We like to have a fairy-tale image of how great America is. Anyone who points out our sordid past is deemed un-American and unpatriotic. However, let’s face our history and try to forge a future that is not full of hate and discrimination. This country was founded on the decimation of the Native American. White Europeans killed an estimated 55 million Native Americans through disease and violence. Peaceful Cherokee and other Southeastern tribes were driven from their lands and moved to Indian Territory. White settlers took Cherokee Farms and used them as slave plantations. Approximately 4,000 Cherokee died on the Trail of Tears.
I point out this brief history of discrimination against the Cherokee Tribe, because the shooting of eight people, six of whom were Asian women, occurred in part in Cherokee County, Georgia. It seems sadly ironic that the killing of Asian women occurred in a county named after the Cherokee Tribe that was moved off its land at bayonet point by the order of President Andrew Jackson, who moved 46,000 Native Americans off their land opening up 25 million acres to white settlement and slavery.
Racism and discrimination against Native Americans continues, as many Native Americans lack basic necessities that we take for granted, such as electricity, running water and decent roads. I recently visited the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and most of my trip was on dirt roads, passing homes without electricity or running water.
We know our history of slavery, but what many do not realize is that an estimated 6 to 150 million Africans lost their lives during the slave trade. Yes, slaves had a 50% mortality rate, and millions died on the middle passage aboard slave ships, but what many scholars do not count is the number of Africans who died in wars related to slavery, died in the march to slave forts and died in the slave forts. An estimated 60 million Africans died on the continent between 1500 to 1900 as a result of the slave trade.
Many may think that the current discrimination against and attacks on Asian Americans is a recent phenomenon due in part to former President Trump calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” and yes, his remarks probably account for their recent increase. But this country also has a rich history of discrimination against Asian Americans. Chinese workers were brought here to work in agriculture, mines, and factories, and to build our railroads. Chinese labor was cheap and easily exploited. This led to resentment by white European immigrants who wanted higher wages than the Chinese were forced to accept. As a result, California passed a series of laws to prevent migration, to restrict Chinese businesses and to prevent Chinese Americans from owning land. The federal government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which limited immigration from China to stop the flow of cheap labor. The Chinese Exclusion Act ended in 1943, when it was thought to be politically impolite to discriminate against our World War II ally.
During the war, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the internment of Japanese Americans. It was felt that second- and third-generation Japanese Americans were the enemy. The result was the incarceration of Japanese Americans, whose property was stripped from them. Thousands died in these internment camps. Meanwhile, Japanese Americans fought in World War II in the famous 442 Regiment. Like Black Americans, the Japanese were discriminated against at home, though bled and died for their country.
What I find refreshing in current times is that many Asian Americans feel they should have been more supportive during the Black Lives Matter movement, as they now face white extremism. Also refreshing is that decent Americans are protesting the unwarranted racist attacks on Asian Americans. I believe our country’s long, sordid history of racism and discrimination will someday come to an end, as more people of conscience of all races and ages speak out and demand a future based on the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence – we are all created equal.