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my daughter's age and feeling like my dad's doomsday warnings to not mention my religion in school were ridiculous and outdated.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.