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Actually, America Has A Long History Of Separating Brown Mothers From Their Children

Joy Ann Reid and Jelani Cobb exercise the liberal superpower: Memory.
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Thank you, Joy-Ann Reid and Jelani Cobb, for reminding us:

JOY-ANN REID: Welcome back. Today from Tornillo, Texas, one of the epicenters of the family separation crisis that has sparked outrage all over the country, indeed all over the world. Yet the idea that this is unprecedented and not who we are as Americans is, unfortunately, a bit of revisionist history. The truth is taking children away from their parents by government sanction or detaining them in internment camps has happened in America since its founding. For centuries, the children of enslaved Americans, African and African-American were taken from parents. In the late 19th century, tens of thousands of Native American children were taken from their families and forced to attend assimilation boarding schools. During World War II, Japanese Americans were ordered to live in isolated prison camps including an estimated 30,000 children. Joining me now is Jelani Cobb, a staff writer for The New Yorker and Columbia University professor. Thank you so much for being here. I want to read to you a little bit of an account of a guy named Henry Bib, a former enslaved person. This is from the museum. This is from an 1849 narrative, account at the Smithsonian: "The child was torn from the arms the most heart-wrenching shrieks from the mother and child on the one hand and the bitter oaths and cruel lashes from the tyrants on the other. Her mother was sold to the highest bidder." So clearly we have a history here. It is shocking to a lot of people that we're repeating it, but separating kids is unfortunately not un-American, is it?

JELANI COBB: I think there are a lot of things that we've seen in the past two years that people have referred to as un-American and the only reason we can think of them as un-American is we have been reluctant to take a cold hard look at the history of the United States. This is the most recent example. These are things we might wish were un-American or these are things that are contrary to the version of the America that we have sold and dispensed to the world, but there are deep historic roots to these kinds of actions. As a matter of fact, to show the kind of level of depravity that was involved in the institution of slavery, it was common enough for people to have had their children sold away from them that at the end of the civil war when African-Americans had gained their freedom, one of the things you find again and again from reports is these southern roads that are congested with people who are wondering from town to town, state to state, city to city trying to find relatives who have been sold away from them. And so this is very deep in American history of the -- you mentioned the example of the normal schools with native Americans who were force-fed cultural assimilation and separated from their families in order to expedite that process. Even in the more recent administrative forms separation, what's coming out in -- The New York Times did a report on this a while back -- is that there are racial disparities and even instances where children are taken out of homes because of concerns about abuse or other issues and that black children and white children who are in the same circumstances, black children are far more likely to be taken away from parents, even for offenses that might be comparatively minor. There is this long dynamic that we should be clear about and the only way we can have any sense of hoping to avoid the repetition of this is to be clear about what is actually happened in the past.


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REID: And I'm going to read another -- this is from the forced assimilation of border schools. Bill Wright, an Indian, he was just 6-years-old, he remembers people bathing him in kerosene and shaving his head. They were prohibited from speaking Indian. I remember coming home and my grandmother asked me to talk Indian to her and I said grandma I don't understand you and she said who are you. There are Japanese-American children who couldn't wait to turn 18 to fight for America. A family interned in Granada in Colorado, and one last story and this is more recent. This is a child named Carlos who's name was changed to Jamison. He had been with his adopted parents in Missouri since the age of 11 months. The judge said his biological mother had no rights to see him according to her lawyer. She was arrested on an immigration raid in 2007 at a plant. His name was changed, his culture was changed. He's gone. How do Americans, Jelani, oppose this, other than Republicans who are for it if you look at the polling, the vast majority of everyone else is against it, how do people process this idea that this should not be who we are with the knowledge that we've been this way in the past?

COBB: This is only understandable by the relative parameters of humanity, who's humanity are we able to visibly recognize and who's are we not. There are examples of this even when we talked about I've given to students in class about the Melee massacre and the fact that children were killed. There are very many Americans who felt that the soldiers who were court marshalled as a result of that had given unjust treatment whereas we would have -- it would be incomprehensible that there would be any defense for anyone that would kill an American child under any circumstance, under any circumstances and so it is simply fundamentally this and I think that the question is, ask yourself, Republicans, what is your relationship to your child? What would you do to protect that child? How far would you go to make sure that you reunited yourself with a child, with your offspring, your progeny, your family and then ask yourself, if you can apply that same visceral sense of protection and love to someone who doesn't look like you? And that's the fundamental question.

REID: Thank you so much, my friend. I appreciate you very much for being here today. Thank you.

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