January 9, 2016
We know our history, but that’s not enough.
As I see various reactions to things like Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, requiring American Muslims to register and wear ID tags, or the attempts of multiple mayors and governors to exclude Syrian refugees from residence in their cities and states, it’s common to see comparisons between the prejudices underlying those proposals and those that preceded events like the Japanese-American internment of World War 2, or America’s refusal of Jewish refugees from Europe.
These ideas are gaining traction again, it’s said, because Americans don’t know our history.
Takei’s remarks here are worth watching, but I disagree with his conclusions that the problem is that we don’t know this history.
Most everyone putting this stuff forward, or backing the politicians who do, I’m willing to bet, knows about the Japanese-American internment.
It’s just that they have some kind of reason or excuse for why it was justified. Why the human suffering was regrettable, but the reasoning for it was basically sound. Or why maybe it wasn’t right, but it was an understandable reaction. Or why it wasn’t really that bad. Why people were lucky to be in our concentration camps instead of German concentration camps. Or why what they’re advocating now wouldn’t be really, really the same thing.
Or on some level, they think that people who maintain that it was wrong then and it would be wrong now can’t really be serious. That they’re just saying what “everyone” else actually thinks but won’t admit.
I really suspect that leaders who promote these policies don’t fully get that those of us who object to them aren’t just trying not to look racist or sound politically correct–that we really think with deadly sincerity that the protections of the Constitution and ideals of equality before the law apply to everyone. That it is wrong, across the board, to single out a group for stigma or retribution based on their race, religion, or national origin. (Aside from that it has never made us safer.) Always. Not “unless they belong to a group that enough people are afraid of,” or “unless someone else who looked like them committed a high-profile crime,” or “unless their culture is one we don’t understand or approve of.”
I don’t think we don’t know our history. I think a lot of people just believe that their own prejudice is better. This time, their threat perception is accurate. This time, it’s truly necessary. This time, we know who the real wrong group of people is.