On January 30, we celebrated the legacy of civil rights hero Fred Korematsu, who was one of three Japanese Americans to challenge the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 before the Supreme Court. February 19 will mark the 75th anniversary of Roosevelt signing the order. Even as we acknowledge these historical milestones, we face the horrific realization that the same dangerous impulses and rhetoric that led to the mass imprisonment of over 100,000 innocent citizens and their family members once again lie at the heart of President Donald J. Trump’s recent executive orders regarding immigration. In this critical moment, history has especially important lessons to teach us about racism, religious prejudice, and the importance of basic human rights.
Much attention has rightly been paid to the legal and economic harm that institutionalized bigotry can cause, as well as to the various factors that feed that bigotry. Even as we bear these important matters in mind as teachers and as members of civil society, we might consider lifting our eyes for a moment from this sadly familiar historical terrain, direct them toward the horizon, and consider the most elusive, but also perhaps most important, challenge before us. In response to discourses of fear and withdrawal from the world, we must strive for a more measured, historically informed, and above all empathic engagement with the world.