Trump’s Racist Precedent

To justify his anti-Muslim racist proposals, Trump invokes the precedent of FDR’s Executive Order 9066. This order imprisoned Japanese American citizens like my parents (ages 11 and 15 at the time) and Japanese immigrants like my grandparents who were forbidden by racist laws from becoming citizens.

To Trump and his supporters, racism had nothing to do with the internment during World War II. Here is an editorial from the Los Angeles Times, 1942, arguing for the internment; it provides a vivid sense of the racism that was rampant at the time:

A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched. A leopard’s spots are the same and its disposition is the same wherever it is whelped. So a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions, living in a transplanted Japanese atmosphere and thoroughly inoculated with Japanese thoughts, Japanese ideas and Japanese ideals, notwithstanding his nominal brand of accidental citizenship, almost inevitably and with the rarest of exceptions grows up to be a Japanese, into an American in his thoughts, in his ideas, and in his ideals, and himself is a potential and menacing, if not an actual, danger to our country unless properly supervised, controlled and, as it were ‘hamstrung’.

Even President Ronald Reagan, in an apology to the Japanese American community, admitted that the camps were not militarily necessary and said the real reasons for the camps were racism, wartime hysteria and a failure of leadership.

Our fellow Muslim American and Arab American are experiencing now what my family experienced in World War II–having their patriotism and loyalty questioned, enduring insults and prejudice and vandalism, fearing what might happen next. I wish, I hope, those who say we are better than this are right. Principles–of equality, of justice, of what America is supposed to be–are not principles if they can be abandoned in times of crisis. And if we abandon our principles that will not make us safer. It will only make us more afraid. It will only make us weaker. It will only give encouragement to those who wish us harm.

The Murders in Charleston & The Double Standard of Southern History

In his essay “Stranger in the Village,” James Baldwin wrote: “Joyce is right about history being a nightmare–but it may be the nightmare from which no one can awaken. People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” I can’t help but feel the pessimism of Baldwin’s observation after Charleston. At the same time the persistence of the Emmanuel AME Church and its congregation, the love they have shown for each other and for this country is a continuing triumph. They continue to fight to step out of the traps history has laid out for them.

Beyond that Baldwin also points to a solution: We can only free ourselves from a racist history by acknowledging that history and then ripping the evil of that history from inside us. Which, among other things, would include the taking down of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state house and from the license plates of various states. The fact that that has not happened and probably won’t happen tells us how deeply this country clings to the nightmare of its racist history.

The Charleston murderer saw that Confederate flag as a symbol of racism and racial supremacy; that was part of his “Southern” pride. What I don’t hear much about is “Southern” shame. Or regret. Or apology. The soldiers of the Confederacy are no longer alive or fighting, but the racism they fought to defend continues. It’s okay to remember and honor these soldiers in the minds of Southern conservatives. But if you point out our history of slavery, conservatives instantly say, “Why bring that up? That was in the past.” Two unequal standards for remembering history. Racism continues to create its own rules to maintain itself–or rather, racists continue to create their own rules to keep their racism.

I am also waiting for someone to point out that the Charleston murderer focused on characterizing blacks as rapists in the same way Donald Trump focused on characterizing Mexican immigrants as rapists. The fact that he is a candidate for President in the Republican Party and that Party has not disavowed him once again shows how deeply racism is embedded in our politics and psyches and how the status quo of American life is far more racist than many are willing to acknowledge.

On Freddy Gray, Baltimore & The Social Contract

At what point does the social contract end? If violence can be wreaked upon you without cause? If your life can be taken from you while you are unarmed and your murderer goes unpunished? If your rights as a citizen have been taken away simply because you were walking on the street? If the skin on your body becomes the marker for your criminality and you become a source of profit for those who run the prisons? Isn’t this the definition of a slave? You are not a citizen, violence can be done to you without need of justification or provocation, you are deemed to be property, you are not regarded as a human. If the society you live in has failed to recognize and protect your humanity, what is your obligation to that society?

These questions stem from the thinking of Afro-Pessmists like my friend, the writer and scholar, Frank Wilderson. The argument is that the ontology of slavery continues to this day for Blacks in America. Given recent events, it’s hard to argue otherwise. If one looks at the video of Walter Scott running away from the gun of policeman Michael Slager or Freddie Gray being hauled into the police van, the history of America haunts the viewer with its reincarnation of violence against Blacks.

The anger in Baltimore contains a recognition that the social contract can end, can be deemed null and void by those who believe their humanity is not recognized and protected by the state and the society in which they live.

Thoughts on the Anniversary of Executive Order 9066 and the Internment of Japanese Americans

On this anniversary of Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066 which ordered the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans:  Thinking of Giuliani’s remarks on how Obama “does not love America” because “He wasn’t brought up the way you and I were brought up through love of this country”, thinking of the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice that has arisen in this country, thinking of the anti-immigrant prejudice, I think of this editorial from the Los Angeles Times in 1942:

“A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched. A leopard’s spots are the same and its disposition is the same wherever it is whelped. So a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions, living in a transplanted Japanese atmosphere and thoroughly inoculated with Japanese thoughts, Japanese ideas and Japanese ideals, notwithstanding his nominal brand of accidental citizenship, almost inevitably and with the rarest of exceptions grows up to be a Japanese, into a Japanese in his thoughts, in his ideas, and in his ideals, and himself is a potential and menacing, if not an actual, danger to our country unless properly supervised, controlled and, as it were ‘hamstrung.'”
–Editorial, Los Angeles Times, 1942

So many thoughts: Did the LA Times write the same thing about Italian Americans, against Giuliani’s parents? If Giuliani and the LA Times were right in their illogic, how is it the 442nd, the regiment of Japanese Americans, was one of the most decorated units in Europe in World War II?  U.S. generals actually fought with each other to have the 442nd under their command.  (Which is not to slight the No-No Boys who protested the internment and the taking away of their Constitutional rights by resisting the draft, and who showed their patriotism by upholding the Constitution in ways neither the Congress nor the President did.) The racism thrown at Obama is just a slightly more disguised version of what was thrown at the Japanese American community over sixty years ago.

Thinking of all the protests against the building of mosques in Manhattan and Tennessee and elsewhere, thinking of all the hysteria against immigrant workers, I recall these posters from 1922:

JAPS

You came to care for lawns,
we stood for it.
You came to work in truck gardens,
we stood for it.
You sent your children to our public schools,
we stood for it.
You moved a few families in our midst,
we stood for it.
You proposed to build a church in our neighborhood
BUT
We DIDN’T and WE WON’T STAND FOR IT
You impose more on us each day
Until you have gone your limit.
WE DON’T WANT YOU WITH US
SO GET BUSY, JAPS, AND
GET OUT OF HOLLYWOOD!

History repeats itself. How much have we learned? How much do we need to learn?