Hate can be twisted into something lighthearted. In pre-World War II Germany, swastikas were incorporated into children’s board games and anti-Semitism was woven into the cartoons in children’s books.
Last week, high school students at a Newport Beach party crafted a swastika out of red cups, faced the iPhone cameras that were filming the event and extended their arms in Nazi salutes. The swastika is a universally known symbol of hate. But these students used it for a drinking game, thought it was funny and didn’t try to hide that.
Nazis ideology and imagery in America aren’t just concepts we read about in history books. They are not a relic of the past. They exist today, at prestigious East Coast schools, at rallies that draw hundreds of people, like the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and as close to Chapman as a wealthy beachside city 15 miles away.
In a country where acts of anti-Semitism spiked 57 percent from 2016-2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League, it’s hard to believe that no one at the Newport Beach party knew the historical significance and painful background of the symbol. So why didn’t anyone speak up?
Charlene Metoyer, the Newport-Mesa Unified School Board District President, told CBS Los Angeles that “more should’ve been done to make sure the students recognize the severity of the symbols they were using.”
But if students are unable to understand the racist, violent and damaging past behind symbols of the swastika now, what will happen in just a few years when the last of the Holocaust survivors are dead?
When Anne Frank’s stepsister, Eva Schloss, came to speak at Chapman this week before speaking to some of the students involved in the Newport Beach incident a day later, she pointed out that nothing like the Holocaust has affected the U.S. in recent years – and that young people need to hear about how dangerous racism, prejudice and intolerance can be.
“Not everyone in Germany knew what was going on, but there were obviously cowards who didn’t speak up,” she said.
If you see someone using racist or hateful imagery or rhetoric, do just that: speak up. It doesn’t matter if you’re at school, a family gathering, or a party with new friends.
Being a bystander makes you just as guilty as the people setting up the cups in the shape of a swastika or making cruel, racist jokes. Don’t sacrifice your morality in favor of fitting in.