Monday, December 14, 2009

Aryan supremacy: blond hair and blue eyes versus black hair and brown eyes

The idea that people from the Nordic race are superior to those from other races was of enormous importance to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Their ideology stated that the best kinds of human beings were white skinned with blue eyes and blond hair, which meant that races such as the Negroid, Slavic and Mediterranean and people with black hair and brown eyes were necessarily inferior.

These ideas affected people whose lives are of interest to me. When I first read a biography of Louisa May Alcott, I learned that her father was what we would now call an Aryan supremacist. Bronson Alcott was tall, and he had blond hair and blue eyes. He said that such people were superior to dark-haired people with black hair and brown eyes. Louisa resembled her mother, who could have passed for Spanish or Italian. Bronson Alcott thought that his colouring indicated associations with the light and good, angelic forces: this implied that Louisa and her mother were not only inferior, but also dark, evil and demonic. When Louisa brought home a young man with fair colouring, Bronson said: “Sir, you are a child of light”. Why was this issue so important to him? What effect did his views have on Louisa and her mother?

Is it just a coincidence that Louisa was born in Germantown, Philadelphia? This reminds me of the connection between the Mitford family, Unity Valkyrie and her Aryan supremacist grandfather Bertie in particular, and Swastika, Ontario.

This is yet another example of a similarity between the Alcotts and my family. My father and stepmother often used to persecute my youngest sister, who had blue eyes and light coloured hair, by saying that they would give her away to a black family, where her colouring would make her very welcome. They said that they might ask for a black child in exchange. This was at a time when everyone in our town was white. I know that cruel parents often threaten to send their children away, but why did dark and fair colouring come into it?

My stepmother had dark hair and brown eyes: she actually came from a Roman Catholic family, but could have passed for Jewish. My father used to drive her into a frenzy from time to time by mentioning this and insisting that her stepfather was Jewish or at least had a ‘Jewish name’. This was obviously a painful subject for her, and he obviously enjoyed persecuting her about it. This topic was raised at regular intervals, and the more infuriated she became the more unpleasant and triumphant he got and vice versa. Each was determined to make the other give in. Really, they deserved each other: like attracts like. They were both obsessed with the Nazis.

It is interesting that some writers prefer dark people to fair ones, perhaps because they seem glamorous, fascinating and exciting as opposed to a bit dull and bland. William Makepeace Thackeray said that Ivanhoe should have chosen Rebecca (dark) instead of Rowena (fair).  Charlotte Brontë’s heroine Jane Eyre is involved with men who represent each type: the fair, cool St. John Rivers and the dark, passionate Mr Rochester. Lucy Snowe is in a similar position in Villette. Jane Eyre chooses the man with black hair.  I remember noticing a pattern in Rafael Sabatini’s books: the dark hero usually triumphs over a fair man, perhaps by exposing him as being very stupid, and takes the girl away from him. Even when I was very young, I wondered whether this was a form of revenge or compensation: perhaps some girl had preferred a fair man to Sabatini.

It is an odd coincidence that my other sister’s business partner was torn between her current partner, a Jewish man with black hair and brown eyes, and a new acquaintance: a tall, blond haired, blue eyed ‘Aryan’ American who wanted to take her back to the US. The woman and the dark man were both South Africans: the black/white division was of great importance there. It was also a big issue in the southern states of the US. Just like Jane Eyre, the business partner had an agonizing decision to make; the stress made her very ill. Unlike Jane Eyre, she decided to go overseas with the Aryan man.

I am still trying to understand what is behind all this, and why so many people think that the dark versus fair issue is so important. I do realise that authors may give their characters pronounced colouring just to make them memorable, and introduce them in pairs of opposites just for the contrast:  for example, Rider Haggard created the dark/fair sister queens Sorais and Nyleptha in Alan Quartermain, and Sir Henry Curtis and Alan himself provide a similar contrast as do Leo Vincey and Holly in She. Even so, I sense that something is at work behind the scenes.

The issue of Aryan supremacy has returned in a new context: conspiracy theorists such as David Icke say that white people with blond hair and blue eyes are most susceptible to reptilian influences, and that there are Nordic aliens. So was Bronson Alcott an alien or could he have been controlled by reptilians? These are very strange ideas, and these topics are completely outside my experience.