The United States, Child Detainment, and Collective Memory
Following the language and reactions being used by individuals and publications to contextualize the child internment camp situation has been fascinating, from the historian’s point of view. Specifically, I think there’s a lot we can glean about collective memory, and the impact intersecting identities have on collective memory and which pasts we invoke.
For me, I jumped right to the Holocaust because of the rhetoric I saw being tossed around, the behavior of officials, and Hannah Arendt’s arguments regarding the nature of totalitarianism, bureaucracy, and evil. And, as a Jewish woman who studies the Holocaust, it’s honestly habitual of me to jump there.
Others jumped to the Rwandan genocide, based on use of dehumanizing language like “criminals,” and “infestation.” Black Americans immediately noted that the United States has been regularly forcibly separating brown children from their parents since before the United States existed. Native, Japanese, and very left wing Americans from educated classes and progressive niches were quick to note the similarities to US government actions which forcibly separated Native children from their parents in an act of attempted cultural genocide, and the Japanese internment camps.
I didn’t see much invocation of other historical instances of dehumanization, racism, and genocide. That could, however, speak to the sample size I have access to.
I do not have a conclusion to this yet. But I do think there’s something here about race, class, ethnicity and the nature of memory.