Nothing in life is guaranteed, but there is one thing that we all expect to receive throughout our lifetime. Every human demands to be treated equally in the same manner as the person next to them. This general consensus of modern day was not the norm throughout the history of America. No matter how much we try not to look back upon our obtuse behavior towards particular ethnic groups, what took place cannot be undone. The only positive effect that can be derived from the past is to learn from these mistakes. Less than a century after abolishing what had become a two hundred year old practice of enslaving African Americans, the “Land of the Free” again displayed its disregard for human equality as Japanese Americans were stripped of their every belonging and sent to internment camps during World War II.
The enslavement of African Americans began during a time when the United States was a budding country in the need for cheap labor. In response to this necessity, slave traders would go to various regions within Africa to hunt for the residents who they would then capture and sell. It is mind-blowing to imagine an entire family being taken from their home in chains, only to then be separated never to see one another again. These Africans were not only robbed of their family and home but also their freedom and right to live their own lives.
Upon their arrival to America, along with the new title of African Americans, came a new life of cruelty and inhumanity. Their self-respect was the first thing to be disposed of as they were assigned a monetary value when auctioned off like prize cattle. In Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, the author describes the sale of her uncle with, “Though only ten years old, seven hundred and twenty dollars was paid for him.” This was only the beginning of the slaveholders’ attempt to confiscate any remnant piece of dignity so that the slaves could be more easily oppressed.
Slaveholders recognized the potential that knowledge created within a person and thus, kept their slaves as ignorant as possible. Because literacy was not allowed by any means, slaves were deprived of the celebrated joy of a birthday. Douglass describes in Narrative of the Life of an American Slave, slaves’ inability to know their own birthday because there were no authentic records considering nobody was able to read or write. The most accurate description a slave had in regards to his birthday was whether it was during “planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time or fall-time.” Sadly, the best estimate Douglass could give to his own age was somewhere in the range of nine years. He compares a slave’s knowledge of birthdays with that of horses when he wrote, “By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs.” Not only were slaves held in comparison to animals in regards to knowledge, they were often physically abused just the same.
Disturbing as it sounds, African American slaves were considered by slaveholders to be no more than animals. This new life of slavery began when they were “captured” from their homeland by the hunters. Using the term “captured” seems surreal when referring to a human beings in comparison to its normal context of describing wild animals. While on the auction block, slaves were at times kept in a cage like a dog would be kept in a kennel. Potential buyers would poke and prod at the caged humans admiring the physical attributes of what would become their own human workhorse. Similarly to a jockey and his racehorse, if a slave did not perform his duties in a manner satisfactory to the slaveholder, the slave would be whipped. This brutal punishment was used as a form of encouragement for the slave to work harder or faster to avoid the painful lashes to his back. Just as some farmers separate a mother from its offspring, slaveholders would take a slave child away from his or her mother before it reached one year of age. Douglass expressed his uncertainty to why slaveholders would perform this practice but he speculated that it might have been to hinder or destroy any type of emotion that the child or mother would have for one another. Slaves could never expect to receive any sort of the liberties and rights, which were customary to their white counterparts because slaves were regarded as being nothing more than mere property.
Over time, slavery managed to separate the nation into two opposing forces. The South was in favor of maintaining the enslavement of African Americans while the North argued for its riddance. After over two hundred years of this atrocious mistreatment, President Lincoln finally put an end to slavery in 1865. With the 13th Amendment, slavery was prohibited from taking place in the United States.
Given the fact that as times change, perspectives change as well, people should acknowledge and appreciate the notion of human equality after such a monstrous act as slavery. All humans no matter what ethnicity or religion or shoe size for that matter should be treated and viewed in the same way as the next person. Despite over eighty years of time given to reflect upon the indecency performed against African Americans, a different group was now to be alienated.
With the Japanese surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, it was the Japanese Americans who became persecuted. The attack on Pearl Harbor is an event embedded in the history of the United States as it caught the entire nation off guard. In a state of shock, the nation became uneasy and paranoid of any spies that may have been within its own borders. Thus, despite already being established and successful citizens, Japanese Americans came under great suspicion. The government reasoned that the only way to monitor this ethnic group was to organize them all together in concentrated areas. Under the order of President Roosevelt, over 110,000 innocent citizens living on the West Coast were stripped of everything that they had worked so hard for.
With only what they could carry, the Japanese Americans were taken from their homes and relocated to ten internment camps. These camps were nothing more than upgraded prisons in the form of paper barracks surrounded by barbed wire. This was a humiliating way of life for anybody to live but especially so for the Japanese Americans, considering they committed no crime or offense that would justify this treatment. After four years of this unjustified and malice lifestyle, the inhabitants were granted their freedom to return home. Unfortunately, the story does not end happily ever after once they were allowed to leave the camps.
By leaving their homes and belongings four years prior, the Japanese Americans gave up whatever they left behind. Upon their release from the internment camps, they returned to nothing, as it was all lost. As a way of reverence, the United States government granted 10% of everything that was lost due to the relocation. On top of such a generous consolation, the Japanese Americans were also awarded a wait time of over forty years to hear the government recognize their fault in violating their own constitutional rights.
Everyone has at one time or another felt the frustration and anger from being dealt with unfairly. Especially in a country that proclaims freedom for everyone and justice for all, there is no excuse why a particular group should be treated any differently from another set of people. From the two occurrences of slavery and relocation to internment camps, we as Americans have displayed our ineptness to recognize and prohibit such malicious behavior. The only possible reconciliation we can provide as a country is to commit ourselves to human equality for all.