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truth is freedom
A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a
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tree without roots
june 16, 2018
what use to be
history you should know
america's greatest traitors of 20th century
Hawaii’s fight against Trump’s Muslim travel ban has long roots of resistance
In 1945, my great uncle died for his country, one of 400,000 American soldiers who gave their lives during World War II. He was a member of the most decorated unit in the history of American warfare, one of the “little brown soldiers” that saved the Lost Battalion from Texas in the Vosges Mountains. Four casualties for every man saved. My great uncle, Robert Ozaki, shows up in written accounts of that battle, leading a bayonet charge when his lieutenant disappeared and was thought captured. He arrived at the hospital in Colorado with shrapnel in his back, and our family story has it that he kept shaking down his thermometer so that the doctors could attend to other soldiers.
Your hero? He served fiercely and with honor, and died in that hospital: a recipient of a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.
Your enemy? His own government branded him class 4-C, an “enemy alien,” and would not let his family attend his funeral.
Unless you are in the Marvel Comic universe, it’s hard to be both. But my Silver Star great uncle was Japanese-American. The decades leading up to the war were a time of virulent hatred for the Japanese, with terms like “inscrutable,” “repulsive” and “the yellow peril” thrown around freely. Racism was codified and supported by the president, Congress, the courts and local government, and urged on in headlines in the media. Robert Ozaki would have remained a “menace,” if it were not for Hawaii. And this month, as we await the ruling of the Supreme Court on Hawaii’s challenge to Donald Trump’s travel ban, it is worth remembering that this is not the first time that Hawaii stood up to the overt racist policies of the U.S. government and said no.
In 1942, after Pearl Harbor was attacked, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, giving the military broad powers to detain anyone on the west coast of the mainland determined to be a threat. Although it did not mention ethnicity, it was designed to target people of Japanese ancestry and it did. Nearly 120,000 Japanese-American citizens and their immigrant parents were rounded up, stripped of their citizenship, labeled enemy aliens, and imprisoned behind barbed wire in incarceration camps across the country. My infant mother, her parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents were with them.
In what world are infants and old ladies a threat? In a world where anti-Japanese (and “Asiatic”) sentiment already had a long and ugly history. After importing them first as cheap labor, immigration from Japan had been completely banned. Laws had already been passed to ensure that the Japanese could never become citizens or own property. But their children were American citizens, and as they began owning farms and businesses, hysteria grew. The propaganda machine (the fake news of the 1940s) taught Americans that “Japs” were snakes, beasts, who would marry your daughters, rape the world and steal your stuff; they were to be slapped, smacked, banished and exterminated. American citizenship, hard work, community service and a clean record did not help those individuals then, just as law-abiding immigrants are not safe now. The messages were violent and they were everywhere.
It was a racism rooted in greed: Within a few decades, Japanese-American farms on the West Coast were seven times more profitable than the average. Japanese Americans controlled two-thirds of the Los Angeles flower market, and were projected to produce 40 percent of the produce needed for the war effort. In giving them a week to dispose of everything they owned, and holding them prisoner in camps where they could not make enough money to pay the taxes on any properties they still owned, the evacuation effectively stripped them of everything.
The mission that was accomplished by Roosevelt’s Executive Order was not safety for America. Despite the excuse of national security, there was not one single case of espionage during the war. The result was the successful cleansing of the West Coast of all persons of Japanese ancestry, and the transfer of between $150 million and $400 million of assets back into Caucasian hands.
In the territory of Hawaii, however, events spun out differently, with history-making results. There, martial law was also declared, with similar exclusion orders. However, the commanding general, Lt. Gen. Delos Emmons, refused to evacuate the Japanese Americans, who made up 37 percent of the population and a significant portion of the economy. Emmons flipped the script, arguing that it was better for the overall economy to leave them free. He refuted the rumors, false claims of espionage and the violently anti-Japanese sentiment that was fueling calls for exclusion. Instead, he chose to do something radical: to treat the Japanese Americans as lawful, loyal citizens, and trust them. He even gave them back their guns.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed, Japanese Americans serving in the Hawaii Territorial Guard were discharged at first, but petitioned to continue to serve. Emmons eventually placed them into a lone battalion, the 100th, or One-Puka-Puka. Some 10,000 Japanese American men living in Hawaii volunteered to enlist. Their fierce dedication altered the face of the war for the Japanese Americans. Pressured to find a home for the battalion, the U.S. government began to reconsider their status. The War Department asked for volunteers from behind barbed wire, and eventually began drafting men out of the camps to create the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team that would include the 100th Battalion. The 442nd proved that they were not snakes by earning more than 18,000 military awards among 14,000 soldiers, including 9,486 Purple Hearts, 560 Silver Stars and 21 Medals of Honor.
Today, 75 years later, racism is still rampant, and still a smokescreen for greed. All the horrifying treatment of humans that is playing out in our daily newsfeeds — within our own country and at our borders — is based on the same triggers, and the same arguments. Today’s monsters are still people of color, immigrants, people who don’t speak our language. They are still born from our worries about our safety and our fears that there is a lack of jobs and money and that there is not enough for us. As we twist ourselves in knots to erase or justify our actions (turning off body cameras, claiming to be protecting child refugees while we build new for-profit prisons for their parents), it is worth remembering that our safety does not come from threatening the safety of others. Quite the opposite. Our fears imprison us all. Racism is taught; it is deliberate. And until we can see through the lie that we are each other’s enemies, we cannot follow the money and the power to understand who our teachers are.
In 18 long months, the Trump administration has distinguished itself by its many racist and discriminatory policies and executive orders. The actions of its agencies are routinely being challenged in court. Though racism is hardly new in our country (the Japanese American incarceration being just one small example), it is clearly blossoming, thanks to the propaganda that is, once again, infusing the media and every branch of government, and coming from the top. The argument that this revised travel ban is not racist is bogus. It is worth remembering that Executive Order 9066 did not mention ethnicity or race but was to apply to “any or all persons.” Both were justified on grounds of national defense. Just as Roosevelt’s order was a tool for racism, this administration’s actions and words make it clear that the travel ban will be another tool in our growing arsenal against people who are “other,” who we are being told are threatening our safety and our stuff.
In the 1940s, the Supreme Court rejected the first three challenges to the incarceration, before finally ruling that the government had no legal right to imprison a loyal citizen. The damage was already done. In 1988, when Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act apologizing for the incarceration, he repeatedly mentioned the bravery of the Japanese American soldiers as proof that the incarceration was a “mistake” and one “based solely on race.”
These reversals may not have been possible if Hawaii had buckled under and followed a different path. Our safety will not be gained in lawsuits. Justice may not be supreme. We must all find a way to question the propaganda and the policies that have been designed to separate us and to see each other as human. If we need assurance that our enemy may indeed be our hero, the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Team is a potent reminder that beneath the different skin and eyes of “the other” may beat 9,486 Purple Hearts.
America’s segregated shores: beaches' long history as a racial battleground
Summer has arrived, which, for many Americans, means day camps for children, afternoons lounging by a pool, and weekend trips to the beach. But for many others, summer brings new burdens, frustrations and fears: the end of free or reduced meals for children at schools, the added cost of childcare and the search – often in vain – for safe, affordable and accessible places to play and cool off on a hot day.
Summers have long been America’s most segregated season. Nowhere is this more evident than along the nation’s beaches and coasts, one of the chief destinations for vacationers and pleasure seekers, and a perennial site of racial conflict and violence. The infamous 1919 Chicago race riot, which lasted seven days and claimed 38 lives, began on the shores of Lake Michigan, when white youth gang members stoned to death a black teenager named Eugene Williams after he had accidentally drifted across a color line in the water. In its aftermath, African Americans learned to avoid the city’s lakefront. As a child, black Chicagoan Dempsey Travis remembers, “I was never permitted to learn to swim. For six years, we lived within two blocks of the lake, but that did not change [my parents’] attitude. To Dad and Mama, the blue lake always had a tinge of red from the blood of that young black boy.”
In the decades that followed, local governments across the US enacted a host of policies and practices designed to segregate places of outdoor leisure by race and effectively exclude people of color from public beaches. In the south, those methods were quite explicit. Coastal cities such as Norfolk, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina, and Miami, Florida, prohibited African Americans from stepping foot on any of their public beaches, and for years ignored blacks’ demands for public beaches of their own. Whites’ indifference to the health and humanity of black communities often had deadly consequences. Throughout the Jim Crow era, shockingly high numbers of black youth drowned each summer while playing in dangerous, and unsupervised, bodies of water. When white officials did respond to black demands for beaches and parks of their own, they invariably selected remote, polluted, often hazardous, locations. In Washington DC, officials designated Buzzard’s Point, a former dumping ground located downstream from a sewage plant, as an appropriate location for the city’s “colored” bathing beach. In New Orleans, it was a remote site on Lake Pontchartrain, 14 miles from downtown, surrounded on both sides by fishing camps that dumped raw sewage into the lake. One health official described the waters offshore as “grossly contaminated” and wholly unfit for bathing.
In the north, whites employed more subtle, but no less effective, methods of segregation. Predominantly white suburbs and towns in the north-east, for example, designated their public beaches for residents only, or charged exorbitant access fees for non-residents, or barred non-residents from parking near the shore, all designed to keep minority populations in neighboring cities out. City officials, meanwhile, failed to provide black neighborhoods with safe and decent places of public recreation and deliberately made beaches and pools frequented by middle-class whites inaccessible to the poor and people of color.
Here, too, whites’ determined efforts to keep black people out of their pools and off their beaches cost black children their lives. On a hot summer day in June 1968, teenagers Howard Martin and Lemark Hicks left their families’ low-income public housing units in Port Chester, New York, and went in search of a place to cool off. Hours later, scuba divers pulled their lifeless bodies from the depths of the Byram river, where the two African American boys had drowned while swimming, unsupervised, in the river’s dangerous currents. While the boys screamed for help, less than a mile away lifeguards kept a watchful eye over children playing in the surf at Byram Beach, one of three public beaches in the neighboring town of Greenwich, Connecticut. But despite its close proximity, these beaches, and the safety they afforded bathers, were not an option for Martin, Hicks, and all other black children living in Port Chester. They were for Greenwich residents only.
Such senseless tragedies fueled black unrest and played no small role in sparking urban uprisings during the long, hot summers of the 1960s. In 1968, public housing residents in Hartford, Connecticut, staged a series of protests following the drowning deaths of several children along a dangerous section of a river that snaked through their housing project. City officials had repeatedly ignored parents’ demands to fence off the area or, better yet, provide the neighborhood with a public swimming pool, and instead scolded parents for not keeping a better watch over their children. “This is what causes riots,” protest leader Barbara Henderson said in response. The Kerner commission concurred. In its 1968 report on the “riots” that had engulfed urban black America in previous summers, it listed “poor recreation facilities and programs” as the fifth most intense grievance of black populations in riot-torn cities, just behind policing practices, unemployment and underemployment, housing and education. In response, cities hastily built above-ground swimming pools and placed sprinklers on fire hydrants in black neighborhoods.
But aside from these modest gestures, little was done to address the underlying causes of summertime segregation and recreational inequality. In recent decades, fiscally distressed cities have slashed funding for outdoor recreation programs for disadvantaged children, and closed or sold off public parks, beaches and swimming pools in poorer neighborhoods, while affluent communities continue to employ the same tactics for keeping “undesirables” out of their parks and off their shores. Earlier this spring, officials in Westport, Connecticut, dramatically increased parking fees and slashed the number of passes sold to non-residents at its public beach. The move came after locals complained about the growing numbers of outsiders there the previous summer. In the exclusive community of Palos Verdes Estates, California, a gang of wealthy local whites (known as the “Lunada Bay Boys”) has been waging a decades-long campaign of terror against non-residents, especially African Americans, who seek access to the town’s public beach. Local residents have subjected visitors to beatings and assaults, racist epithets, sexual harassment, dog attacks, death threats, property destruction and vandalism, all with the tacit approval of local law enforcement. Officials in this and other affluent beachfront communities in Los Angeles, meanwhile, have for years thwarted attempts by the city’s regional transit authority to offer direct bus routes from black and brown inner-city neighborhoods to the beach. As a result, it is common to find black children living in Los Angeles who have never even seen the Pacific Ocean, much less spent a day on its shores.
Like schools and neighborhoods, the persistence of racial separatism in places of play didn’t just happen by chance. Nor does it, as some might claim, simply reflect people’s personal preferences. It is the result of public policies and private actions that, by design, aimed to segregate bodies of water by race and allow whites to claim the most desirable outdoor spaces to themselves. Many of these policies and practices remain in effect today. Undoing them is critical to making public space in America truly public, and to ensuring that all Americans enjoy the basic human right to leisure and recreation.
Colin Kaepernick Is Righter Than You Know: The National Anthem Is a Celebration of Slavery
Before a preseason game on Friday, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” When he explained why, he only spoke about the present: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Twitter then went predictably nuts, with at least one 49ers fan burning Kaepernick’s jersey.
Almost no one seems to be aware that even if the U.S. were a perfect country today, it would be bizarre to expect African-American players to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Why? Because it literally celebrates the murder of African-Americans.
Few people know this because we only ever sing the first verse. But read the end of the third verse and you’ll see why “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not just a musical atrocity, it’s an intellectual and moral one, too:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“The Star-Spangled Banner,” Americans hazily remember, was written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. But we don’t ever talk about how the War of 1812 was a war of aggression that began with an attempt by the U.S. to grab Canada from the British Empire.
However, we’d wildly overestimated the strength of the U.S. military. By the time of the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814, the British had counterattacked and overrun Washington, D.C., setting fire to the White House.
And one of the key tactics behind the British military’s success was its active recruitment of American slaves. As a detailed 2014 article in Harper’s explains, the orders given to the Royal Navy’s Admiral Sir George Cockburn read:
Let the landings you make be more for the protection of the desertion of the Black Population than with a view to any other advantage. … The great point to be attained is the cordial Support of the Black population. With them properly armed & backed with 20,000 British Troops, Mr. Madison will be hurled from his throne.
Whole families found their way to the ships of the British, who accepted everyone and pledged no one would be given back to their “owners.” Adult men were trained to create a regiment called the Colonial Marines, who participated in many of the most important battles, including the August 1814 raid on Washington.
Then on the night of September 13, 1814, the British bombarded Fort McHenry. Key, seeing the fort’s flag the next morning, was inspired to write the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
So when Key penned “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” he was taking great satisfaction in the death of slaves who’d freed themselves. His perspective may have been affected by the fact he owned several slaves himself.
With that in mind, think again about the next two lines: “And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
The reality is that there were human beings fighting for freedom with incredible bravery during the War of 1812. However, “The Star-Spangled Banner” glorifies America’s “triumph” over them — and then turns that reality completely upside down, transforming their killers into the courageous freedom fighters.
After the U.S. and the British signed a peace treaty at the end of 1814, the U.S. government demanded the return of American “property,” which by that point numbered about 6,000 people. The British refused. Most of the 6,000 eventually settled in Canada, with some going to Trinidad, where their descendants are still known as “Merikins.”
Furthermore, if those leading the backlash against Kaepernick need more inspiration, they can get it from Francis Scott Key’s later life.
By 1833, Key was a district attorney for Washington, D.C. As described in a book called Snowstorm in August by former Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley, the police were notorious thieves, frequently stealing free blacks’ possessions with impunity. One night, one of the constables tried to attack a woman who escaped and ran away — until she fell off a bridge across the Potomac and drowned.
“There is neither mercy nor justice for colored people in this district,” an abolitionist paper wrote. “No fuss or stir was made about it. She was got out of the river, and was buried, and there the matter ended.”
Key was furious and indicted the newspaper for intending “to injure, oppress, aggrieve & vilify the good name, fame, credit & reputation of the Magistrates & constables of Washington County.”
You can decide for yourself whether there’s some connection between what happened 200 years ago and what Colin Kaepernick is angry about today. Maybe it’s all ancient, meaningless history. Or maybe it’s not, and Kaepernick is right, and we really need a new national anthem.
The white supremacist roots of the Republicans’ so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws