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Is it just a Box? – by Michele Wages

Complexity of Diversity

As I rode the elevator, I overheard a conversation between two African American adults.  They were talking about one of their bosses and one said, “People who are not Black do not understand the prejudices and oppression we have gone through.”

As I left the elevator and walked into the doctor’s office, I was handed a clipboard with some required forms I needed to fill out.  One section caught my attention: Race.  It asked me to check a box.  I immediately thought about the conversation I just heard, and looked over my choices, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander.  I then thought about prejudices and oppression for each choice.

Caucasian

Jewish: Between January 31, 1933 and August 31, 1939, Germans, including Nazis created 1,448 laws, policies and decrees that resulted in the removal of Jewish people from everyday society.  In addition, between 1941 and 1945 the horrific mass murder of over six million Jewish men, women, and children (as well as millions of others including Romani people and intellectually disabled, dissidents and homosexuals) occurred at the hands of the German Nazi regime.

Italian: The U.S. has a long history of anti-Italian discrimination and one of the most violent occurred in 1891.  Bigoted sentiments surged as Italy entered the war on Germany’s side. This resulted in a mass lynching of 11 Italian Americans in New Orleans after being acquitted of murdering the city’s Police Chief.  During the investigation, 250 Italians were dragged into custody and 19 were charged.  When the verdict came in, over 10,000 people charged the courthouse, dragged the prisoners from their cells, lynched them and used them for target practice.

Irish: In 1847, British laws had deprived Ireland’s Catholics of their rights to worship, vote, speak their language and own land, horses, and guns. In addition, the main food staples were exported to England leaving most of the Irish people starving.  Forced to seek relief, the Irish herded like livestock into the dark, cramped quarters, of what came to be known as “coffin ships.” Because of the deplorable conditions, nearly a quarter of the 85,000 passengers who sailed to North America never reached their destinations. Their bodies were wrapped in cloths, weighed down with stones and tossed overboard to sleep forever on the bed of the ocean floor.

Asian

Japanese: Enforced with the Executive Order 9066 in 1942 (Internment of Japanese Americans) about 117,000 people—the majority of whom were American citizens of Japanese descent would be interred in isolated camps. Anyone who was at least 1/16th Japanese was evacuated, including 17,000 children under 10, as well as several thousand elderly and handicapped. They were taken to remote areas, often reconfigured fairgrounds and racetracks featuring buildings not meant for human habitation, like horse stalls or cow sheds, that had been converted for that purpose. Approximately 1,862 Japanese Americans died primarily from medical conditions due to the unhealthy and inadequate living conditions.

Chinese: The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which was passed on the intention of curbing the influx of Chinese Immigrants in the U.S., suspended Chinese immigration for ten years and declared Chinese immigrant’s ineligible for naturalization. President Chester A. Arthur signed it into law on May 6, 1882. Even the attempts made by Chinese Americans already in the country to challenge the constitutionality of the discriminatory acts met failure.

Asian/ Pacific Islander: Not only do hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Islanders exist, due to the COVID-19 Virus pandemic, they are dramatically increasing. Like one incident in 1989 where Jim Loo, a 24-year-old Asian Pacific Islander from Raleigh, North Carolina was brutally murdered by white men, screaming, “gook” and blaming him for the deaths of Americans in Viet Nam.  The biases related to the origin of the COVID virus has resulted in a reported 2,120 hate crimes against Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) within just the last 3 months of the outbreak.

Hispanic

As the Great Depression spiked, many including Mexican Americans feared about jobs and the economy. This resulted in the United States forcibly removing up to 2 million people of Mexican descent from the country of which, 60 percent were legal American citizens. As the stock market continued to tank and unemployment rates grew, Anglo-Americans accused Mexicans and other foreigners of stealing American jobs.

This caused incidents like that of 1931, where police officers grabbed Mexican Americans in the Los Angeles area, many of them U.S. citizens, shoved them into waiting vans and were driven to the border where they were forced to exit the vehicle and left. Immigration agents continued to block entrances into the country, arrested over 400 people, and then deported them to Mexico, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.  There are also many other incidences of forced/ illegal deportation.

In addition, the 1870’s also saw that Latino students attended separate “Mexican schools” throughout the southwest. This was rationalizing by the belief that Hispanics were inferior in personal hygiene, ability, and their economic priorities.

Native Americans

Although death numbers were not as high as during the Holocaust, the tremendous number of clashing differences between the U.S. government and the Native Americans led to another genocide. One that included over 1,500 wars, attacks, and raids between the two. By the late 19th century, fewer than 238,000 Indigenous people remained which was a minor fraction from the estimated 5 million to 15 million living in North America.

If that was not enough, their land was taken and most were forced onto reservations in which under the Indian Appropriations Act of 1851, they were not allowed to leave the property without permission. No consideration for tribe differences was even recognized. Feuding tribes were often thrown together and Indians who were once hunters struggled to become farmers. Starvation was common and living in close quarters hastened the spread of diseases.

Conclusion

Let me be clear, I am not saying that African Americans were not treated unfairly, nor am I saying any one race was treated better than another. I am also not suggesting that we should disown where we come from and our ancestry. What I am saying is that our history, regardless of race, is riddled with injustice, discrimination, hatred, and oppression.  But we are still here. Instead of focusing on the differences that each of us has endured, maybe we should acknowledge that we all have been damaged, disheartened and horribly mistreated at one point or another.

As for me and this form’s box:  For race, I choose other and on the blank line next to it I will write HUMAN.

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