The photo was taken in 1933 by LIFE magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. One of his most memorable pictures, the portrait still casts its evil spell more than 70 years later. “The fierce arrogance of power, normally covered with false grace of good humor, shone through miraculously into Eisenstaedt’s film,” later wrote LIFE magazine. A Jew, Eisenstaedt himself remembered [the meeting, and photographed the moment when Goebbels learned that fact about him]: “He looked at me with hateful eyes and waited for me to wither. But I didn’t wither. If I have a camera in my hand, I don’t know fear.”
People aren't evil. It's not as if there's a certain section of the world, a specific segment of the population that is simply born evil and full of hatred for someone, some group that is unliked. As much as we'd like to pretend that hatred exists elsewhere, across the globe or somewhere faded into the recesses of history, hatred is taught and learned every second. It spreads quickly and deforms everything it touches; no one that encounters this black-hearted coldness can ever really be the same when hatred gets finished with them.
Hatred is a poison, ravaging humanity and desecrating the graves of those who fought so hard to eradicate it from human existence. When we learn it, when we experience it, we lose something about ourselves forever - hatred steals our hope from us. Even if we spend our lives erasing as much of it as humanly possible, exhausting ourselves working to heal divisions and to build enough commonality to get rid of it for good, it can seem bleak and hopeless to see this face again, in our daily lives, among our friends, our family, our community.
Hatred is an equal-opportunity abuser, though, it can destroy the hater just as equally as the one who is hated. Homophobia lays waste to the person delivering the homophobic treatment just as it results in a beating, a murder or vandalism against a queer person. Racism transforms a human being into nothing more than a fire-hose-wielding monster, an agent of a system that's existed since the foundation of our so-called civilized system of government; it disabuses everyone of the almost-quaint notion that every one is created equal and endowed with unalienable rights.
In Alabama where I am, this system has taken some hits, but it keeps on going. The virus keeps spreading and children grow up infected with hatred and they don't even know why. Then they meet someone, some "other", and that person sees that look, again. That person experiences violence, again. It doesn't stop. It's the violence that scars you, that leaves you in pain, but it's the look - the twisted grimace of disgust that never really leaves your mind. You never want to see that again, and you know you will.
The effects of this are permanent. I've never been someone who's faced an anti-gay attack. I haven''t lived through that violent and tragic experience. But I've seen it when people talk about gays, when they think there aren't any gays around, there couldn't possibly be, because this is a purified area and they've carefully silenced all of us. I've felt the terror, just watching these things happen, out in the open. Like it didn't matter that real people were being discussed. Like it didn't matter that the idea of silencing, of hurting, of taking away the rights of real people was an inhumane and dangerous prospect. As if there's not a long history of this, and a long set of outcomes that should make people realize this is not how we should act in this world.
Have you felt like this?
Many of us feel that fear - feel those eyes on us still. We know it ends in pain - maybe not a holocaust, maybe we're not all silenced - but pain nonetheless.
We can only refuse to wither. I don't have a camera, but I have my words, and I refuse to wither.