The Japanese Internment Camps were one of the worst civil rights violations in American history after the abolition of slavery, allowed by whom many consider one of the greatest American presidents. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only president to serve for more than two terms (he was re-elected three times) and he was immensely popular. Public racism against the Japanese was prevalent in that time, and most people supported the internment. Racism against certain groups of Asians have been around in America since Asian immigration first started in the 1870s, and it is still going on today in the form of the model minority myth. I am personally interested in this problem because of the lack of awareness and focus about it. Even though the internment camps happened only 76 years ago, I did not believe something that atrocious and racist would openly occur ever again, but recent events are proving me wrong. The election of Donald Trump and him and his follower’s many comments regarding blame towards Mexicans and his obviously racist statements are disturbing and many Americans voting for him reflects America’s own racism. In times like this, I believe it is important to study the Japanese Internment Camps, and I want to discover how the government was allowed to be openly racist. It will be interesting to know how anti-Japanese and anti-immigrant racism played a factor into what happened, and as I am both Asian and an immigrant, it matters a lot to me.
Here are three polls to see how other people experience racism. Click on the circle next to your choice to select it, then click vote. It will directly take you to the results page. If you do not want to vote but want to see the results then click the results button.
The problem began in the 1870s when Japanese immigration to America rose significantly. White workers were worried that Chinese laborers were “stealing” their jobs, and that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act, which effectively stopped Chinese immigration and forbade legal residents from becoming citizens (Yang). Japanese laborers were supposed to replace the Chinese labor, and Japanese immigrants quickly started creating their own businesses. However, after Japan won the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japan was established as a geopolitical rival to America. This led to local organizations creating anti-Japanese propaganda, and the House Committee of Immigration and Naturalization began to look into issues surrounding Japanese immigrants and whether they could assimilate, and concerns about Japanese morality arose (Blair).
World War II was the final frontier of the battle the United States waged against Japanese immigrants. The United States declared war on Japan shortly after the Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7, 1941. Two months later, President Franklin Roosevelt passed Executive Order 9066 which allowed military commanders to exclude certain people from designated military areas, and this led to the West Coast being declared a Japanese free zone (“Civil Rights – Japanese Americans”). Ten internment camps were created to contain the 120,000 Japanese detained. 62% of the Japanese interned were American citizens, and people that were only 1/16 Japanese were also taken away (Nittle). Most of the Japanese came from California, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington.
After American victory in World War II, opinions about the Japanese started changing. When the order was originally passed, the Supreme Court declared that it was legal, without too much discontent from Congress. However, in 1948, Harry Truman passed the law for reimbursement of lost property for the Japanese interned, which proved to be ineffective since it was difficult to prove lost property, but it was sign of changing opinions. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter ordered an investigation into the camps and declared that the true reason for the camps was racism, and in 1988 Congress gave 20,000 dollars to each person that was interned (“Civil Rights – Japanese Americans”).
There are different forms of this same problem in our current situation. Firstly, the idea of “yellow peril” still exists today. Many Americans fear “invasion” from Asians, and this leads to racist love and hate. When times are good, Asians are deemed as the model minority, but when times are bad such as in times of war or economic decline, Asians are blamed for the problems. An example of this is during the late 1800s and 1900s, with Americans hating the Chinese, while claiming the Japanese to be “good immigrants” in the 1870s. However, their roles switched around World War II, with Chinese people being appreciated while Japanese people were obviously mistrusted and hated. Time magazine even published an article explaining how to distinguish the difference between Chinese and Japanese people. However, their roles switched again during 1949 – 1950 with Mao and the Korean War causing Americans to dislike the Chinese (Yang). Currently, times are relatively well for America, so Asians are deemed as the model minority and shown love, but opinions can easily change and the same racism still exists.
Another form of this problem is the public opinion of Muslims in America. Many Japanese Americans see Donald Trump’s push for the Muslim ban and immigration policies to be extremely similar to the circumstances that led to the Japanese internment camps. Japanese American groups warned Americans to not single out Muslims after 9/11, and the Japanese American Citizens League worked with Arab American organizations to plan field trips to Manzanar and educate more people about the internment camps to prevent a similar terrible situation to happen to Muslims (Wilkens). A huge similarity is the blame and concern regarding Muslims. People fail to separate radical terrorism from regular Muslims, similarly to how people failed to separate Japanese Americans from the Japanese Empire’s aggression. This causes mistrust and mistreatment of subjected groups. Another similarity is the willingness of the government to support this unfair view. Similar to Executive Order 9066, Trump is proposing laws that are discriminatory such as his travel ban. Trump’s rhetoric and policies reveal that us Americans need to be careful about the passing of new laws and policies to make sure civil right violations or laws originated from racism do not occur.
(Arab American National Museum)
What Can We Do?
There are many different ways to help improve this problem, but a complete solution is not easy to accomplish. Firstly, to prevent Muslims from being blamed for the actions of the few, we need to learn from history. Japanese American Citizens League worked with Arab American organizations to plan field trips to Manzanar and educate more people about the internment camps after 9/11 (Wilkens). More efforts like this are necessary to raise awareness about the problem and cause people to take a step back when blaming Muslims. Having state and local governments willing to protect Muslims is also crucial. One of the biggest problems that led to Japanese internment was the willingness of the local governments to comply with the Executive Order 9066 and not do anything about the discrimination Japanese Americans were facing. State and local governments can counteract racist laws that the federal government passes and an example of this had been Trump’s travel ban being sued by multiple states. Having a clearer legal definition of hate crime and more focus on preventing and punishing perpetrators can help minimize damage.
Solving yellow peril is extremely difficult. The first step is to raise awareness about this issue. Most people consider Asian Americans being labeled as the model minority to be a compliment and do not believe it is discriminatory and laced with racism. This problem can not be solved unless people realize the danger of the model minority label. It is important to not pit different minority groups against one another. Many people blame Black and Latino populations for their problems, citing the model minority myth as proof that they can improve their situations through hard work. However, this is a flawed argument and does not take into account the different situations different minority groups go through, and it also increases tensions between minorities too. On the flip side, many people say that Asians have it a lot “better” than other minorities so they should be pleased with their situation. This leads to them being silent about their struggles resulting in a lack of awareness. Comparing the situations of different minority groups and pitting them against one another has massive negative consequences for all minorities, and it is imperative to not do so. The media can play an important role in leading to increased awareness; the media has become a crucial platform for spreading information and garnering support. Recently, activists have been using the media as a medium to spread their ideas, and there has been an increase in the representation of minorities. However, Asians are still underrepresented, especially in the media, and having more representation can help lead to more awareness.
If you are interested in this issue, then check out this pdf that contains many poll results and statistics about discrimination against Asian Americans:
Make sure to be more aware of any assumptions you make about people based on their race. These assumptions are harmful and contribute to racism in America.
Thanks for taking the time to look through my webpage. This is a space where anyone is free to comment, reflect, pose questions and upload pictures.
Arab American National Museum, “Professor Kurashige On The Yellow Peril & Model Minority
Stereotypes Of Asians In The U.S.” YouTube, 9 Mar. 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time _con tinue=10&v=LOB0VCCEUa4
Blair, Doug. “The 1920 Anti-Japanese Crusade and Congressional Hearings.” 1920
Anti-Japanese Crusade, depts.washington.edu/civilr/Japanese_restriction.htm.
“Civil Rights – Japanese Americans.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, Sept. 2007,
Nittle, Nadra Kareem. “The Effects of Racism During World War II.” ThoughtCo, 19 June 2017,
“Timeline 1800’s-1900’s .” Workingmen’s Benevolent Association,
“UWSSLEC LibGuides: World War Two: The War on the American Homefront: Japanese Internment
Camps.” World War Two: The War on the American Homefront – UWSSLEC LibGuides at University of Wisconsin System School Library Education Consortium, 3 Dec. 2015, uwsslec.libguides.com/c.php?g=416691&p=2859468.
Wilkens, John. “Some Hear Echoes of Japanese Internment in Trump’s Immigration
Plans.”Sandiegouniontribune.com, 19 Feb. 2017, www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/local- history/sd-me-internment-order-20170215-story.html.
Yang, Tim. The Malleable Yet Undying Nature of the Yellow Peri. Darthmouth,