People I like have posted it. Websites I like have posted it. I appreciate those people and those websites, the optimism they display, the unity they endorse, the way they brand neo-Nazis as traitors. But every time I see an anti-Nazi meme, I feel an emptiness in my chest cavity, a twist in my gut, and this one in particular sets me off.
Let's start with a close reading. Uncle Sam -- significantly more muscular in this incarnation than he is usually portrayed, a brawler for sure -- takes up the majority of the frame, occupying most of the left hand side of the space. He is rolling up his right sleeve with his left hand, and holds a wrench in his left hand. He looks down on five men, all tiny in comparison: two are in Nazi uniforms and carry a Nazi flag, and three are in KKK uniforms and carry a confederate flag. The two men in Nazi uniforms look alarmed, terrified; their bodies are in defensive positions against the comparatively massive Uncle Sam. It's difficult to tell what the men (or women!) in the KKK uniforms are feeling because, you know, hoods.
Then the text. In large, retro font: "STOP the 'ALT-RIGHT'". And below, surrounded by stars: "We beat 'em before / we'll beat 'em now."
Let's be clear: despite the fact that there are actual literal Nazis in our country that are currently walking around with actual literal semi-automatics, there's not much comparison between our role in World War II and our role today. We're not America in this situation, swooping in to save others from hate while ignoring the hatred in our own land. We're Germany, and that hatred we've incubated for so long under the tautology of "this isn't who we are and therefore it can't be who we are" is burgeoning, bubbling, formless and engulfing us beyond our comprehension. This hatred is not the hatred of Nazi Germany, no matter how much some of its adherents might identify with Hitler's tenets. This hatred is home grown. It is ours. We've beaten it back before, but we've never beaten it. Not completely.
I lost my hope in the possibility of gun control after Newtown. I lost my hope in the possibility of police accountability after Philando Castile. I cannot tell my students that, and I don't know what I can tell them except what I always do: that I love them, that I believe them to be valuable, and that systems grow and change. I know the first two are true, and I try to know the last. I try so hard.
And I'm so pleased that Republicans have come out against Nazis, but wait, no I'm not because that is a ridiculous clause that I just wrote. Of course Republicans have come out against Nazis. That is a normal response. Nazis are easy enemies, because we already fought them in a war that is widely considered to be one of the most justifiable wars on record. Coming out against Nazis means -- should mean -- absolutely nothing.
Because as has been pointed out by people much more eloquent than I, focusing on those individuals and groups obsessed with retro Nazism distracts us from that obsession's interlinked sources: our home grown hatred of the Other and the white supremacy that is woven through the fabric of our systems and our daily lives.
Both of those sources lurk even within our anti-Nazi memes. The drawing from the "You again?" meme isn't original to that meme. It comes from a World War II propaganda poster.
So no, you don't get to say that we beat 'em before and we'll beat 'em again. Even then, even during World War II, we were them. Not as extremely, of course: our internment camps weren't death camps, and we weren't trying to take over the world. Let's also remember, though, that neither we nor any other country joined World War II because of the Holocaust, and that we have rarely intervened in genocides since the Holocaust.
We were not morally superior in a previous age. We are not morally superior now. The internet has given us an equality of voice, that's all, and white people can now hear of experiences they don't want to believe, because of our comforting tautology: "this is not who we are so this is not who we are."
And there's the alt-right, trying to make actual literal Nazis with actual literal semi-automatics normal, so that casual and already-normalized racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia seep even deeper into the fabric of our lives, fading into the air that we breathe, and there are we, blithely ignorant, choking on air full of invisible, inevitable hate.
And thus, as Walt Kelly said, as always, as forever, as evergreen and never forget: