For too long, Asian Americans have been used as a wedge between the nation’s White majority and other peoples of color, and that was unfortunately true again in the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action for Black and Hispanic/Latino college admissions.
Starting in the 1960s, the myth that Japanese Americans were a “Model Minority” was used against Black people demanding equal treatment under the law. If Japanese Americans could rise above their unjust incarceration during World War II and later attain professional success and societal acceptance, then why couldn’t Black Americans?
Students of history, however, know it was never that simple. Structural barriers kept Black people from reaching true equality. Many of those barriers remain today. Our foundation has been immersed in these issues since its creation, and our leadership knows that the court majority’s desire to declare a color-blind America is naïve, premature and counterproductive.
Race has always mattered in America. It led to the enslavement of millions of people from Africa. It forced 125,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and into camps based solely on their appearance and ethnic origin.
We acknowledge this history at our annual Pilgrimage next week, as we open a new exhibit about the alliance between Black and Japanese Americans living in the J-Flats neighborhood of Los Angeles. Our exhibit examines how racism prevented Black and Asian Americans from living in certain neighborhoods, obtaining insurance and federal assistance because of the colors of their skin. We view the court’s decision as another sad milepost on the long road to true equality.
We remain optimistic in the future and promise of America, whose people are innovative and caring and who will constantly struggle for justice despite attempts to slow progress. We vow to work with any group that aims to bring us together while recognizing our differences. The court’s decision, however, only makes that work more difficult.