Americans behaving un-American

SUSAN K. SMITH | 7/8/2018, 12:52 a.m.
As the story evolves about children being separated from their parents on the southern border of this country, we hear ...

Crazy Faith Ministries

As the story evolves about children being separated from their parents on the southern border of this country, we hear over and over again that doing such is “un-American.”

I beg to differ. Separating families has been a major component of American history. Africans, Mexican immigrants, Native Americans and Japanese American families were ripped apart during different periods of American history.

During the proliferation of the slave trade, families were routinely separated. Heather Andrea Williams, in her book Help Me to Find My People, recounts the agonizing emotional turmoil suffered by enslaved Africans as slave traders bought, sold and traded them as property. In her book, she examines the emotional toll suffered and endured by those families, reminding readers that children were pulled from the arms of their mothers and husbands were separated from their wives and children. Enslaved Africans desperately sought to find their loved ones but were too often unsuccessful.

In the 19th century, white Americans began separating Native American families, waging a campaign that they hoped would force the Native Americans to assimilate into white culture. Children were stripped from their parents and were stripped of their language and culture. The Civilization Fund Act provided funds to organizations for the purpose of teaching Native American children “the habits and arts of civilization.” Capt. Richard Henry Pratt founded the first Indian boarding school in Pennsylvania, and coined the phrase, “Kill the Indian and save the man,” according to a CNN report.

During the Great Depression, great numbers of Mexicans and Mexican Americans were rounded up and forced to go back to Mexico. If children in Mexican families had been born in this country, they were American citizens and could, according to American law, stay in this country. But their parents had to go.

Some Japanese families were separated during World War II after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that forced them into internment camps.

The brutality of separating families has never gotten any less odious. The fact that so many public officials are voicing dismay and disapproval over what is happening is better than them being silent, but their statement that what is happening is “un-American” reveals a deep ignorance of American history, as it pertains to race.

White supremacists have used their power to destroy families for any number of reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is that they have successfully dehumanized people who are not white. Their cognitive dissonance has allowed them to operate in an emotional vacuum, believing that those whose families they destroy do not suffer, and in fact cannot suffer, because they are not fully human. As lawmakers have beseeched the administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to “think about how they would feel if it were their children,” the fact of the matter is that they cannot. White supremacy destroys the capacity of those infected with this diseased ideology to treat anyone other than white as human beings worthy of respect and dignity.

It would be better if this were the first time such separation of families had happened. That would mean that there had at least been a time when humane treatment of non-white people had been the American norm and might give hope that pressure being put on the administration and others to stop tearing these families apart would do some good.