“Once you label me you negate me” Soren Kierkegaard
My wife always reminds me of one of her favorite phrases when I go into my “mental meltdowns” about others I disagree with. Practice the ideal of “To Each His/Her Own”. Having spent a lifetime as an educator assigning labels to my students based on informal observations and test results, it seemed “second nature” then that I could detach myself so emotionally from them as I assigned predetermined labels conveniently for my teaching needs. For my student victims, however, being categorized as slow learner, emotionally handicapped, or learning disabled….would represent a permanently stereotyped imprint on their fragile minds for the rest of their lives.
A more extreme example of this phenomenon occurred during the rise of Adolph Hitler in his propaganda campaign for expelling Jews in conjunction with the rise of Aryan Nazi Power. Stereotyped as outcasts in increasingly demeaning ways, innocent Jews were forced to live in depressing “ghettos” and wear the yellow star of “Jude” as constant reminders of their alleged inferior status. Ominously, such inhumane branding resulted in “The Holocaust”, a systematically bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and cold-blooded murder of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.
In Nazi schools, stereotyped persecution of Jewish children became particularly heinous. Witness the case of Rebecca Weisner, who recalled her anti-Semitic treatment in her German school: “When I was six, Hitler came to power. I started school in April 1933, just at the same time… There were some German girls I was friends with – we grew up together – and, all of a sudden, one day I come down and they call me dirty Jew. My friends, the friends I grew up with! I couldn’t comprehend it. I would say to my mother, Why do they call me dirty? I am not dirty. And she said, You had better get used to it. You’re Jewish, and that is what you have to learn. So just take it. But I didn’t want to take it. I fought.”
Or consider the traumatic recollections of Hedwig Ertl as a teenage student: “We had a history teacher who was a very committed National Socialist, and we had four Jewish pupils. And they had to stand up during the class, they weren’t allowed to sit down. And one after the other they disappeared, until none were left, but nobody thought much about it. We were told they had moved…. We were told all the time that first the Jews are a lower kind of human being, and then the Poles are inferior, and anyone who wasn’t Nordic was worthless.”
These days, I observe a similar stereotyping phenomena in the political arena as “Leftists and Rightists”emotionally “buy in “ to their separate categories to lay claim to their own theories about what needs to be done for reaching the “promised land” in our country. Unsurprisingly then, such appeal to one’s self-full filling view of political party domination perpetuates confusing, “cognitive dissonance” when situations require them to uncomfortably look beyond their narrow frame of reference to recognize opposing points of view. In effect, we now have endless, political gridlock as so vividly captured today by polarizing anger and blame intensifying in the first year of the Trump Presidency.
Republicans and Democrats should not be labeled as exclusively conservative or liberal respectively. Nor should stereotypical blindness deny our pursuit of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all. Imagine we together embrace the phrase “May The Force Be With You“of Star Wars fame as a new anthem for reminding us to find such unity in our daily lives.
1.Jewish Children In The Nazi Classroom
2.A Student In a Nazi School