Otherwise, a totally nice guy

15 Apr

In “Bullets, Blood and Then Cry of ‘Heil Hitler’” and Dan Barry of the NY Times write about Frazier Glenn Miller, the man who shot and killed three people outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and nearby Village Shalom on Sunday 4/13/14 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/15/us/prosecutors-to-charge-suspect-with-hate-crime-in-kansas-shooting.html?hp&_r=0).

A theme emerges in the interviews with people who know Miller: what a “regular guy” he is, “pleasant enough”–“affable” even… except for his virulent anti-Semitism and racism.

The Times‘ coverage, which keeps returning to these comments about Miller’s congeniality, suggests to me a level of surprise, perhaps even shock, that an anti-Semitic, racist former KKK leader could also be a nice “enough” guy. And I don’t think the Times is alone.

The popular conception of an anti-Semite and racist is that their hate defines them. They are not “a person who is anti-Semitic”: they are an anti-Semite. By nouning them, the rest of us can create a buffer between ourselves and any association with, accusation of or perpetuation of anti-Semitism and racism. Or so we hope.

But this myth of anti-Semitic and racist people being meat bags of pure hate doesn’t serve us so well, at least if our intent is to eradicate anti-Semitism and racism. Because the fact is that anti-Semitism and racism (and homophobia and sexism) are perpetuated by people who are often otherwise quite nice. They are perpetuated by our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends and family. They are perpetuated by us.

So we can hate on Frazier Glenn Miller all we want. We can point and express our shock at his hate crimes and try to convince ourselves that he had everyone fooled: they just didn’t see the true Miller under his fake “regular guy” exterior. But if we really are horrified, then we need to accept that he is both anti-Semitic and a nice guy (albeit only to people he perceives as white and Christian).

And, like Miller, we need to stop thinking of Them as the problem: whereas for Miller, “Them” is people who are Jewish and non-white; for others of us, “Them” is people like Miller. And no matter who my Them is, the problem is that I’m thinking of Them as a separate, sub-human group, which justifies my treating Them as less than (and helps me sleep well at night, confident that I am, in fact, a good person. After all, Them deserve what they get).

If we really want to stop reading headlines about hate crimes, I believe we’re going to have to get over this Us v. Them mentality and recognize that the victims and the perpetrators are Us.

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