On Baraboo and (True) Naming

By now, you have almost certainly seen the images of those Baraboo teens, flashing their Sieg Heils and white power symbols. (You can even read this Twitter thread, which got the journalist’s grandmother doxxed—though, as she says, having Nazis angry with you means that you’re doing something right. Captain America approves.) I doubt it will be a shock to anyone who has read what I’ve written that I am furious, and sickened. (It might be a bit more of a surprise when I say I’m not all that surprised.) But I’m not here to talk to you about why I am surprised, or not surprised (well, maybe a little about that); I’m not here to discuss my own emotions. I am here to ask something of you, instead.

Please, do not try to explain away what these boys have done, or excuse it as the work of stupid young people, or point to “tribalism” as an excuse. Our old scapegoat “tribalism” isn’t the problem, anyway—it’s racism, plain and simple—and, of course, use of the world “tribalism” can be deeply offensive to Native people. So be better, and call it what it is: racism. Please don’t fall into the trap of bothsiderism (and, in case you’re wondering, there are not “good folks” on the Nazi side—which is not something that should even have to be said). And, if you are tempted to say that they’re kids—well, don’t forget that only some children are allowed the luxury of being kids. (That itself is a violation of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, but hell, we haven’t even managed to ratify that, so I guess we just aren’t too into children’s rights here.)

We live in a time of surging (and undercounted) hate crimes, and of the unchecked hate speech that feeds them—all of which puts the lie, as discussed in this article, to the idea that somehow, those sneering, sieg-heiling Baraboo boys don’t represent our country. We know that hate speech leads to dehumanization (and bias, which seems like a given), which can in turn lead to violence. At least one study has shown that suicide rates spike for those facing hate speech, adding yet another layer of violence to already violent words. We know, from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s HateWatch, just how badly—and how fast—hate crimes are spiraling. Similarly, the so-called “ironic” or hipster racism embraced by some supposedly progressive folks is, in truth, just racism by a snazzy name. Hell, we all know that our law enforcement agencies have done a rad job of ignoring white supremacist terror as it surged throughout the country. Not in my name, I say, and yet I know that white supremacy has often been held up in the name of white women not so different from me.

True names hold power. My ancestors, the mad, bad, imaginative Celts, knew that, and their myths and legends reflect it. The ancient Norse, who might even have been badder and madder than the Celts, knew it too, as did the Germans. We must name the cages in which children have been held as what they are. We must name the terrorism perpetuated by white men as what it is. We must name what these Baraboo teens have done as what it is, a knowing action of violence, a sickening display of Nazisim in a state in which my own roots go deep and tangled.

As Joanne Harris writes in Runemarks, “A named thing is a tamed thing.” Can we tame racism and Nazism and antisemitism by naming them? I wish it were that easy—but we must begin by naming them, calling them by their true names, no matter how ugly. Denying them, explaining them away—it will only give them power.

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