I write to you today with a heavy heart following the malicious attack on the LGBTQ community in Orlando this past weekend. I send my condolences to the victims and their families, and support to anyone who feels unsafe or afraid in the aftermath of this horrific massacre. This includes members of the American Muslim community, who have already seen unwarranted backlash because of a single man. In this sad time, we need to remember to see each other as fellow humans and not just for the race, religion, sexual orientations, and gender identities we represent.
To help in this effort, we need to also stand up when people, especially leaders, use bigoted language. Just last week Donald Trump made headlines again for claiming that Gonzalo Curiel, the American-born federal judge presiding over the Trump University case, is biased against him. Why? Because, according to Trump, Curiel is “a ‘hater’ who was being unfair to him because the judge is ‘Hispanic,’ because he is ‘Mexican’ and because Trump is building a wall.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan condemned Trump’s verbiage, calling it “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” I agree with the Speaker. This is racist rhetoric that needs to be challenged.
These accusations are disturbingly reminiscent of another era of nationalistic racism. Eric L. Muller, professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and Densho Encyclopedia contributor, pointed this out in an incisive opinion piece. He wrote about how after Pearl Harbor, John DeWitt--then head of the Western Defense Command--argued that Americans with Japanese heritage maintained loyalty to Japan and were inherently the enemy:
“In the words of Lt. Gen. John DeWitt, the military leader who ordered the mass action, ‘racial affinities’ were ‘not severed by migration’ – the ‘Japanese race’ was simply ‘an enemy race.’ Yes, there were ‘second and third generation Japanese born on United States soil’ who were U.S. citizens, DeWitt allowed, but the ‘racial strains’ in them were ‘undiluted.’ Their race determined their allegiances, U.S. citizenship notwithstanding.”
DeWitt’s words and actions were major influences on public opinion and the presidential action that led to mass removal and incarceration. This history shows us that racist words can lead directly to oppression and violence against the populations they target.