities and a litany of others who were considered expendable. Though Hitler’s hatred and evils were no doubt extreme, the path he traveled to power was the same followed by countless tyrants before him and continues to be followed to this day.
The playbook these autocrats deploy is at once cunning yet simple. They always start off by splintering society into tribes and then elevate one tribe above the rest. The elevated tribe is told that they are special and that any struggles that they feel or anxieties that they harbor are due to the other tribes. The marginalized tribes are disparaged and blamed for all the ills of society. The upper-crust live like royals while the vast majority, including the ones from the elevated tribe, fight each other and chase crumbs. Sound familiar?
Everyday Germans fell for this ploy and followed Hitler into a firestorm. Though there are many lessons to be gleaned from that era, there is one that stands out given the era of antagonism we live in. Collective judgment and collective condemnation are evil no matter who is practicing it and whom it is being used against. This axiom is lost on too many who get stirred into animosity and point fingers at all for the excesses of a few.
This is not to discourage speaking out against injustices, but when we do so, we must be careful not to paint with a broad brush. Fight against racism but do so without bashing “white” people. Stand against misogyny without casting aspersions at men. Defend the rights of Palestinians without vilifying Jews. We can hold the principals who purvey iniquities accountable without resorting to guilt-by-association tactics in the process.
Otherwise, we only further the very divides that give birth to inequalities to begin with.
It is easy to let instigators manipulate our passions and lead us into the dead-ends of malice and indifference towards others. However, before we follow that path, we should really pause and reflect. What do we gain by lashing out at others who struggle just like us? How will our plights be ameliorated by bashing people who are on the outside looking in just like us? The only way we can heal the scars of the past and mend the ills of society is if we include all in the journey for equality—justice for all or justice denied. #InclusiveJustice Click To Tweet
Let us not think that what took place in Germany will never happen again. We must remain vigilant and refuse to let bitterness blind us to the suffering of others. We are all interconnected; as Martin Luther King once said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We can’t be situational in our demand for fairness; we must speak out at all times when groups of people are being pillaged by any philosophy of hatred or supremacy. When we remain silent in the face of oppression—worse yet when we participate in the vilification of others—we are opening the door for those same injustices to eventually arrive at our doors.
I understand the frustrations people feel and the rising angst of trying to keep our heads above water. However, the worse thing we can do is to give our hand to animosity and be vindictive in the process. There are imbalances in this world that need to be addressed, but as a wise woman once told me, the struggle is not horizontal but vertical. The person next to us, and those who might think or look different than us, are not our enemies. If we are to overcome injustices, we can only do so through a broad sea of humanity coming together in a unified movement. That movement has to be grounded in compassion and kindness, we have witnessed one too many times where fighting hate with hatred only gave way to more tribulation.
We must be careful not to turn each other into abstractions; human suffering is not a political commodity to be traded for the sake of vindication. Humans have the capacity to love deeply and hate infinitely, the greatest obstacle we have yet to overcome is to tame the baser aspect of our emotions and rise up to our better angels. As Robert F. Kennedy once said, too often we honor swagger and bluster and those who wield force, but these are the very traits that unleash hell upon earth. We can attain peace through our connectedness or remain mired in violence as we fight over our differences.
The next great leap forward for humanity will be taken when we realize that the labels we have come to accept and the ideologies that segregate us are but artificial constructs. We have more in common than the hues that differentiate us, the dogmas that splinter us or the tribes that fracture us. A very wise man once said that we must act like children to get to heaven; this was not an advise to act kid’s age but to be kind without bias. We’ve followed the path of exclusion for too long, each time we have seen the end is nothing but sorrow.
“We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy
When we demand fairness, we must always seek inclusive justice. The dangers of doing the opposite, of pursuing sectional causes, is that in time we might end up falling prey to politicians who ghettoize humanity and induce bloodshed. The history of the Holocaust should serve as a stark reminder of what happens when society is driven to derangement by fanatics and the tragic outcomes of collective judgment.
“Someone who hates one group will end up hating everyone—and, ultimately, hating himself or herself.” ~ Elie Wiesel
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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