“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Elie Wiesel’s words of the importance of action are true in many ways, but what is valuable to remember is that preventing indifference can be through actions both big and small.
May unexpected introduction to Nazi graffiti came on the way to work, I noticed it not once, but twice- swastikas drawn on very visible areas in the city. What is this? The period towards the end of Weimar Germany? I felt like Baron Von Trapp, patriarch of the Von Trapps, disappointed in a place once called home, indulging in such open racism. He responded by ripping up the Nazi flags in his town. Similarly, tiny resistance against the visibility of hateful symbols isn’t something relegated to only anti-fa, it is something that professionals, students, people with consciences and courage should be doing.
The swastika has its origins as a Buddhist symbol and its patterns present in Native American art. It has been re-appropriated as a symbol of strength and unity for the Nazi party after several brainstorms including symbols including variations of asterisks and bold circular designs. In a modern context, it is ultimately a symbol of a regime and their ideas of racial purity, acceptance of violence against minorities and the horrors of genocide.
What struck me was that the symbols were accompanied with several symbols and numbers. Much like gangs and prison groups, Neo-Nazi groups and far right chapters that try to recruit as do so secretly, the use of symbols and numbers can be vital to show a group’s survival and presence.
Visibility and power of these symbols- my own story
A member of a so-called, ‘model minority’, I naively believed that I was immune to any kind of the new brand of outwardly violent and direct racism. However, I understood the importance of limiting public visibility of hate icons as this in turn can legitimise a certain ideology through their slick and powerful iconography. I had come to understand this in person after having been the victim of a hate crime myself. My harasser wearing a confederate flag with the words ‘Never apologise’ on it. A shameful reminder of a regime of slavery, upheld with a sense of heroism and national pride. While many supporters of this view of denial think they are not culpable of actual violence, I cannot deny that such symbols and their meanings compel angry individuals to actual violence. They feel empowered at having a wider movement to identify with. This wider movement and support from peers empowers more extreme manifestations of violence and allows for a sense of anonymity and power behind a symbol.
After 2 days of work and the symbols still up. I was shocked at how Nazi iconography was allowed to remain despite the hundreds of people who passed by on a daily basis. Having had enough, my boyfriend and I made the rounds putting stickers over the symbols and drawing on them as to obscure their nature. Relieved that even if it was only for a while, that a source of advertisement and pride by racists was prevented.
I was thinking of the moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark after the Ark of the Covenant had been opened to curse the Nazis to their doom ‘…hell yeah…the evil has been defeated’. But what the movies don’t teach you is that swift action is only a fraction of what it takes to overturn a tide of harmful populist ideas. Racism and violence are relentless and as we have seen, evolve into seemingly more palatable forms, which calls for persistence long after an initial address. The next day, I saw that my efforts had been overtaken, my stickers peeled off, the Windows erased, the swastikas redrawn even bigger and bolder. Someone was wanting to keep them there. And it wasn’t over.
Having had it with playing this game of vandalism ping pong, I decided that I had enough and wanted to see permanent consequences for these symbols. It was as easy as informing the store owners of the hate symbols and negative attention they had been garnering. All symbols in their locations were replaced almost immediately.
Unfortunately, word of stickers, racist graffiti and disgusting posters have also caught my attention, inside and out of university. Swift removal from students and staff upholds my hope that messages from hateful extremists are not accepted here.
Eagle or birds of prey iconography
Sometimes ‘gothic’ style typeface
Usually black, white and grey colour scheme
Iron Cross: chunkier looking square cross with concave edges
The ‘fasces’: Bundle of wooden rods and an axe, this is a historic symbol of fascism
Anything that dehumanises ethnicity etc. ‘degenerate’/ ‘subhuman’
Anything that calls on violence towards another
Posters with paintings of colonial artworks of colonial forces killing indigenous people
Posters of strange publications which juxtapose ‘charity work’ with large leaps e.g “_________ is because of immigration or the ‘browning’ of [insert nation here]”
Posters that call on ‘revenge’ for ‘White Genocide’ or cite examples such as South Africa and Zimbabwe as a need to ‘take back’. While it is true that life has changed significantly for white communities in these countries, that is no reason to assign characteristics to one ethnicity or to call on violence. The history of these nations is complex and their problems are not due to the incorrect pseudoscientific view of ‘heritable negative traits’ of minorities.
Strange, over the top commemoration of colonial and evangelical figures.
Outward denial of the Holocaust and/or colonial crimes. This can sometimes be in the form of calling historical understanding as ‘white guilt’.
Be wary of numbers and symbols that accompany these, many imply the identity of the group in question.
For more or if you are ever unsure, it is useful to document the occurrence and the context of the racist publications in question. Anti-Defamation League has a useful directory on their website of documented hate symbols, numbers and groups. The site is US-based but can still be useful: www.adl.org/hatesymbolsdatabase .
Many have taken it upon themselves to remove hate symbols themselves. However, one should exercise great caution when doing so. It is probable that such chapters have people to keep a watch on the symbols and harass those who intervene. The golden rule of any protest is to never go alone, this is a safety measure.
Some far-right chapters in other countries are known to have put razor blades placed behind of posters as to they fall when ripped off, stand back and do not place your hands at the bottom of the poster.
Gloves or hand sanitizer can be useful if stickers are placed in particularly unhygienic places etc in and around public toilets.
Large stickers and permanent marker can be useful.
Whiteboard marker and alcohol wipes can erase swastikas.
What can I do?
In all circumstances, keep your cellphones on you. Film, voice and photo evidence can be useful tools in documenting how widespread this problem is in and around campus. These are not to be distributed to give far-right groups visibility but instead reported to the right authorities:
A trusted lecturer or University proctor: email@example.com
AUSA: 09-309 0789
Human Rights Commission: 0800 496 877
NZ Police non-emergency line: 105
If the concern is immediate:
Uni Security: 0800 373 7550
If the hate symbols are outside university and in a public area:
On a business or building: Contact the business.
Public area: Use this form to report graffiti or vandalism of any kind www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/grants-community-support-housing/graffiti-vandalism/Pages/report-graffiti-vandalism.aspx , if it definitely contains an offensive symbol or content, call 09 301 0101 and it will be removed within 24 hours.
Record the time and place of where you see such stickers, posters and graffiti. Chances are, there’s surveillance in the area that can catch the perpetrator.
The White Supremacist presence on campus may be underground and perhaps confined to select groups and individuals, but combating indifference to them can overturn the complicity which allows them to remain. Love isn’t a passive action, it is persistence and sustained effort to do the right thing.