How to Confront a Racist National History

Isaac Chatiner in The New Yorker:

In her 2019 book, “Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil,” the philosopher Susan Neiman examines the different ways in which Germany and the United States have confronted their past sins. Neiman, who grew up in the American South and now lives in Berlin, describes how Germany has reckoned with the Nazi era, through memorials, official acts of remembrance, and various forms of reparations. Indeed, just as the Nazi period has become the ultimate example of unadulterated cruelty, postwar Germany has become the paradigmatic example of a country that has fully considered its past. Could something similar be possible in the United States? As Neiman’s book seeks to answer this question, it also serves as a conscious attempt to “safeguard” Germany’s confrontation with history, at a time when the far right is on the rise there, as it is in many countries.

I recently spoke by phone with Neiman, amid renewed discussions in the U.S.—sparked in part by the killing of George Floyd—about how to remember slavery and segregation, and increasing controversy over whether Confederate memorials have any place in modern-day America. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed why it took the Germans longer than many people think to come to grips with Nazism, the different ways East and West Germany approached the legacy of the Third Reich, and what the German experience with reparations can teach the United States.
More here.