By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Two years ago, state lawmakers passed Wisconsin Act 30. The law requires districts to incorporate lessons on the Jewish Holocaust and other genocides, at least once in grades 5-8 and again in grades 9-12. Curriculum unseen, un-reviewed, and un-vetted, most legislators lined up to vote for the bill. There was no real effort made to address “other genocides” and quite frankly, I can’t tell you what’s being taught since the law went into effect last year.
Contrast that with how Black history is being challenged, scrutinized and banned around the country and you just have to shake your head in frustration. But that’s a conversation for another day. Today, I want to focus on something I never learned in school. Not K-12. Not Undergraduate. Not Law School.
Reviewing a 2017 article written in the Atlantic magazine, titled “What America Taught the Nazis”, I was simply blown away. The subtitle which read “In the 1930s, the Germans were fascinated by the global leader in codified racism—the United States” set the tone for a jaw dropping history lesson that I will never forget.
The year was 1935 and a special session of the German Parliament, saw the passage of legislation that barred Jews from becoming Reich citizens with political rights, outlawed marriage between Jews and racial Germans, and prohibited Jews from displaying the German flag.
Days after this was done, Adolf Hitler, the autocratic leader of Germany, sent 45 Nazi lawyers to New York “under the auspices of the Association of National Socialist German Jurists.” The article states that “the trip was a reward for the lawyers, who had codified the Reich’s race-based legal philosophy” and the announced purpose of the visit was to gain “special insight into the workings of American legal and economic life through study and lectures.”
Further reading, yielded content that was literally stomach turning. Mesmerized at America’s ability to be viewed as a bastion of freedom and democracy, while in fact having passed laws and created systems that were discriminatory and rooted in segregation, the visiting Germans were enamored with how race was used to marginalize African-Americans, Indians, and other minority groups.
The assertion that Germany used American racism to influence or shape their policies to eliminate Jews from the country is debatable. However, the fact that we have a difficult and storied history surrounding race is undeniable. Whether you choose to read about it in a book or not, educate yourselves and your children or not, our past is our past.
The article weaves a tale of lessons learned and mistakes repeated. At the heart of the piece, is the awareness that “racial ideas and racist policies are profound products of political decisions.” As I digested all that I had read, I wondered how this information could impact what’s taught in Wisconsin schools. As we teach the Jewish Holocaust, and “other genocides,” what do we teach about America’s influence on global racial and ethnic division? When we are able to tell the truth about Black History and “other genocides” that happened in this country, stop banning books, and pushing out those that are different, we can be honest leaders, with real moral authority and a commitment to do what’s right by all people.