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When Justice Failed

Today’s Google Doodle honors Fred Korematsu, an American civil rights activist who objected to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. As a child in elementary school, I read When Justice Failed: The Fred Korematsu Story as required summer reading, and it changed my life. It was the first time I had heard about Japanese Internment. This book shaped my broader interest in social policy, especially in regards to how immigrants and first-generation Americans are viewed.

Being Assyrian-American, I have never felt I quite fit in; not with white Americans or with other brown people. Quite frankly, I fly under the radar and can “blend in” a lot more than many of my Asian, other Middle Eastern, Latino or Black friends, simply because of my physical appearance. But as a child of immigrants, I have always been conscious of the fact that–while I love my country and am an American patriot–others do not view me as American. This has been reinforced time and time again thanks to the wonders of the internet, where people have told me to “go back home” or “go back to your hooker country” (I don’t even know what that one means). These interactions have happened on the comments of this blog as well as on Twitter. And the funniest part to me is that, technically, I am considered “White” (thanks for the privilege, US Census!), and I legitimately don’t look that different from Americans whose families have been in this country for a few more generations than mine. This is how I know first-hand that racism is not limited to skin color. It is not based in fact or truth about who other people actually are. Racism is taught and learned behavior. It is an attitude that promotes fear of the other.

For those who are saying that President Trump’s Executive Order temporarily banning immigration from specific countries is not racist, or who disagree that it is dangerous, I implore you to read about how Japanese-Americans were treated in the US. All this while Jews, gypsies, Poles, Slavs, and people with disabilities (to name a few) were being rounded up and executed en masse by Nazis in Europe. I encourage everyone to read Mr. Korematsu’s amazing story, and about the stain this tragedy left on the American story. Less literary, I recommend watching “The Siege” with Denzel Washington, Annette Benning, and Bruce Willis. The eerie part is that it was made before September 11.

I want to say that the response to President Trump’s policy agenda is not a bunch of leftist sore losers. This is not hysteria. This is genuine fear of known, fairly recent history repeating itself. It can happen here unless we stop it. And the most selfish reason it is so important for me to personally stand and speak against these actions, to condemn them as racist, and to give voice to those harmed is that I know if I do not stand for them now, there will be no one to stand for me later.

I will leave you with Luthern Pastor Martin Niemöller‘s poem in response to indifference to discrimination in Nazi Germany:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

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