RIGHT-WING NUTS (there’s a redundancy there, I know) are going bonkers over U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the term “concentration camps” in reference to the Trump administration’s camps for undocumented immigrants. An insult to the millions who were murdered during the Holocaust, they say. An insult to their descendants.
Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, was outraged – outraged, I tell you – at Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the term, imploring her to learn “actual history” (as opposed to, I guess, unreal history) and accused her of demeaning the 6 million Jews exterminated in the Holocaust.
Writing in The New Yorker, Masha Gessen makes the case that the argument
is really about how we perceive history, ourselves, and ourselves in history. We learn to think of history as something that has already happened, to other people. Our own moment, filled as it is with minutiae destined to be forgotten, always looks smaller in comparison. As for history, the greater the event, the more mythologized it becomes. Despite our best intentions, the myth becomes a caricature of sorts. Hitler, or Stalin, comes to look like a two-dimensional villain—someone whom contemporaries could not have seen as a human being. The Holocaust, or the Gulag, are such monstrous events that the very idea of rendering them in any sort of gray scale seems monstrous, too. This has the effect of making them, essentially, unimaginable. In crafting the story of something that should never have been allowed to happen, we forge the story of something that couldn’t possibly have happened. Or, to use a phrase only slightly out of context, something that can’t happen here.
Gessen has a very good point, but it is really unnecessary because the foaming-at-the-mouth of Cheney, et al, is not about perceived insults to Holocaust victims, it is about politics. It’s about continuing their drive to demonize yet another outspoken Democratic female politician. How long before we begin to hear chants of “lock her up!”?
BUT AS LONG as we’re talking about history, maybe Cheney should start learning hers. May I suggest she start with a recently released book, “El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America” by Carrie Gibson. The book has its share of faults (among other sins, it covers La Raza Unida in a couple of paragraphs, dismissing its importance, and never even mentions Raza founder José Angel Gutiérrez).
However, it is valuable in that it offers an account of the unrelenting campaign by, first, Europeans and, later, white Americans to drive out or exterminate (there is no other word for it, sorry!) the brown people who had occupied this continent for centuries. Wars, slaughters, lynching, executions, mass deportations, incarcerations, the government-sanctioned stealing of land – all of these atrocities were committed against brown people from the Gulf coast to the pacific.
Included in this shameful litany is the inglorious Texas insurrection against Mexico, which had little to do with fighting tyranny and much to do with wanting to keep Texas safe for slavery. Sam Houston was a racist and Stephen F. Austin’s main concern was preserving slavery. The Texas Rangers? The KKK with badges and Stetsons instead of hoods and robes.
The book serves as a reminder that what is happening today along the U.S.-Mexico border is not something isolated, not a recent phenomenon. From the very beginning, brown people in this country, whether we were born here or are recent arrivals, have always been treated as not deserving to be here and numerous campaigns, some more inhumane than others, have been used to keep us out or drive us out.
Seen in that context, the use of the term concentration camps is more than justified and no amount of feigned outrage by Liz Cheney can change that.