Written for The Argo by Emma Desiderio
Lorraine K. Bannai, legal scholar and advocate, gave Stockton University’s annual Constitution Day keynote address on Tuesday. The event, titled “Anti-Asian Hate: History, Law, Culture, and Coalition-Building,” took place virtually via Zoom. Bannai’s speech focused on the history of violence against Asian-Americans.
Professor Linda Wharton, co-chair of the 2021 Constitution Day Planning Committee, gave the opening remarks, followed by Dr. Leamor Kahanov, who introduced Professor Lorraine K. Bannai.
“As Professor Emeritus of Seattle University School of Law and Director Emeritus of the Fred T Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, Professor Bannai is a renowned legal scholar, advocate, and author,” said Kahanov. “Professor Bannai served on the legal team that successfully challenged the wrongful conviction of Fred Korematsu.”
To begin the address, Bannai showed a brief video compilation of various newscasts and press conferences from the past year, including soundbites of President Trump repeatedly calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus.” Bannai stated that this video was to show a visual example of the resurgence in hate crimes.
Bannai then gave examples of anti-Asian hate crimes that were recently committed around the country, including Chinese restaurants that were vandalized, and an instance in which a 16-year-old boy was bullied and accused of having coronavirus. She said she felt especially “shaken and vulnerable,” upon hearing about the shooting in Atlanta earlier this year in which six Asan women were killed.
“I saw in those women my grandmother,my mother, and my aunts, my daughter and myself. It again came brutally home that there were people out there that hate us simply because of how we look,” Bannai said.
Bannai continued with an introduction to the history of discrimination against Asian Americans.
“Any discussion of anti Asian history has to begin with an understanding of how Asian Americans have been viewed and treated as foreigners on a similar level and dangerous, since they first arrived in this country,” said Bannai.
Bannai discussed the history of Asian immigration to the US and the discrimination that followed, including the development of the Japanese internment camps during World War II. She emphasized the importance of public opinion and complacency in matters of injustice.
“Although people today may look back on the incarceration and think that it must have just been a mistake, the act of some rogue military commander; it’s essential to understand that it was a result of popular will,” Bannai said.
Bannai used this point to segue into a discussion of how people can take action today against anti-Asian hate.
“What we can all do is say that learning about other people is critical, otherwise we can’t possibly get people to understand anti-Asian violence, get people to understand why Black Lives Matter and to be able to have intelligent conversations about these pressing issues,” said Bannai.
She emphasized that some ways to take action include educating ourselves and others, registering for bystander intervention training, and voting.
To conclude, Bannai said, “If I can sum up what I hope you will take away it’s that we can make things better if we create a culture of care. In your everyday life, you have moments of decision in which you can choose to care or not.”
The discussion was then concluded with a Q&A session led by Sara Furout and closing remarks by John Froonijan, co-chair of the 2021 Constitution Day Planning Committee.
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