The Volokh Conspiracy

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Nazi Germany Isn't Properly Described as "White Supremacist"


One of my pet peeves is the way the modern academic left insists on seeing all ethnic and racial conflict through the lens of the American black-white racial dynamic. One example is the notion that Nazi Germany was "white supremacist." Some Jewish leftists trying to fight antisemitism on the left run with this, arguing that the Nazis did not consider Jews to be white, and thus their leftist colleagues should stop treating Jews like white oppressors.

However, as a recent post by Daniel Saunders at the Times of Israel notes:

The Nazis wanted an Aryan race that was pure in blood, not white of skin. They focused on a range of what they saw as markers of "impure" blood, such as cranium size, nose shape and the presence or absence of ear lobes. Impure blood, as a notion, was all the more insidious for being largely invisible. That an Aryan could interact with a Jew without knowing it made the Nazis worry more, not less, about Jews than they did about people with more visible differences.

More importantly, the Aryan race which the Nazis consider the German people to exemplify, was not considered synonymous with some kind of "white race" by the Nazis, even though contemporary neo-Nazis do make such a connection.

The Nazis did not see their Aryan race as originating in Europe. They were very much aware that 'Aryan' is cognate to 'Iranian' and saw their race as originating in that part of Asia. The Nazis focused on the so-called Aryan race, a tiny subset of all the people who would be considered white today.

Almost all of the Nazis' victims would be considered 'white' in the politics of the contemporary West, not just Ashkenazi Jews, but Poles and Slavs, "gypsies" (another inaccurate term, for Roma, Sinti and Lalleri peoples), the physically disabled and the mentally ill, homosexuals and even prostitutes and congenital petty criminals. All were seen as not conforming to the "racial community" and potentially "contaminating" it if allowed to procreate as well as being seen in many cases to pose a more conventional military risk or drain on scarce resources. Anti-social behaviours such as petty crime, sex work or even alcoholism were seen as inherited and in need of removal from the racial community through "racial hygiene," lest these traits spread at the expense of more desirable ones.

One might retort that the Nazis may not have cared if Jews were racially white, but in modern parlance they believed the Jews lacked "whiteness," a neologism that essentially means not being an accepted part of the dominant group in society. That's true, but it also disclosed to show how the modern understanding of whiteness in the academy does not correlate well with the actual historical understanding of race and racism in both the US and abroad. (Similarly, as I have noted previously, "white ethnics" in the United States such as Jews, Italians, and Irish Americans, may have lacked "whiteness," but were most definitely considered to be racially white.)