Alan Lai, Ed.D, from North Vancouver, BC, wrote to remind us that on February 19, 1942, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Execute Order 9066 to send ethnic groups to internment camps. About 120,000 Americans of Japanese heritage, 3,000 of Italian, and 11,000 of German heritage were interned.
The Canadian government followed the lead of Americans and passed the War Measures Act on Feb. 24, 1942, specifically targeting Japanese Canadians. Ian Mackenzie, the Canadian MP representing British Columbia said then, “It is the government’s plan to get these people out of B.C. as fast as possible. It is my personal intention, as long as I remain in public life, to see they never come back here. Let our slogan be for British Columbia: “No Japs from the Rockies to the seas.”
Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder was severely criticized by many as going too far when he called the U.S. a “nation of cowards” saying it would drive race relations in the wrong direction.
In his speech, Holder urged people of all races to use Black History Month as a chance for honest discussion of racial maters, including issues of health care, education and economic disparities. “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”
How far is too far? Racism is not, as many seem to think, a matter of “how far” you go.
After all, “too far” is defined by each person differently. “Too far” may not seem far at all when an American or Canadian of Japanese heritage simply leaves one’s neighborhood suddenly, but it is certainly “too far” if you are the person “moved out,” losing home, business, position and respect.
How far is “too far?” when one makes a joke? When one is objectified and ridiculed by a joke?
Rather than measuring by some ever-changing, imaginary line (the debate about whether one “crosses” a line or not), why not go deeper, to the core of human individual and communal sin. I am (we are) racist, sexist, classist…and more. Recognizing the root of fear of the other, self-protection and self-aggrandizement may help us repent rather than excuse ourselves. Then we can turn to the cross rather than being concerned only if one sees us cross a line.
Yes, times have changed since 1942, and 1968, but systemic sin manages to emerge again and again in subtle as well as blatant, marginalizing as well as malignant ways. And, yes, Sunday morning church is still one of the most segregated times of the week. Remembrance and historic repentance opens us to new possibilities of conversation, conversion, and community, no matter how far we’ve come. It is not too late to view again the significant speech on race by Barack Obama March 18, 2008 on the internet; click here.
We don’t have to stop thinking about these things at the end of Black History month. Let the conversation continue…or in some cases, begin.