Fred Korematsu (1919–2005)

Fred Korematsu (1919–2005)

Fred Korematsu was one of the many U.S.- and Canadian-born citizens of Japanese descent who were identified for relocation and internment during World War II. After being denied entry to serve in the U.S. military, Korematsu worked as a welder. In 1942, Roosevelt signed the executive order authorizing the detention and relocation to holding camps of Americans of Japanese heritage. Korematsu refused detainment. His case was the first to challenge the constitutionality of the federal government’s internment of Japanese Americans. He was convicted in 1944 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Japanese American incarceration was justified due to military necessity and was not motivated by racism.

In 1983 his conviction was overturned, and in addressing the court, Mr. Korematsu said, “According to the Supreme Court decision regarding my case, being an American citizen was not enough. They say you have to look like one, otherwise they say you can’t tell a difference between a loyal and a disloyal American. I thought that this decision was wrong and I still feel that way. As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing. That is if they look like the enemy of our country. Therefore, I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed, or color.”

Throughout his life, Korematsu continued his social justice work on behalf of others. He received numerous awards for his advocacy, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.

Source: liberties-fighter/

Colonizing geographical territories (and renaming them in colonial languages, and in relation to colonial powers—New York, New




Brunswick) Redrawing or establishing borders in colonized territories according to the interests of colonial powers Colonial impositions of language onto Indigenous peoples The promotion of a consumer lifestyle and the values of consumption, profit, and competition, and the peoples most often exploited in the production of consumed goods The exploitation of global labor for increasing Western corporations’ profits, and primarily for the West’s consumption Environmental polluting, extraction of resources, and ravaging of countries in the global south (and rural or non-White dominant areas of Canada and the United States) Multinational corporations increasing profits for shareholders through practices such as those listed above, resulting in the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer (White) hands Christian missionary work that endeavors to bring Christianity to “Third World” and Indigenous peoples and simultaneously brings White supremacy

STOP: Remember, White supremacy does not refer to individual White people per se and their individual intentions, but to a political–economic social order based on the historical and current accumulation of structural power that privileges White people as a group.

Let’s take one of the examples above to map out how White supremacy plays out: the partitioning of territories in accordance to Colonial/White Western powers’ interests.

STOP: Notice if you feel disinterested in history other than that of your own nation-state, and believe that this history is irrelevant to you. In the global context, Whiteness reduces our cultural tolerance for (and thus understanding of) alternative historical accounts. Understanding these alternative accounts is necessary for challenging White supremacy.

World War I brought an end to what was then known as the Ottoman Empire. The allies divided the territories of the Ottoman Empire primarily into the British and French mandates (contracts to govern). The British mandate included Mesopotamia—what is known today as Iraq and Palestine, and the French mandate included what is known today as




Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. The relevance of this history of British and French rule is that the dynamics of the partitioning and creation of these territories set in motion a whole series of political struggles, debates, and tensions that continue today. And of course British and French interests were not simply to be a stabilizing force; they included political, economic, and ideological investments in how these territories were divided and governed.

Now consider a very simplified historical overview of how these divisions played out in the example of Iraq. Almost overnight, the people of Iraq were governed by a foreign power who had no real knowledge or understanding of their culture, history, or ethnic relations. Britain imposed a monarchy and rule by class elites that did not take the various ethnic and cultural dynamics of the territory into consideration. Many of the ethnic groups within Iraq (such as the Shiites and the Kurds) rose up in resistance and attempted to gain their independence. But Britain, which was dependent on oil from Iraq, suppressed these attempts and the monarchic power structure lasted for much of the 20th century, until it was overthrown by the national army in 1958. In many ways, the Baath party (which Saddam Hussein eventually took over) was tied to this struggle for independence from colonial rule.

One of the ways in which White supremacy circulates is by obscuring, negating, rewriting, or reducing to folklore the histories of colonized peoples (who are almost always peoples of Color). When there is a gap in historical knowledge and perspective, that gap is filled by the dominant discourse (story) of how things came to be, or why a certain region or people are violent and seemingly endlessly at war. White supremacy circulates in how we explain these conditions, for example, that some cultures are uncivilized (in contrast to the White West) or lack a civilizing religion (in contrast to the Christianity of the White West) or are genetically predisposed to violence (in contrast to White people of the West). All of these explanations hide White complicity in establishing the conditions of violence we see outside the West. They rationalize the need for “civilized” people to take control, bring order, and properly use and distribute the resources of the territory, while simultaneously reinforcing White culture as superior.

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