An Essay on the Discrimination on Japanese Americans and African Americans in the History of America

The Japanese Americans and African Americans both responded uniquely to the racism and discrimination they faced historically in the United States. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942, the U.S. government relocated Japanese Americans to internment camps all along the West Coast for fear that would secretly assist the Empire of Japan in their war effort. On the other hand, during the 1950s and 1960s, the Jim Crow laws systematically segregated African Americans from whites. In addition to that, African Americans faced an overwhelming use of violence against them to put down any ideas or efforts towards changing the status quo.

Although both groups faced different situations, one can draw similarities between the two in regards to the fact that the younger generations of African and Japanese Americans often acted contrary to the ideas and beliefs upheld by their parents.

The nisei, or American-born Japanese, often tried their best to assimilate American culture despite the anti-Japanese prejudices held during World War II by a significant number of other Americans.

For the most part, they rejected the customs and practices of their parents, the issei, because they simply wanted to fit in with white Americans. They knew that many white Americans were prejudiced against Japan and many Japanese Americans often experienced acts of racism as a result.

Many niseis saw rejecting Japanese culture and replacing it with only American values and customs as the only way to fully integrate themselves as real American citizens and not feel “different” from white Americans.

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Most importantly though, they considered this as a way to avoid the racism and discrimination against Japanese people at the time. In her book Desert Exile, Yoshiko Uchida recounts how she felt embarrassed at times when she ate Japanese food in public. Her example shows how many younger Japanese Americans felt about displaying their culture in America. She quotes: “We would spread our car blanket on the grass and eat our rice balls and Japanese food on small red lacquer dishes, using black lacquer chopsticks. I always felt extremely self-conscious about eating Japanese food and using chopsticks in public, for curious passersby would often stare coldly at our unusual picnic are.” The part where Uchida explained how “passersby would stare coldly at our unusual picnic fare,” exemplifies how a lot of non-Japanese Americans didn’t accept Japanese culture in America. Uchida even admitted that she thought of Japanese food as weird, and this implies that she, like many otherniseisi, wanted to suppress her Japanese upbringing in an attempt to avoid feeling out of place in American society.

This contrasted a lot with how the first-generation Japanese immigrants dealt with their situation in America. Despite the resentment they felt towards Japanese people in America, they continued to carry on the traditions and practices of their home country. As a result, many niseis felt embarrassed about their parents too as they proved to be the exact opposite of the perfect American citizen they envisioned and all so desperately tried to become. Uchida describes her parents and the issei in the following quote: “We were sometimes ashamed of the Issei in their shabby clothes, their rundown trucks, and cars, their skin darkened from years of laboring in sun-parched fields, their inability to speak English, their habits, and the food they ate.” Uchida in this quote shows that she thought of her parents and the issei negatively in terms of their appearance and lifestyle. Furthermore, it proves that the nisei felt ashamed about their parents’ Japanese way of life. The nisei and their parents did not share the same ideas and beliefs.

Compared to the Japanese Americans, the young generation of African Americans during the 1950s and 1960s took ma more proactive measures to combat the deep racial prejudices they encountered at the time. They faced a more violent and bitter type of racism that had endured for more than a century in American history. Young African Americans, unlike their parents, were too tired of racism and discrimination to do nothing about it out of fear of reprisal. They fought for true freedom. Through organizations such as the NAACP and the SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) most importantly, African American high school and college students played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement. The SNCO empowered young African Americans to stand up against discrimination and racism through sit-ins, public speeches, marches, etc. Despite their protests being nonviolent, many African American students involved with these organizations were arrested by police. This, however, did not stop African American students from doing their work. In her book “Coming of Age in Mississippi,” Anne Moody describes how she and other African American students responded to a news report of such an arrest at the time. She quotes: “We discovered that over four hundred high school students had also been arrested. We were so glad, we sang freedom songs for an hour or so.” Now one would assume normally that a report of such a large-scale arrest would generate a lot of alarm and emotional strain, particularly for an African American at that time. From this quote, however, alarm and emotional strain had no place in the hearts and minds of Anne Moody and her friends.

Instead, they sang. I think this short quote just about sums up the feelings most African American students shared towards the racism and injustice they experienced on a near daily basis. They saw the arrests not as a defeat, but as a successful message sent to all Americans that they would simply overcome. It provided the fuel with which they continued to sing, march, and speak out against the racism and wanton violence endured by them and the many precedent generations of African Americans before them.

While African American students actively fought for equality, their parents did not share the same attitude towards racism. Although nearly all the members of the older generation of African Americans at the time heavily disagreed with the Jim Crow laws and racial prejudice, many did not actively respond out of fear of violent reprisal by the KKK or other whites. This is evident in a quote from Anne Moody’s mother in response to the murder of an African American boy in their town. She quotes: “You go on to work before you are late. And don’t you let on like you know nothing about that boy being killed before Miss Burke them. Just do your work like you know nothing.” This quote shows how some African Americans preferred to keep silent rather than act out. They most likely thought that if they seemed ignorant, they wouldn’t be labeled as a potential trouble source by violent whites. In addition, they probably believed that any action they took in response to the violence would only be met by more violence against them. Therefore, young African Americans and their parents had different views on how to deal with the racism and violence they faced. The parents of students involved in the SNCC and NAACP often pleaded with them to renounce their affiliations and stop participating. This is shown in another quote from Moody’s book: “From the beginning, most of the parents had not approved of their participation in the voter registration drive. Several kids had told me that they came against their parent’s wishes.” The first part of the quote reaffirms the parents’ objections to the activities of their children with the SNCC. The second part shows that although their parents disapproved of their actions, African American students still wanted to take action against racism and discrimination.

Most often the attitudes of young Japanese and African Americans toward the racism they faced contrasted significantly when compared to their parents’  ideas. This observation in history reveals that young people often have different opinions and ideas about the world they live in than their parents. As shown in the case of the African American Civil Rights Movement, young people also possess the capacity to do remarkable things when together in solidarity. Despite the world’s troubles, whether they be racism, discrimination, war, or oppression, we can be sure of one thing: we can count on young people to take action and make a change.

Works Cited

  1. Uchida, Yoshiko. Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family. University of Washington Press. pg. 35, 40, 42. • Moody, Anne. Coming of Age in Mississippi. pg. 130, 322.

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An Essay on the Discrimination on Japanese Americans and African Americans in the History of America. (2022, Aug 08). Retrieved from

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