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The Subtle Transmission of Dangerous Ideas

We were all sitting around the living room trying to ignore the chaos of children around us and have a decent conversation when someone made the trying-to-be-funny comment about how their son should marry that person’s daughter so they could be in-laws.

“Or son,” I said.

“What?” the father said back to me.

“He could also marry their son,” I said.

“Oh, no. We don’t do that in this household.”

“Wait what?” I thought he was kidding because, well, I’m naive, I guess?

He wasn’t kidding.

“Bro, you can’t ban your son from being gay, that’s not how this works.,” I said, loudly hoping the kids could hear me. “This isn’t playing soccer or choosing dance – this is a person’s being, who they are.”

“Ugh are you going to start in with me about pronouns now?” he snapped back.

“Maybe I should, are you confused about those too?”

The interaction was met with the typical eye-roll I’ve become accustomed to, accompanied by the subsequent, “Ugh, Margo let it go,” and “People have different belief systems, you have to respect that.”

First of all no I do not. Ignorance does not breed respect. Second of all, it is a VERY big problem that these things are continuing to be seen as beliefs.

[I’d argue that your child is also allowed to have a different belief and value system than you but let’s not get too progressive. ]

It’s not a belief that “my kid can’t be gay.”

It’s not a value system.

It’s not a religion.

It’s dehumanization.

And that that dehumanization is socially condoned in such a benign and almost undetectable way is what I want to draw our attention to today. The group viewed me as the antagonizer and labeled this interaction a “difference of opinion.” That’s an absolutely indefensible position.

What world is this where defending someone’s humanity is the subversive inconvenient position?

[rhetorical question: all of human history, it turns out.]

I know we’re exhausted of Nazi comparisons but since they actually murdered my family I feel it’s fair to invoke them. There’s a documentary on the children and grandchildren of hitler’s top folks. And the ones who called attention to how dad and mom talk about Jews being a problem, were shamed, shunned, gaslight, denied, minimized, invalidated, and kicked out of the group.

The documentary details how one descendant’s siblings are still defending their father with claims of Holocaust denial that go far past delusion, they’re lies these people must believe in order to live with themselves and their family legacy.

I understand it’s in vain to think human beings will ever place their own comfort over someone else’s humanity, but I think it’s time we try.

A desire to “keep the peace” and “not make anyone uncomfortable” is a problem. Everyone should be uncomfortable when something uncomfortable happens. Pretending it didn’t happen serves nothing, but upholding an illusion of social order. An illusion responsible for death.

To make sure we’re clear on how severe this is, I need you to understand that some of these Natzi’s kids grew up next door to gas chambers. Literally, next door. They have memories of their mom insisting they wash the strawberries from the garden because they were covered in smoke and dust – literal human remains.

To be graphic: some of these children might have quite literally eaten my family.

They continued to live an otherwise normal life, with walls so high they couldn’t see there was slave labor around them and had no clue that their toys and playgrounds were built by prisoners and made from someone else’s stolen stuff.

Holocaust education talks a lot about ignorance, bullying, and standing up against hate. What I don’t see trickling down is what the cost of that is and why it’s worth it. Or more succinctly: the connection between the “insignificant” moment at dinner and mass murder and genocide.

I can imagine the Natzi wife and mom cleaning the dusty strawberries at dinner complaining and bonding with friends over how annoying it is. I can imagine how inconvenient it might have been to have that one friend over who calls attention to the fact that “dust” is being HUMAN FUCKING BEINGS. The eye-rolls that must have ensued about how Karen won’t shut up about the stupid human dust. Karen let it go, do you like this house? You enjoying those parties? You liking your clothes? Stop being so judgy, Karen.

The transmission of dangerous ideas doesn’t happen in a dramatic way any of us are going to notice. They’re going to happen the way they always happen: subtly.

Speaking up will cost you your social standing. It will cost you in status, belonging (the illusion of it anyway), and credibility. It’s going to cost you your public image.

But what you will get to keep is your integrity. Your self-respect and your dignity. And perhaps even save the life of the little boy in the corner who just heard his dad tell a room full of people that kissing boys is bad, wrong, and not permissible.

If you think that idea isn’t going to cost him and his future wife and kids problems, you’re wrong.

Yes, speaking up with tact and picking your battles matters. I’m not disputing that. And I’m not suggesting we go around shaming everyone because lord knows that is an ineffective strategy for social change.

I am suggesting that we recognize dehumanization when we see it. And that we distinguish it from “differences of opinion.”

Preferring tuna sandwiches to turkey sandwiches is a difference of opinion. Asserting someone is not allowed to be who they are is hateful.

Know hate and dehumanization when you see it.

Do not normalize it.

Lives are quite literally at stake.