After Trump

After Trump

Boston Review: A Political and Literary Forum

Christopher Petrella, Lecturer in the Humanities and the Associate Director of Equity and Diversity
Bates College, Lewiston, Maine

In November 2015 Donald Trump was asked on the campaign trail if he would require Muslim U.S. citizens to register with the Department of Homeland Security. “Absolutely,” Trump said, “they have to be.” Trump and his team had been mum on the issue until last week when a number of prominent surrogates and advisers—including incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Trump’s immigration adviser Kris Kobach—mused, seemingly as a test balloon, that the administration is “not going to rule out anything” and that a registry of Muslims entering the country would pass constitutional muster. One member of Trump’s team went as far as citing the 1942–45 internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II as a “precedent.” (Both statements were hedged with qualifications that made them no less worrisome.)

Since then, many commentators have roundly condemned the idea of a Muslim registry—not to mention citing the internment of Japanese-Americans as a precedent for anything except that which we must avoid repeating. Few have offered deeper historical examinations , though, that would suggest that the registration of Japanese-Americans and their subsequent movement to concentration camps were not really aberrations in American history. On the contrary, racial and ethnic registries and immigration quota systems have long been integral to America’s approach to regulating the freedom, movement, and rights of non-whites. Two pieces of legislation passed in the same year nearly a century ago—one federal, one in the state of Virginia—reflect the recurrent appeal in the United States of laws aimed at protecting the racial purity of whatever is indexed in a given moment as best representing American nationalism…

…In the same year as the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, the Commonwealth of Virginia passed its Racial Integrity Act, originally drafted as “A Bill for the Preservation of the White Race.” The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 explicitly forbade miscegenation—that is, “race mixing through marriage and fornication”—on the basis that such practices would “pollute [the nation] with mixed-blood offspring.”…

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