Japanese American Support for Racial Justice

with David Inoue of the Japanese American Citizens League

During World War II, nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were forced to leave their homes and live in internment camps.

David Inoue, Executive Director of the Japanese American Citizens League, discusses with host Tetiana Anderson the parallels between Japanese American history and current advocacy efforts for racial justice.

Posted on:

April 30, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: The movement for racial justice was fueled by some pretty unforgettable incidents in 2020, from the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans to the anti-Asian violence and discrimination ignited by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. While discrimination is felt by many minority populations, there are connective threads and some systemic and historical comparisons to be made between Black Americans and Japanese Americans. And joining me to talk about all of this is David Inoue. He is the executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League. And, David, thanks for being here.

Inoue: Thank you for having me here, Tetiana.

Anderson: So, Japanese Americans are really familiar with this idea of reparations. It stemmed from internment. Explain to our viewers what was going on in the early 1940s that really led to this redress by the U.S. government.

Inoue: So, unfortunately, a lot of people don't know the story of what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II. But in the wake of Pearl Harbor, the government made the faulty case that Japanese Americans were a security threat and rounded up close to 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry and placed them into concentration camps throughout the United States.

Anderson: So, there are a lot of similarities, obviously, between what Japanese Americans went through, what Black Americans are going through when it comes to righting wrongs. What are some of those parallels? Are there similarities, are there differences, in your mind?

Inoue: I would actually say it's not so much a parallel, but a continuation. That the story of what happened to Japanese Americans is actually just one of many stories of racism that this country, our government has perpetrated against minority communities. It goes back to the forced removal of Native Americans from their lands, continuing through and concurrent to the enslavement of Black people in this country. Then we have the Chinese Exclusion Acts in the late 1800s, which then, obviously, that same xenophobia and racism led to the Japanese American incarceration. And it continued on after that, as well. We had the Jim Crow laws after -- throughout even our recent history. And today we see it again with anti-Black police brutality and also the similar xenophobia and racism that manifests itself in the anti-Asian racism today and also against immigrant communities at the border with family detention and family separation.

Anderson: So, I want to talk a little bit about the idea that reparations for Black Americans, for Native Americans have not been successful the same way that they have for Japanese Americans. Is there sort of a checklist of what makes this work? What have you found?

Inoue: Well, I think that's where the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, the CWIRC, is so important, in that that actually did the study of what should reparations look like for the Japanese American community, who should be given reparations, how much those -- that redress should be as far as a dollar amount, but what are other forms that redress was able to take that it wasn't necessarily just the money? Obviously, an apology from the president was very important to many of the people who had been incarcerated. But also important was, for example, the education fund to help people to understand the impact of what incarceration had done. But it's to emphasize that redress was not just one thing, that it also took many different forms. And that's what the commission sort of figured out for us.

Anderson: There is an actual push towards reparations happening for Black Americans. It's happening in the state of California. Legislation passed in 2021 to sort of look at that and study what that would mean. In your mind, do you think that this move is going to actually lead to real reparations?

Inoue: Well, I think what's great about having all those local and state initiatives is that those are sort of serving as a laboratory to look at what might work for reparations. What can a program look like? How might it actually help people to right this wrong? That is actually what the commission would do. It would look at what are some of these possible solutions and then to actually come up with some sort of a national plan through Congress to determine what can we do as a nation. And that's what we really need to do as a country to actually grapple with this wrong that we have committed as a country.

Anderson: And finally, if reparations worked for Japanese Americans, should other minority groups who are looking to achieve the same thing look to that and be heartened that it can actually happen for them, too?

Inoue: Absolutely. I think that's the most important thing, that our government does have the capacity to apologize and make right what was wrong at one time. This is something that obviously does not come easy. It did not come easy for our community. But it's something that we all need to work together for. It's something that we as a nation need to recognize that we have committed wrongs and we need to do something to make those right.

Anderson: And, David, if people want to find out more about the work that you're doing, where can they go? What's the website?

Inoue: Our website is jacl.org.

Anderson: David Inoue, executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League, thanks for being here.

Inoue: Thank you, Tetiana.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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