A History of Shame

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During World War II, the American government rounded up anyone with even a whiff of Japanese heritage, over 100,000 people in all, and placed them in internment camps.

A majority of these people were American citizens.

Many of the camps were on Native American reservations, because America loves nothing if not irony. Which is why, a few years later, Americans were “horrified” to find that Germany was rounding up Jewish people and put them into camps at the same time we were playing fast-and-loose with the rights of Japanese-Americans.

Families were forcibly removed from their homes. They were placed in facilities without plumbing or heat, and shot at if they moved beyond the barbed wire.

Everything was done under the banner of “protection.”

Today, we look upon the actions of our past with embarrassment, asking “How could society have been so cruel?” and thumping our chests while proclaiming “This could never happen today!”

We wonder how Americans could have been such ignorant, fear-driven monsters.

And yet, here we are. Modern day internet warriors shouting “Close the borders!” as the Syrian war displaces hundreds of thousands of men, women, and most heartbreakingly, children.

I compare the two situations because both are rooted in racism, and fear.

As a parent, I understand fear. The thought of something awful happening to my kids makes me sick to my stomach. The thing is, as a father and a human, I would rather be defined by compassion and reason, not fear.

Fear screams, “A terrorist could sneak in with the refugees!”

Logic reminds, “You get in a car with your child every day. Statistically, you stand a fair chance of being injured or killed in an auto accident, while the odds of dying in a terrorist attack are slim-to-none.”

The problem is that not everyone uses logic, or even has the ability to. After I posted the blurb about World War II on social media, one person commented, “Yeah, and it worked! There weren’t any attacks in the lower 48 states after we did that!”

By that reasoning, I wore red underpants today and the world didn’t end. Now I have to wear red underpants every day to keep saving the planet.

People wept when the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed ashore on a Turkish beach. But they didn’t act. With access to horrible events 24-7, it’s easy to feel horrible for a moment, and then go on with your day. Unfortunately, after the Paris attacks, America looks primed to act, but in the wrong way. Empathy seems to have dissipated and has been replaced by both fear, and fear’s driving force, anger.

The anger shown toward people in need is a mix of overt and unconscious xenophobia. Overt, because there are those who celebrate differences in religion and skin tone. Unconscious, because some people do have decent enough hearts, yet are still bombarded by non-stop media images of bearded men with threatening eyes. It is enough to give them pause when the desire to do right creeps into their thoughts.

Given all the anti-humanity rhetoric being tossed about under a banner of “protection,” how many years from now will we look back upon the Syrian refugee crisis in shame?  Will it be our children or our grandchildren who wonder how we could have been such ignorant, fear-driven, xenophobic and hateful people, doing our best to deny families and children the chance at not just a better life, but life itself?

Why stop now? Read on...

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