Category Archives: Racism

Remembering Fred Korematsu

English: Gravestone of Fred Korematsu at Mount...

English: Gravestone of Fred Korematsu at Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fred Korematsu would have turned 94 today. This post is in honor of his legacy of rabble-rousing. He challenged his internment, only to have the Supreme Court justify Japanese internment for “national security” reasons. It is pretty well established that Korematsu v. United States was wrongly decided. However, it is important to revisit and re-remember Korematsu because it exposes the racism and poverty of liberal thought in American legal jurisprudence, by exposing the legal fiction of levels of scrutiny


In Korematsu, the Court upheld the conviction of Mr. Korematsu, a Japanese-American, who had failed to evacuate his home as ordered by the military. The Court stated that “all legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect” but did not apply the rule. If the Court had applied strict scrutiny, Korematsu would be ripe with over-inclusivity and under-inclusivity problems, such that the detention of Japanese would not show narrow-tailoring to fulfill a compelling government interest. Korematsu was over-inclusive because loyal Japanese were swept up but it was also under-inclusive because Germans and Italians were only marginally detained.


An originalist critique of Korematsu also exposes the decision as wrong. While the Court upheld Mr. Korematsu’s conviction based on military necessity, nothing in war powers given to Congress and Executive means they can take any action deemed expedient or suspend habeas corpus. In fact, Framers distrusted unlimited powers and martial law, which is why they gave each branch of government limited and enumerated powers, not to be suspended. Yet, the legacy of this wrongly decided decision pervades our existence, and exposes the underlying racism of American jurisprudence


Korematsu exposes the inherent racism of the legal system. Korematsu is the case that held “all legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect” and yet, on that day, Mr. Korematsu was only the suspect. In Grutter v. Bollinger, one of the Michigan affirmative action cases, the Court states that the lesson from Korematsu is that national security constitutes a “pressing public necessity” such that the government can use race. Thus, Korematsu legitimizes invidious group-based discrimination in the name of national security. It completely violates the spirit of due process, as not a single Japanese was found to be a spy during World War II.


This makes Korematsu contrary to the liberal principle of individual rights. Much like Derrick Bell’s The Space Traders where blacks were asked to perform a civic duty, in Korematsu, the Japanese were asked to carry out a civic duty by subjecting themselves to detention. But there is no such civic duty when it comes to whites. This civic duty is reserved for racial and ethnic minorities. Indeed, in post 9-11 America, programs such as NSEERS targeted Arab Americans and South Asians based on the same rationale – that minorities have a civic duty to sacrifice themselves for the greater good due to the actions of a few people who belonged to that group.


Whites have no similar duties – they are simply individuals who are afforded the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment because they suffer from reverse discrimination. But racial and ethnic groups who are constantly racially profiled, discriminated against and subject to suspect classification, are not afforded these protections because they can’t prove disparate treatment when the racial legal order endorses group-based disparate treatment.


Most importantly, Korematsu does not stand for the proposition that all use of race is suspect but rather, only discriminatory use of race is constitutionally suspect. In Adarand v. Pena, the Supreme Court majority relied on Korematsu to use strict scrutiny to strike down a government program that used benign race classifications. But Korematsu does not stand for the proposition that remedial programs should be subject to strict scrutiny.  Instead, as the dissent in Adarand notes in a footnote, Korematsu specifies that “all legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect.” The programs at issue in Adarand, and the affirmative action cases such as Bakke, Grutter and Fisher, do not “curtail the civil rights of a single racial group.” They involve the benign use of race distinctions to advance a legitimate government interest in tackling the vestiges of past and present discrimination. A strict reading of Korematsu would hence give strict scrutiny a different meaning—strict scrutiny should be limited to “all legal restrictions that curtail the civil rights of a single racial group.”


This does two things. First, such a re-definition of strict scrutiny looks like the intermediate scrutiny in the Metro Broadcasting, where the Court drew a bright-line between the use of race for invidious discrimination and the benign use of race. And second, it exposes the tiers of scrutiny as legal fiction, constructed by a Court that is unable to deal with race and race relations, and applied inconsistently.  If all use of race is actually not suspect and Korematsu’s strict scrutiny is really the intermediate scrutiny of Metro Broadcasting, then affirmative action and other remedial programs would be legal without more. But a re-reading of Korematsu exposes the tiers of scrutiny as legal fiction, and maybe something the Court should reconsider.


Perhaps then, Korematsu’s biggest legal significance is in realizing that it does not deviate from the norm. It is normative because it exposes racism and the legal fiction of tiers of scrutiny. Korematsu was the logical extension of the history of American race relations with Asian Americans. From People v. Hall, where a Chinese were not allowed to testify on the basis of their race, to the Chinese Exclusion Act, to Gong Lum v. Rice, where an Asian girl could not attend a whites-only school to the Court’s decisions to restrict citizenship to white people (Ozawa, Thind), Korematsu is a legal manifestation that Asian Americans are the inassimilable Other who can never become a part of the political community so exclusively defined by the Court in Dred Scott. Today, such race-based exclusion remains the law of the land.


And so we remember Fred Korematsu, who told us to struggle, even in the face of state-sponsored exclusion.



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Sikh Temple Shooting: I’m Not Like You; I’m Better

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

-Audre Lorde

Satwant Singh Saleka died fighting back an act of white American terrorism. He did not turn the other cheek. He saw a white man trying to hurt people in his gurudwara and he did the only thing he had to do: fight back with a butter-knife before being overpowered by a gun. He was shot twice and died on his feet, a real soldier.

I’ll leave it to a white American male to think that anyone in a turban is a Muslim and that a gurudwara is really a mosque. Of course, trying to parse out the differences between Muslims and Sikhs in the face of this white terror is precisely what is wrong with America even as the mainstream media runs around like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand trying to figure out to why this happened.

South Asians don’t need to be told why it happened. Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and anyone who looks brown have faced a long history of attacks in the U.S., that did not just start after 9-11 (though it did become much more acceptable in the immediate wake of 9-11). This country has a long history of violence and hatred towards black and brown people. This latest act of terror happened because of racism — because we do not live in a “post-racial” society.

But white privilege means that no one in the mainstream media will say that openly. White privilege means that the terrorist acted alone, and this was an isolated incident. White privilege means we will not round up and persecute white people for the actions of their ilk. White privilege means that anger and rage at them is not seen as an acceptable emotion. White privilege means that even when people of color are victims, we have to get on television explaining our cultures and religions because they are so different from the norm.

Over the past couple days, I’ve seen countless Sikhs and South Asians get on TV to tell America that we are no different than any other Americans. I don’t believe that. I believe I am different. I know that my difference makes me a better person.

I know that you do not need to understand someone’s faith to know that you should not buy a gun and shoot at them. I know that you do not need to have full civil rights in a society to be a positive, contributing member of it. I know that up against a gun, I have to fight back with either a butter knife or my bare hands. That is what distinguishes me from an American. I am proud to be different. And I feel that Americans lose when they do not embrace that difference.

In my head, the Sikh temple massacre does not just reflect poorly on white supremacists. It reflects poorly on all Americans.

I know that while money will never make up for this tragedy, there is a place that people can shove their white privilege so that they can feel better about retaining it:

Victims Memorial Fund
c/o Sikh Temple
7512 S. Howell Ave.
Oak Creek, WI 53154

We Are Sikhs

Milwaukee Sikh Temple

P.S. Sikh is pronounced “sick” and not “seek.”

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Cooking Racism – Fojol Brothers Food Truck


I see this truck on my way to work every day.

I wonder why Marion Barry isn’t complaining about the Fojol brothers food truck as a ‘dirty Asian shop.’ Is it the kind of Asian that people here prefer — white, caricatured minstrel show exoticizing brown people?

What is wrong with this food truck? I quote from the petition letter:

  • The names of your trucks, “Merlindia,” “Benethiopia,” and “Volithai,” presented as mythical lands, detach consumers’ experience of their cuisines from the geographic and cultural origins from which people in our city identify and call home. This process further weakens the ability of your customers and passersby to identify with the human experiences of people in the countries from which those cuisines originate. Moreover, this process dehumanizes the people in those countries and the those in our city who are refugees and immigrants from those lands.
  • The circus or traveling carnival has a long history of utilizing stereotyped depictions of foreign and Native American cultures to make money. Your references to the Fojol Brothers’ “travelling culinary carnival,” ignores that history of exoticism and racism in carnival and circus origin that profits from the other-ness and exoticism that continues racist systems in our city and the larger world we live in.
  • Intent and impact are different. We don’t mean to accuse you, Justin Vitarello, of being racist. We do mean to point out that the business that you’re promoting presents racist caricatures.  It’s important to realize that racism is a structural basis of the world we live in. We see yourintent to honor foreign cultures with your food; but your unwillingness to acknowledge your impact in a larger racist system halts the conversation we seek to promote around anti-racism.

This isn’t celebrating my culture. It is ridiculing it.

Additionally, it is rather interesting to note who is defending the food truck: mostly white people. Listen, as a white person, you need to take your cues about what is culturally and ethnically offensive from people of color. I shouldn’t have to explain why!

Stop buying from this food truck.

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The Dharun Ravi Verdict

30 days in jail. No deportation.

I’m thankful that a tragedy was not confounded by yet another tragedy.

The media seems to be hell-bent on portraying this as a lenient decision where the perpetrator has expressed no remorse. It’s nothing short of racism. There’s really nothing else I have to say about it.

I’m sensitive to bad room-mate situations, having been subjected to abusive, homophobic and transphobic remarks in my own home. No one deserves to be subjected to that. But no one should be subjected to 10 years in jail and deportation as a punishment for behavior that would have otherwise gone unpunished if the victim wasn’t a white cisgender boy.

I’d also ask the people sending me abusive comments to reflect on their own hateful behavior.

Good day.


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Who Gets Away With Hate Crimes?

Keep tabs on this one. George Zimmerman stalked Trayvon Martin, confronted him, called him a “f**king coon,” and shot him. And he’s still a free man.

In his own words, “these a$$holes always get away.”

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Reading: Occupations

While I think it is fantastic that Occupy Wall Street is offering immigration training to protesters, I also think that the well-meaning individuals quoted in this article also need to wake up and realize that undocumented immigrants have been organizing for their rights quite visibly and vocally for several years now, risking everything from arrest to deportation to imminent death.  The question is not really about where we are in terms of being the 99% but where have you been?

I’m not sure why people of color, who face the brunt of an oppressive system on a daily basis, are always expected to follow the lead of the outraged cisgender white citizen masses instead of the other way around. Lets be real – undocumented immigrants are the bedrock of a system that extracts surplus value from our labor while denying us basic due process and civil rights. On a related note, in a latest poll, 79% of Latino voters support the California Dream Act, compared to 30% of white voters, which is quite telling and sums up my point.

I don’t think there is one correct way of resisting or fighting for our freedoms and at the same time, highly recommend How Nonviolence Protects the State by Peter Gelderloo:

Nonviolence declares that the American Indians could have fought off Columbus, George Washington, and all the other genocidal butchers with sit-ins; that Crazy Horse, by using violent resistance, became part of the cycle of violence, and “as bad as” Custer. Nonviolence declares that Africans could have stopped the slave trade with hunger strikes and petitions, and that those who mutinied were as bad as their captors; that mutiny, a form of violence, led to more violence, and thus, resistance led to more enslavement. Nonviolence refuses to recognize that it can only work for privileged people, who have a status protected by violence, as the perpetrators and beneficiaries of a violent hierarchy.

I heard Shailja Patel, a Kenyan-Indian poet perform Shilling Love recently, and it moved me beyond measure. I’ll leave you with another powerful performance by her:

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner for someone who eats absolutely no meat, including fish? Try Tofurkey, I’ve been told. We’ll see how that goes.


Filed under Desi, Ethnic Studies, Racism


We have a right to be angry when the communities we build that are supposed to be the model for a better, more just world harbor the same kinds of antiqueer, antiwoman, racist violence that pervades society.

Recommended reading for this week is Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements. Fellow badass organizer, Flavia Isabel, sent me the link and many parts of it resonated with me, especially this bit:

We might think of these misogynists as inadvertent agents of the state. Regardless of whether they are actually informants or not, the work that they do supports the state’s ongoing campaign of terror against social movements and the people who create them. When queer organizers are humiliated and their political struggles sidelined, that is part of an ongoing state project of violence against radicals. When women are knowingly given STIs, physically abused, dismissed in meetings, pushed aside, and forced out of radical organizing spaces while our allies defend known misogynists, organizers collude in the state’s efforts to destroy us. The state has already understood a fact that the Left has struggled to accept: misogynists make great informants. Before or regardless of whether they are ever recruited by the state to disrupt a movement or destabilize an organization, they’ve likely become well versed in practices of disruptive behavior. They require almost no training and can start the work immediately. What’s more paralyzing to our work than when women and/or queer folks leave our movements because they have been repeatedly lied to, humiliated, physically/verbally/emotionally/sexually abused?

I cannot begin to recount the number of spaces I have either left or been pushed out of due to gender violence: organizations I have built, spaces I have created, and even my own home. It’s the ten-year anniversary of the DREAM Act and I think rather than signing a petition to build the list-serve of an anti-union corporate top-down organization, people in the “movement” should reflect and critique how their own behavior enables state violence on radicals.

Of course, being a queer woman of color doesn’t mean I cannot contribute to gender violence. Thanks to the pervading forces of misogyny, there have been times that I have been played and ended up silencing the voices of other women in our spaces to the point of forcing them out. I am becoming more mindful of how people appropriate my body, use my identity to their benefit, and how my presence is used to check off certain boxes. And while I have become more aware of different types of violence and more vocal about confronting them, I find myself characteristically excluded from all sorts of spaces where I should be invited. I’ve made peace with this — my body, soul and mind do not need any more violence than I get from people and the state on a daily basis. And I’m happier and healthier than ever before.

I think one of the lessons to draw from this critique is that people should call out racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism and other forms of discrimination when they see it, regardless of the consequences and repercussions. It doesn’t matter if it is a certain radical Asian-American labor organizer or a certain so-called white ally steeped in racial and gender violence. If they are feeding misogyny, they need to be called out, confronted and told to step-off to the side till they can contribute in ways that don’t do violence to us and our bodies.

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