On the 20th Anniversary of H.R. 442

By Gina Acebo Aug 08, 2008

by gacebo Forgive me… is all that you can say Years go by and still The words won’t come easily Like forgive me, forgive me – Tracy Chapman August 10th marks the 20th Anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 when legislation known as H.R. 442 provided an official apology and individual payments of $20,000 from the U.S. government to about 60,000 Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II. The legislation stated that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” Often described as a "watershed" moment in Asian American history, the words "Never Again" became a rally cry for many. But history, or more importantly, structural racism, enables institutions and individuals to say "never again, except in the case of…". … Ethnic Japanese that had been taken from their homes in Latin America, mostly from Peru, and were not covered in the reparations, regardless of whether, after the war, they remained in the United States, returned to Latin America, or were deported to Japan… … Arabs and Muslims caught in the post 9/11 dragnet that led to the disappearance, detainment, and deportation of hundreds of community members from coast to coast… … Mexicans and other people with out papers or documentation rounded up under the recent rampant raids and intimidation by ICE and the growing collaboration from local governments. The list of communities under attack could go on and on. The reality: the targeting, the exceptions, continue through increased punishment measures, the destruction of families, the dismantling of civil liberties, the investment and expansion of the prison industrial complex and the codified practices of state initiated violence and racial profiling all under the guise of "security." But the U.S. government exclaims, “Hey, don’t get your panties in a wad! We feel bad. We made a boo boo. We can make amends.” It appears that U.S. lawmakers make an attempt to say "I’m sorry" every few years to communities of color: 2008: Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kansas apologized to Native Americans for "the many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect; 2005: U.S. Senate apologized for failing to pass anti-lynching laws; 1993: U.S Senate passed a resolution apologizing for the "illegal overthrow" of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1893 (Better late than never, right?) Just last month the House passed a nonbinding (read: we feel really bad, but that’s about it) resolution as an apology to Black Americans for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow segregation laws. The resolution states that "African-Americans continue to suffer from the consequences of slavery and Jim Crow — long after both systems were formally abolished — through enormous damage and loss, both tangible and intangible, including the loss of human dignity and liberty, the frustration of careers and professional lives, and the long-term loss of income and opportunity,” and the House committed itself to stopping "the occurrence of human rights violations in the future." But isn’t ironic that this apology follows on the heals of yet another devastating policy like the recent Department of Justice’s guidelines making racial profiling not only an unwritten practice but an avowed policy of the FBI. Like the old proverb says: Beware of the man who will smile to your face while stabbing you in the back. Or as Patsy Cline sang, “Who’s sorry now?” Don’t get me wrong. I think acknowledging wrong doing and making apologies is important in a process for healing and change. But apologies and their intent, are not enough. If there’s one lesson to glean from today’s anniversary, words must be matched with action for racial justice. Just as the Act provided for a formal apology, it also had measures for restitution and the establishment of a public education fund to finance efforts to inform the public about the internment of such individuals so as to prevent the recurrence of any similar event. Now more than ever, we need to demand that addressing racial discrimination and bias must be matched with racially equitable results. Real results must invest and institutionalize for long term solutions that reverse the downward spiral of poverty and pathways to prison, that ensure fair employment and livable wages, that secure place of home, that commit to comprehensive healthcare and well-being. These actions, and many others to be created and put into motion, are what will make an apology stick.