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Vince Donovan

Professor Earl Wright II
Racism: Sociology of Race and Race Relations
February 15, 2016

This past Thursday was my 20th birthday. After a lovely dinner with my family,
we decided to go to my favorite bookstore for some light shopping. As I squashed the
part of me that wanted to haunt the young adult section, I traversed the staircase that led
to the travel/political science section. As I was perusing different books that ranged in
subject from mythology to war, I happened upon The Diary of a Young Girl, written by
Anne Frank, on the bottom shelf. Coupled with the regret and shame I felt on behalf of
the bookstore for placing her work there, I was transported seven years ago to my 13 year
old self at the Holocaust Museum on my 8th grade trip to Washington DC.
As an entitled white American having been educated in the entitled white
American school system, I had viewed the Holocaust as truly horrendous, and the biggest
smear on world history to date. However, as the years waned on, and each of my
schoolteachers had introduced book upon book about the Holocaust, my solemn and
respectful understanding of that horrid transgression on humanity shifted to the notion
that it was simply one of many evil things that had happened, would hardly be the last,
and I didn’t understand why it was so important that my teachers kept rehashing it each
and every year.
Every person who walks through the doors of the museum is given a tiny booklet,
and within said booklet is a history of one of the victims of the Holocaust. When you
reach certain points within the museum, you flip a page. At the end of the museum you
discover the fate of your person. Packed away somewhere for my older self to find is that
booklet, and I must not be meant to happen upon it now as I cannot find it to give you
specifics such as his name, but my person lived in Germany, took care of his mother, and
was a closet homosexual. At that age I was just coming to terms with my sexuality and,

as it happens, this was the first instance of me witnessing representation of another
person like me, lamentably in the Holocaust museum. As I muddled my frightened feet
through the museum, clutching on the arm of my best friend Ben, I saw the prints of Dr.
Mengele’s experiments on the disabled, mentally ill, and twins, I saw the blueprints of the
gas chambers of Auschwitz, and when Ben and I saw the room filled to the brim with the
victim’s shoes, he collapsed into my arms.
The next page of the pamphlet described how my person had been turned into the
SS by a scorned lover, and how he had been sent to a camp and forced to wear the pink
triangle, a symbol I and the gay community adorn ourselves with pride every summer, yet
an emblem that marked him for death. As I progressed, I read how he had to add a red
triangle to his pink one for being a political prisoner as well, for he had refused to cut the
already measly portions for the Polish prisoners when he worked in the kitchens. As he
inched closer and closer to starving to death, his camp was liberated, and he survived.
Not only was my person the only one that survived out of my whole class, but I also saw
myself in him, as much as an American 13 year old can. Nonetheless, that experience was
the most transformative one I’ve ever had, and it has played a large role in shaping me
into the man I am today. My question is, why weren’t my classmates or I afforded the
same cataclysmic epiphanies in regards to learning about race and slavery? The answer is
that America views the Holocaust as Germany’s shame, and we have none.
I do not believe in “oppression Olympics”, that the terrible sins committed against
humanity need to be compared and one declared worse than the other. To do that mars the
memories of those who truly suffered. If I were to project my anger about my upbringing
failing me in regard to learning about the true depths and horrors of slavery and the like

onto the Holocaust, I would do a disservice to all those that endured and perished under
both of those crimes, so I won’t; that being said, there is something to be said about
America’s selectivity towards which acts of terror we recall and instill in our collective
mind. And to not talk about that would allow this national behavior to proliferate. If I
were to sit my family elders down and talk about white America’s crimes against literally
everyone who isn’t/wasn’t white, I’d be admonished and told to lighten up. Yet, in class,
when we watched the old America propaganda against Germany, and the footage of
President (then General) Eisenhower ordering the local village people to bury the dead
(and might I add, I completely agree with the propaganda, in that I agree what Germany
did was truly vile), I was envisioning my grandparents clustered around the family radio,
listening to the impassioned narrator spit the word “Nazi” as if saying it left a bad taste in
his mouth, and in their young minds conjuring up their own images of the gallant
American soldiers liberating the Jewish people, bolstering their patriotism and laying the
foundation for an entire generation to defend their country’s ideologies whenever
possible. As a result, my grandparents have an infallible American pride, and either
defend our crimes or deny them flatly. Until I’d had it out with them, my parents would
try to defend Japanese Internment and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s this
fervent desire to not be aware of your country’s sins that fuels the American education
system and the culture itself. For to be aware of your country’s sin, is to carry the burden
of her shame. And why do that when you don’t have to?
Needless to say, I bought The Diary of a Young Girl so as to never delve into
complacency again.