'Forget about civil rights'

America’s history of dealing with ethnicities that are not exactly white Anglo-Saxon is pretty dismal. Think slavery. Think reservation. Think Nazis marching in Skokie.

The 19th century establishmentarian welcomes given to the Irish, Germans, Russians, Poles and other Eastern Europeans as they embarked upon their New World dreams were often something less than enthusiastic.

And in what was no doubt the lowlight of 20th century U.S.-sponsored discrimination, 110,000 people of Japanese descent — some 70,000 of whom were American-born citizens — were evacuated to internment camps shortly after Pearl Harbor. Most remained in the camps for the duration of World War II.

But America as the land of the prejudiced and the home of the bigot is now just deep, dark history, right?

Well, consider the words of Peter Kirsanow, a George W. Bush-appointed member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. At a hearing in Detroit in July 2002, Kirsanow cited the Japanese-American interment camps in suggesting that ethnic detention could be part of our future as well as our past.

Addressing Arab-American leaders who had complained that their rights had been repeatedly violated since 9/11, Kirsanow said that if there were a similar attack in this country, “Not too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions, more stops, more profiling. … There will be a groundswell of public opinion to banish civil rights.”

If there were more attacks, he told the hearing, “… and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights.”

Tom Schram is co-chair of the National Writers Union of Southeast Michigan. Send comments to [email protected]
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