Speak Up! Stop Bystanding!

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The President of the United States is scapegoating our most vulnerable neighbors, inciting police brutality, and encouraging white supremacists.

Meanwhile he is loosening environmental regulations so profiteers can exacerbate global warming even while environmental catastrophes mount.

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We all must speak up to prevent our country from descending into civil war, genocide, and environmental devastation.

It’s time for each of us to do what we can, with what we have, to heal ourselves, each other, and our world.

If you are scared to speak out because you are not sure what to say, or you will make others uncomfortable, I urge you to speak out anyway.

Let go of needing to be perfect and liked. Just do it.

We all have someplace we can influence-our family, our workplace, our kids school, our house of worship, our elected officials.

Let them know what we believe in- and why- and why we will NEVER tolerate dehumanization of ANYONE.

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Recently I watched “And Then They Came for Us” a new documentary about Japanese internment. A few facts presented in the film really struck me.

1) Dehumanization of Japanese Americans started long before Pearl Harbor in the form of cartoons and racial slurs and accelerated thereafter- this cartoon was drawn by beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss:

2) Internment was premised on rumors that Japanese Americans were exchanging messages with Japanese ships in the Pacific.

But not one instance of this actually happening was ever proven, a fact known to President Roosevelt and the government officials who administered internment and argued for its constitutionality in the US Supreme Court.

3) The real reason for internment was that some white Americans resented Japanese Americans economic success and wanted their property.

4) Oakland-born Japanese American Fred Korematsu challenged internment all the way to the Supreme Court, which unbelievably held 6–3 that in times of war the President had authority to suspend constitutional protections- although the Constitution itself does not grant the President this authority.

Justice Murphy dissented:

“I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism. Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. It is unattractive in any setting, but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessarily a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must, accordingly, be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment, and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Korematsu has never been overturned.

5) The US government seized Japanese Americans homes, businesses, and bank accounts.

When they returned from internment, Japanese Americans continued to face tremendous employment discrimination and had to begin anew as dishwashers.

Most significantly, some white Americans honorably stewarded their Japanese American neighbors property during internment.

Some white Americans stole their Japanese American neighbors’ property during internment.

Very few white Americans spoke out against internment.

We had no practice of speaking out, because over the course of our history, we have both actively engaged in and turned a blind eye to genocide of Native American people and Black people.

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Genocides that have become so normalized and institutionalized they are not considered newsworthy.

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Holocaust scholars at the Anti-Defamation League created the Pyramid of Hate to document the steps that lead to genocide so we can detect the early warning signs and take action before its too late.

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Genocide begins with words:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re brining crime, they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Donald Trump announcing his candidacy for President, June 2015.

Dehumanizing words accelerate into prejudice, discrimination, and violence.

The next step is genocide.

Have you watched this? Make sure you have your headphones on if there are children present- and a box of Kleenex. A bottle of tequila is in order, too.

Today, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces President Trump’s plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program- meaning 800,000 brave, hardworking young people who love the United States will have to return to countries they do not know unless Congress acts -

Are you going to go about business as usual?

Or are you going to use your power- your privilege as an American citizen- to speak out?

I hope you choose to recognize the humanity in each and every one of those 800,000 young people.

To show up. To push back. To say no, “Not on my watch.”

And that you don’t stop there, you continue to speak out against dehumanization of any and every one.

If I can be of help in any way, please get in touch.

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Karen Fleshman, Esq. is the founder of Racy Conversations.

Her mission is to build and support a community of people committed to love, learning, accountability, and action on race in America.

She speaks and cofacilitates workshops on race nationwide and online and contributes to Huffington Post, Moguldom, and The GED Section.

Karen is a cofounder of San Franciscans for Police Accountability and serves on the workgroup overseeing US Department of Justice recommendations on ending bias at SFPD.

Founder, Racy Conversations Inspiring the antiracist generation.

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