When immigrants poured into America in the early 1900s, the Irish, Greeks and Italians were among those who were blamed for stealing jobs, breaking union strikes and overcrowding America with “undesirables.” Political cartoons and help-wanted signs from the era showcase the accepted racism toward these immigrants, who were often looped in with drunkards in the “need not apply” category of job listings. We look back at that time and shake our heads, because now we know better.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, America found yet another scapegoat in Japanese Americans, who were then thrown into internment camps as a result of Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. Long after they were released in 1945 — set to return to homes and farms that were sold off or destroyed in their absence — we can now look back with clarity to see how the action was an atrocious civil rights violation. Because now, we know better.
Equality for African Americans remains an ongoing discussion in American society, but the historic civil rights movement that began in the mid-1950s reflected a time of bringing awareness to the brutality, hatred and ugliness toward black people that has strained race relations in some form or another to this day. When it comes to scapegoats, African Americans have time and again been dealt a bad hand. As we move forward as a country, we can look back and see the unacceptable actions of the past paired with the ongoing hope that we as a society now know better.
After 9/11, even in the Tri-Valley, an area with a high density of Ph.Ds, firsthand stories emerged of witnessing racism against Muslims, such as people throwing French fries at a woman wearing a hijab while standing in line at the Pleasanton In-N-Out. That was one account of many. We will never forget that tragic day, but we’ve recognized the scapegoating of Americans affiliated with a religion to be wrong. As a country that prides itself in many things — of them, religious freedom — we should have known better.
And yet here we are in 2020, when our vision should be more clear than it’s ever been, and there are reports of Asian Americans experiencing harassment as the new scapegoats of the coronavirus. People are being told to “go back to China,” while the Anti-Defamation League reports an alarming increase in incidents of harassment and threats toward those of Asian descent. Ignorant people do not represent the whole of a society that largely does not accept this kind of bigotry, but standing idly by is a form of complicity. Show up for one another, and refuse to ignore the kind of racism that has plagued us far longer than this virus. We are Americans. We have much to be proud of. And we know better.