Legacies of Racism (Part 1)

Let me start by saying that if at the current moment you are not threatened by the termination of DACA and thus deportation, it is your privilege that you can stand unharmed. DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an immigration policy implemented by the Obama administration that allows those who entered the United States without satisfying legal procedures as children to defer deportation for 2 years and become eligible for work permits. The law currently protects nearly 800,000 young adult immigrants from deportation. The United States has been benefitting from DACA during its implementation, as the application fee for DACA ranges from $495-$665 and provides the U.S. with a total income of at least $390 million. The Center for American Progress predicts that, when taking DACA participants’ contribution to GDP into account, the termination of the program would cost the U.S. more than $400 billion.

The terms “illegal immigrant” and “immigrant”—language often heard in conversations regarding DACA—refer to people who arrive in a foreign country with the aim of settling. These terms encompass  all the non-indigenous population of the United States as well, unless we believe that the U.S. was not inhabited by people before European colonists settled in this land, a claim of erasure which reproduces the massacre of the American Indigenous population. No justification other than racism that warrants the view of European immigration as beneficial and immigration by others as not. We must realize the hypocrisy and racism in the rhetoric which attacks immigrants for coming to a foreign country.

Racism is marginalization and hatred of a person or a group of people in accordance with artificially constructed categories, like skin color. This is not to say that having non-white friends lets white people off the hook; racism points to a systematic hatred rather than a personal one. This includes supporting or standing with such systems as well. For example, Michelle Alexander brings to light how the criminal justice system of the United States essentially replicates Jim Crow Laws with a different mask; what masquerades as justice is the institutionalization of racism. People of color are accused, indicted, convicted, and incarcerated for a plethora of crimes at disproportionately high rates in comparison to whites. Alexander notes in her book The New Jim Crow that rates of incarceration for the use or sale of illegal drugs are much higher for people of color compared to white people, despite glaring evidence that whites use illegal drugs at higher rates than people of color. The NAACP reports that “African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.” Once incarcerated, an individual is stripped of their rights, replicating the subjugation imposed by Jim Crow Laws. In our times of heightened racial awareness, ignorance is no excuse for the support of these systems. Being passive about racial injustices occurring with the knowledge of it is the same as perpetuating it: the system is racist, and so are you until you act against it.

Racism is not a single event or an occurrence; it exists in and as a perpetuated violence in our society, as Chrystos writes in the poem “I Walk in the History of my People”:
In the scars on my knee you can see children torn from their families
bludgeoned into government schools
You can see through the pins in my bones that we are prisoners of  a long war
Likewise, when figures who fought as Confederate generals for the right to own slaves are made into proud monuments, glorification is lent also to the atrocities of slavery. Atrocities of the past do not disappear; they are constantly re-enacted and re-created through actions and words.

I recognize that I myself am just as guilty as anyone. As a straight, Japanese male, I acknowledge that I am not the most qualified person to be talking what it means to be oppressed. I do not have trouble being issued a passport and a VISA to enter the states. I do not worry too much about getting stopped by the police. These are privileges that I have, whether I choose to or not, that not everyone shares. I have also grown up in this system of racial violence, and have dyed myself in accordance to the colors this system promotes. I recognize that in me, there exist prejudices, stereotypes, and “hatred” of which I may never be able to cleanse myself. I am, as I write, in the process of trying to wash off the paint of racism and learning what it means to be anti-racist.

As a Japanese person, while I have faced racism in the past, I am not the primary victim of racism in this country. What I have are merely scratches that I received where racism brushed past me. Yet, this scratch still aches my arm every time I move, breathe, live. I can only imagine the pain of people who have cuts and bruises, injuries never to disappear. As a reader and hearer of such voices in pain, I can listen and stand in solidarity. While I cannot speak in place of anyone other than myself, I and others who stand in solidarity can show that I stand for the same values that they uphold, and work together towards dismantling the violence of intersectional oppression. And this is something in which all of us can participate. Every single individual’s support counts in trying to uproot the forests of racism, and more broadly, intersectional oppression.

Finally, I wish to acknowledge the voices that have given me power to write this, and also provide a list of works for further research, as this is merely a scratch on the surface of what racism is.

Stacey-Ann Chin’s “If Only Out of Vanity” (a performance of this poem is on YouTube), “alternate names for black boys” by Danez Smith, and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” by W. E. B. Du Bois are just a few poems bookmarked on my browser which keep me going. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander is definitely a good read to understand structural, racial violence on people of color. And This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color is a collection of painfully powerful voices edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa.