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A Dancer Named Hitler Performing at a Jewish High School. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Jan 12, 2023
Men dancing and playing drums.


In the book, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah describes his pathway from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show.

Among the many stories he shared, the one titled, Go Hitler! really stroke a cord with me.

He started by describing his very successful enterprise, and how it evolved from selling pirated videogames and CDs to DJ’ing at parties.

After becoming a DJ, though, he soon realized that he needed a dance crew who could show people the steps to the songs he was playing.

That is when Hitler, the dancer, came to the forefront of his story.

Hitler was, by far, the most talented dancer in his crew and soon became the star attraction of the group the other dancers would first warm up the crowd before Hitler would make his grand entrance.

At this point, you may be wondering: why would someone name their child Hitler? 

Part of it has to do with the way black people in South Africa choose names. From colonial times through the days of apartheid, black people were required to have an English name in addition to their African names. 

African names were carefully chosen and carried deep personal meanings.  English names, likely required so white people could pronounce them, were chosen at random. In fact, some of Noah’s friends, in addition to Hitler, included individuals named Mussolini, Napoleon, and Bruce Lee. 

With increased notoriety, the group started being booked in the suburbs, which also meant that they were DJ’ing more and more for white people – thus the invitation to perform at the King David School—a Jewish school. 

 The school was hosting a “cultural day” (sort of a diversity program) and Noah’s group, named The South African B-Boys, was one among Greek dancers, Flamenco dancers, Zulu musicians, and many others. 


This Is Where the Story Gets Complicated

The B-Boys were anxious and ready to entertain an entire hall filled with Jewish kids, teachers, and family members. They start playing, the crew starts dancing and Noah proceeded to introduce his star performer by saying:  

 “Give it up and make some noise for HIIIIIIIITTTTTTTLLLLLLLEEEEEEERRRRRRR!!!!!”

 Typical of their performances, Hitler entered and positioned himself in the middle of the stage while all the other dancers chanted their usual chant: Go Hitler! Go Hitler! Go Hitler!

 At this point, the entire audience froze and stared aghast. The B-Boys were oblivious and so was Hitler. Then the event organizer jumped on the stage yelling at Noah: “How dare you? This is disgusting! You horrible, disgusting, vile creature! HOW DARE YOU!!!”


And It Gets Worse

The following events then ensued: Noah and the crew were trying to figure out the reasoning behind the teacher’s anger. 

 Because he heard “this is disgusting”, he assumed she (the teacher) was referring to the way the crew was dancing. Hitler’s hips were, after all, gyrating and thrusting quite suggestively, basically simulating a sex act.

This immediately propelled Noah onto a defensive mode; after all, those were typical dance moves African people do all the time. They were part of their culture and should be appropriate at a “cultural” performance. In the end, he took offense at her taking offense, and the exchange escalated, but it boiled over when the teacher yelled: YOU PEOPLE ARE DISGUSTING!

By this point, he is seeing her as a racist. From his perspective, South Africans were now free, and they could perform any way they wanted. 

That phrase basically turned her into the white oppressor who was trying to subjugate them, yet again. She, of course, was thinking about the Nazis and the horrors World War II inflicted on many, especially the Jews.


What Can We Learn from This Story?

There are many lessons we can learn from this story. To me, the most salient one is that we often approach situations from different perspectives.

 We react to situations from our own position, while bringing along our own baggage and history without our taking into consideration somebody else’s point of view.


What to Consider When Conflict Arises

Next time you find yourself in a situation where conflict is escalating, here are six things to consider:

  1.   Stop, suspend judgment, and find a way to live through the discomfort until you are able to see the other person’s perspective. Not until you understand each other’s anger, hurt, indignation, frustration, and disbelief, should you consent to proceed. Understanding somebody else’s perspective is an essential conflict resolution strategy.
  2.  Situations should never be analyzed from a single perspective. Approaching it that way only ensures the analysis will be incomplete because only one perspective will be brought to the table -- most likely the one from the party with power and privilege. Power and privilege must be shared.
  3.  We need to create spaces for authentic conversations, where all voices are heard, and we work together to find a solution—not my solution, not your solution, but our solution. And we need to be comfortable with the notion that our solution will likely be different than what each one of us had imagined. It will, however, be a solution that both parties arrived at together.
  4.  It is imperative we keep in mind that, while we may not have been taught the histories of many other groups, there is no excuse for ignorance. We need to actively seek a deeper understanding of the many different histories, struggles, and inequities around us. Knowledge of the “other” is essential to help us overcome our biases and prejudices.
  5.  The many inequities certain groups still face in this country should outrage us. How much longer are we going to ignore the cries, the hurt, and the indignation of groups such as African Americans, LGBTQ, and many others? For too long they have been trying to tell us their hurt. We need to stop and listen. But listen with the Chinese concept of Ting in mind. That is: with our ears so we can listen, with our eyes so we can notice, and with our heart so we have compassion. Only then will we be able to truly understand what is going on in their world and work together towards a shared solution.
  6.  Finally, we can no longer afford to travel through life on parallel tracks. Parallel tracks give us the sense we are close enough to what is going on, but they also afford us the privilege of not really getting involved in finding a solution. It is time to merge the tracks and head towards a common destination.




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