If we are honest with ourselves, Americans will admit that we face a range of racisms that frankly boggles the mind. I suppose it’s not “Americans,” per se, I suppose it’s humans — but Americans are the humans among whom I live, among whom I raise my babies. It’s our racism with which I must grapple.
Asian Americans are our “model minority” today, stigmatized and locked into behavior and qualities that we claim to value, even as we reduce human beings in all their complexities to a check list of traits and expectations.
But in the 1940s things looked quite different. Japanese Americans — and often others, lumped together based on physical appearance — were such a threat that people felt the need to tear them from their homes and lock them away.
I don’t like to write about anti-Asian bigotry as if it began and ended with the internment of Japanese Americans, but those camps remain one of the greatest stains on our collective soul, a stain that I believe we are all too ready to forget.
Billy Bragg sings a song about those camps, something that you would think an Englishman would be unable to access, and sings it from the soul of someone else, almost, sings it from the dirt in which young men lay dead, in a war that engulfed a generation, even as some left mothers, fathers, wives and children back in internment camps in order to fight for the country that had put them there.
In this 2010 live version, Billy brings the song (by Barbra Griffin and Leah Cooney) up to date in his introduction, with his usual astute grasp of human nature and sneaky sense of humor. He’s a gift, this man, and in a week in which Americans are talking about the killing of brown boys, I think also of the other brown boys, and yellow boys, and red boys, and girls, and men, and women, and babies who we have killed in our ignorance. In their memory, I give you Billy Bragg, singing “Everywhere.”