After Trump, boys at her daughter's school Nazi-salute in the hall. Here's how a mom responded.

Editor's note: Boing Boing publisher Jason Weisberger recently wrote of threats he and others have received online from literal Nazis, post-Trump. Jason's sister Tammy Weisberger shares a story below, at our request, about the normalization of Nazi iconography and yes, even the Hitler salute, at her child's middle school in the U.S. Has this really become normal? And if so, how should she, and other parents, and America, respond? Read on. — XJ.


The kids aren’t alt-right. Right?

A few weeks ago a neighbor posted to Facebook about some skinheads at our local middle school. The post went something like this:

“Some punks at school draw swastikas and shows them to [my son]. He thinks he’s a Jew and that this will freak him out. Skinheads. Can’t even get it right.”

Kind of flip. Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t trying to minimize. She was disgusted. But after reading the back and forth in the comments and chatting with her myself, it was clear that she wouldn’t be reporting this incident to the school. She was confident that they wouldn’t do anything. When it came down to it, this incident didn’t set off the same alarms for her as it did for me. Her son isn’t Jewish. My daughters are. And not only is my daughter who attends this same middle school a Jew, she is vocal and proud of who she is. Up until these past few weeks, I didn’t think that was a danger.

I remember being about my daughter’s age and feeling like my dad’s doomsday warnings to not mention my religion in school were ridiculous and outdated. When I was growing up in Santa Monica, CA in the 1980s maybe they were unnecessary, maybe they weren’t. I never saw swastikas in the classroom. The only anti-Semitic comments I remember were people making fun of my Jewish nose. However, just last week I found myself repeating these very same warnings to my daughter. Today they are anything but ridiculous.

After the swastika post, I contacted the school when my neighbor wouldn’t. I even went against her wishes and reported the name of the student (her son) who was targeted to aid in the investigation. I truly thought my neighbor was being naïve when she said the school wouldn’t do anything.

I reported. They investigated. And I don’t know what happened next. Maybe my neighbor’s son refused to speak to the officials at the school and their hands were tied. Maybe the offender was chastised. Maybe he even realized what he did was hateful. Either way, things at the school have certainly not improved.

A few nights ago my daughter told me bone-chilling things about what’s going on in the classrooms and hallways. She told me about repeated discussions of the Holocaust in glowing terms. She told me about a boy in class who she “really hopes he gets expelled because he’s always talking about the Holocaust and he also called a Muslim girl a terrorist.”

When I expressed shock, my daughter was surprised to learn that actions and words like these were not common when I went to middle school. I have never seen a person do the “Sieg Heil” arm-raise, particularly not in the hallways of my public school.

This is the most disturbing part of the story for me. My daughter was surprised to learn that “Heil Hitler” is not a normal element of normal middle-school life in America.

My daughter is a warrior. She knows anti-Semitic, anti-woman, or anti-LGBTQ comments are not okay. She told us that she calmly and rationally explained to a kid in the hallway just last week what “Sieg Heil” means, and reduced him to shame-filled tears. I am proud of her for speaking out.

What my daughter didn’t do was tell someone in authority who has the power to stop this hateful nonsense. She didn’t tell anyone because she didn’t realize that what was happening wasn’t normal.

I’ve reached out to the school and my daughter did eventually report what she experienced. I am confident that the administration is in the midst of another investigation.

Can it be that my daughter’s impression is right, and that this is the new normal?

This isn’t going away without our help. If we want this to not be normal, we need to take responsibility ourselves.

We must make talking to our kids, and our kids’ friends, about this terrible stuff normal and okay. We need to make an effort to know what’s happening in the schools our kids attend, in the hallways, on the school buses, in the cafeteria. We need to make our voices heard when something isn’t right in those spaces. Teachers and administrators can only help us teach these young Americans the most important lesson of all: that hatred, religious intolerance, and bigotry will not be tolerated.

If we want our kids to realize that hatred and discrimination isn’t normal, it’s up to us to teach them. And to hold ourselves accountable.

Tammy Weisberger is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter: @tammy_rammy. Image: Photographed in the University district of Seattle by Sarah Ervine.

Notable Replies

  1. I am going to go for a walk now and do my utter best not to scream MOTHERFUCKINGFUCK at the top of my lungs.

  2. I can easily remember kids drawing swastikas in the 70s, even though they probably knew almost nothing of history. The same kids decorated their notebooks with "666." I doubt they read and understood Revelations. They only knew it was naughty.

    Today, kids know it's naughty, even if they know nothing else. The real danger is when real fascism starts to look cool. I thank God for Donald Trump, who is making fascism look ridiculous for a whole new generation.

  3. No. Being tolerant of intolerance is not a virtue that needs to be taught. This is being so concerned with protecting the "free speech" rights of bullies, to allow them to abuse those unlike themselves, and being utterly unconcerned with the welfare of their victims.

    All you are saying here is to the victims "be silent, and don't protest or fight back, because the 'right to attack you' of those people attacking you is seen as greater than your right to live in peace without being threatened. Peacefully co-exist with those who find your existence intolerable, and hope that they get bored before they attack you."

  4. Ummm... because they were? They were no more "socialist" because it is in the name than the Democratic People's Republic Of Korea is a democracy?

    Heck, one of the very first things that was done after the Nazis took power was purge their liberal wing, during the Night Of The Long Knives.

    So, yes, the Nazi party was a right wing party. It was an extremist party. And it existed during that time period. Attempting to claim otherwise can only be the result of willful ignorance.

  5. Hi – I am the neighbor Tammy Weisenberger mentioned in her article. If you were shocked by the behavior of these middle schoolers, then I hope you will listen to what I have to say. (I don't know anything about Boing Boing, I just happen to have a dog in this fight. My comment is long, but I believe very important if you care about kids and the adults they turn into.)
    When my son told me that some punk was trying to scare him with swastikas, I asked him if he felt like he was handling the situation ok by himself. He said he was. That was a relief to me for two reasons: 1) it told me that he is a much more mature person than I was at his age, and 2) it meant that I didn’t have to go talk to the school. Which I did not want to do. Why ever not?
    Last year, my then 6th-grader came home extremely upset because he had seen a boy he knew screaming the N-word at a boy he didn’t know. He had tried to shut the first boy up, but the kid was out of control (and the coach on duty in the locker room didn’t want to hear about it). So I called the school and told the counsellor everything I knew (including that the coach refused to handle it right then and there). She said that was “clearly unacceptable” and that she would talk to Boy 1.
    So then I asked her if the school used restorative practices. Crickets. “What?” she asked.
    And that made my heart hurt. That the counsellor at my son’s middle school didn’t know what I was talking about. This is a huge topic in the field of education right now. (Here’s a local story if you’re interested: http://kcts9.org/programs/in-close/restorative-justice-school-discipline-new-approach)
    I don’t remember her exact words, but she said that Boy 1 would get a warning and be expelled if he kept up the behavior (screaming the N-word at a child of color). That’s called zero-tolerance.
    Folks, we are hurting children every single day that we continue to practice zero-tolerance. Boy 1 is hurt because he gets expelled (if not this year, then next year – believe me, it’s coming). Boy 2 is hurt because he never gets a sincere apology from Boy 1. No one ever really makes amends. Restorative practices is all about making amends and fixing relationships instead of dumping problem kids into the school to prison pipeline.
    So back to the swastika situation that brought us here together on Facebook. Maybe I should have called the school first thing. But here I want to quote my brother (US Army major, combat veteran and soon PhD in History): “If you do that, what will happen?” (This is how he talks people down in really, truly dangerous situations.)
    I was pretty sure I knew what would happen. The little alt-right wannabe would get a talking-to. Maybe the teacher would be told to reseat him away from my son. He would be reminded that other people’s parents can use the school as a weapon against him. Would anything meaningful change in the kid’s life? Would someone sit down with him and figure out where this was all coming from? Would they help him to actually grow into a young man of character who empathizes with others and uses his words to build people up?
    Wanna bet me? I’ll put down money that the answer is no. So I didn’t call.
    But now I’ve read here in Tammy’s article about sieg heil in the hallways. About how this is more than one kid. My hands are shaking as I type this. Children’s lives are a treasure that we hold in our hands for a brief moment. We can’t do our duty as adults if we are afraid of them when they punch our buttons (and that is what zero-tolerance is – “your behavior scares us so you’re outta here”). We have to sit with them and do this work of becoming humans together.
    So here’s what I’ll do. I’ll go see the principal and try to get her interested in training the teachers in restorative practices. I don’t want to do this. I don’t have time to do this. But I will.
    PS: My son said this today: “Mom, I remember telling Papa that when I grew up I would go fight in World War II against the fascists and he told me that it was over a long time ago. I was so disappointed. Now I don’t know what to think.”

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