One of the fascinating aspects of blogging to me is the way discussion threads can pick up and continue months (or more than a year, in this case) after the original post and thread were generated. Such is the case with my post from March, 2009, taking AM talk jock Dennis Prager to task for stating that racism played no role in the incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent during WWII. I’ve had two recent comments to the post (which already has received more comments than most posts to my humble blog typically do) in as many months. The latest comment came in last week: I’ve included it below.
As it turns out, Mr. P was on the radio again today as it happens, stating that anti-Hispanic racism in America, in his experience, simply doesn’t exist. My only conclusion is that his experience with American Hispanics is limited, at best. True story: years ago when we moved into our new house my wife called the Chula Vista Penny’s to see about having a salesperson come out to the house to give us a bid on draperies we needed installed. The clerk asked her what her name was: Jeanne Luna. The clerk was silent for a moment, then proceeded to tell my wife how expensive window treatments could be and asked several times did she think she could actually afford them. The clerk refused to make an appointment to send someone out to our house at that point, telling my wife to call back when she had thought about it more. My wife was puzzled by the treatment until she connected the dots. Last name “Luna.” Calling from the Southbay. Lightbulb goes on. The clerk thought my wife must have been a Latina. (What else could a person in San Diego named “Luna” be? Oh, that’s right. Italian, in this case.) Therefore she must be poor. (What else would a Latina be? Oh, that’s right, maybe middle class.) My wife got really steamed, not at being confused with being Latina but with the treatment she got—or any person would have gotten–for being presumed to be a Latina. She called the Penny’s manager, described the situation and got a vigorous apology and an offer of compensation for her treatment—discount coupons. She thanked him but declined. Penny’s lost our business that day. That, Mr. Prager, was anti-Hispanic racism in practice. Perhaps if Dennis’ last name was Martinez he would have a broader depth of experience on this matter. But I digress.)
My point in my post was not that Prager was wrong in his macro-assertion that the US is one of the least racist countries in human history. Indeed, given the amount of racial diversity in America, the ability of this country to surmount its racial divisions is perhaps unmatched by any other society in the modern age. My beef was (and is) that, in denying the role of racism in the treatment of Japanese Americans, Prager basically was saying (and keeps saying) that there is no real racism in America at all. That argument does a gross injustice to those who have experienced real racism in American history, who continue to experience the consequences of racism today, and who have struggled and sacrificed past and present to eliminate racism from American society. JB, who posted her comment below, apparently agrees:
To accurately participate in this dialogue, I must tell you a story — a true story:
My father, a very young white male, marched out of Indiana and into Europe in August of 1944 — in October of 1944, he was surrounded in the Vosges Mountains of Eastern France. Trapped for almost a week, they had run out of ALL supplies and their situation was desperate. Several prior unsuccessful attempts at rescue had failed when the men of the 442nd “Go For Broke” Regiment were sent in to rescue them. These men refused to give up until they had successfully rescued my father and 210 other men — it took almost a week of vicious fighting, some of it hand-to-hand, in bitter winter weather —- their casualties (KIA and wounded) would surpass the number of men they rescued. They accomplished what two other units of “white” soldiers had not been able to achieve —– why —- because they refused to give-up until their mission was completed —- because as one veteran told me: “They were fellow American soldiers and we were their last hope” Another 442nd Veteran told me that as they walked up into the mountains to rescue my Dad, they passed other soldiers walking down from the mountain who told them: “Don’t go up there — you will get killed” But, they marched on and because of their stoic dedication and bravery, my sister and I were able to know and love our Dad —- we still carry memories of him in our hearts —- memories that would not have been but for the bravery of the 442nd. The enormity of the gift that these men gave to our family still resonates some 65 years later. The moral of this story is this: Many of the men of the 442nd that rescued my Dad came from the concentration camps that you are discussing — yes — concentration camps — let’s call them what they were — it is important to do that — let’s not sanitize the word — they walked out of those camps to serve the very country that had turned it’s back on them. Shame. Shame. Shame on us and thank God for them. Today, these same men speak very little of their experiences — (they are dedicated to remembering those friends they left behind laying under the marble crosses in the Military Cemeteries in Europe) — these men came home, reclaimed their families from the afore-mentioned concentration camps, surveyed what little property and businesses they had left, and set about rebuilding their lives — over the past 65 years, their contributions to this country have continued as they have served all of us as lawyers, doctors, businessmen, farmers, teachers, artists, and, politicians and, above all esle, loyal American citizens —- the latter the title is the one that they covet above all else — they raised families without a hint or moment of bitterness — their stories left untold until just recently — stories that are difficult to tell and even more difficult to absorb —- such gallant men — so gentle — so honorable —- could we have done the same — would we have served so well? Let’s not devalue their contributions to this nation by sanitizing the words we use to discuss their situation — they were racially discriminated against — Period —— but, as a community they can teach us all a lesson in humility and loyalty — that is, for those of us willing to listen ——- Are you listening, Mr. Nolan —– Mr. Prager ???
I thank JB for her personal story. And I must ask, are you listening, Mr. Prager? Or the Pragerites who commented on this post?