Lessons of Racism from World War IISeptember 08, 2020
When people think of racism, they often think of prejudice against African Americans. And while that racism has existed for a long time and does still to this day, there was tremendous hatred toward the Japanese in America long before World War II.
Americans did not like the fact that the Chinese were arriving in droves from China and working as laborers. They feared that these workers would replace them and they wanted to maintain what they considered racial purity. Japanese descendants got lumped in with the Chinese based on their appearance, and they were all negatively referred to as “China Men.”
The Naturalization Act of 1870 kept the Japanese from participating in America’s legal and political systems. They were not allowed to vote or serve on juries. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 stopped migration from China and there were anti-Japanese movements all the way until World War II began. Then everything worsened. The bombing of Pearl Harbor happened and deepened the racism gap between Americans and the Japanese and this was particularly difficult for Japanese-Americans who considered America their home.
I briefly discuss this history and the prevalence of racism for one reason: to contrast it with the fondness that one American boy, Danny, had with best friend, a Japanese-American boy named Ito.
How could Danny share the talk he’d heard, the unavoidable gossip? It was waiting in ambush while shopping for groceries or standing in line for a bus, or in the queue for movie tickets on a Saturday night. Everyone declared they’d “kick the butts” of that miserable bunch of little “slant eyes,” who didn’t know how to make anything of good quality. You could see their stuff in the “penny, nickel, and dime stores.” It was mostly junk with a dash of eye-appeal color. Danny could not believe that his best friend in the world had now been diminished into being nothing but a “slant-eyed” yellow peril.
Danny and Ito shared everything from the time they were children, and Danny knew exactly what his best friend was capable of, and it had nothing to do with being miserable or useless. He was, in fact, brilliant, capable, caring, and honest. He was the opposite of what Americans viewed him to be. But because of the divide of racism he experienced, he and his family was interned… He went on to do great things; just as many other Japanese –Americans did.