Recommendation: “Learning from the Germans” by Susan Neiman

Every country has racism. But is that something we need to face, hold up, and forever atone for? Or something to move past and forget? (Spoiler, it’s the first one).

Neiman, as a Jewish woman who grew up in the American South in the ‘60s, and has since lived in Berlin in the ‘80s, as well as Israel along the way, has a rather unique perspective of how different cultures dealt with their legacies. 

I read about this book and the premise immediately put it on my reading list. There are a lot of books about racism out there, from a lot of point of views. In Learning from the Germans, Neiman presents an analysis of how racism embeds in a culture by using comparison between how America has refused to deal with the legacy of slavery and how Germany has turned to face the legacy of the holocaust. 

I’d go into it in more detail here but I’ll end up writing far more than can fit in one blog post, and far worse that Neiman puts it herself. Simply put, it’s a fascinating philosophical discussion on how the human mind doesn’t like to face and accept its own hand in past evils, and without being forced to face the truth will embed itself into a culture of self denial where it can never learn. 

What I loved about this book is how well Neiman writes. I’ve read books like this before where the only way to describe them is a “slog”. Yet Neiman’s writing is so easy to read that it’s never a chore. That’s not to say I didn’t need a break every so often to take it all in, but that was the about of information to take in.

I really recommend picking this up. While it discusses American Slavery and the Nazi Holocaust in detail, the conclusions are universal. The English are no strangers to evil history, and when the fact that our past “glories” came balanced on the backs of the oppression of other cultures is ignored… well let’s have a look at our current political leaders, shall we? 

We all need to face our past. We may not be personally responsible for our ancestors actions, but we have grown up on the foundations those decision set out, and when you take an honest look at them its horrifying how many of the same values and cultural blindness have played a hand in who we are. 

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