President Biden implied Monday that the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was being “whitewashed” from school textbooks as he signed a bill to study the creation of an Asian-American history museum on the National Mall in DC.
Biden made the bizarre claim at a White House East Room event — where he also mispronounced a guest’s name and questionably asserted that a deadly Atlanta shooting rampage last year was an anti-Asian hate crime.
“This year commemorates the 80th anniversary of the incarceration of 120,000 American citizens who were Japanese-American during World War II,” Biden said, “which included — and excuse my reference to two friends — it included a dear friend who as a child, the late Norm Mineta, who went on to serve — he was in those camps when he was a child — went on to serve in the United States Army and in Congress and the Cabinet.
“The commemoration [comes] at a time where there are those who seek to whitewash the history in our schools that took place,” the president added. “And I thank — excuse it again, in Senate language, a point of personal privilege — I want to thank my dear friend who’s not here, the late [Sen.] Danny Inouye, who taught me so much.”
A recent study of school curricula found the internment of Japanese-Americans actually is the most common Asian-American history subject taught in schools. Biden didn’t specify any specific controversy involving the teaching of the topic.
It’s possible Biden conflated the subject with a different Republican-led push to restrict the teaching of critical race theory, which posits that racism and white supremacy are at the root of American law, politics and culture.
A study published in January by Sohyun An, a professor of elementary and early childhood education at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University, found the teaching of Japanese-American internment is required by the history standards of 25 of the 32 states that had specific Asian-American history requirements — the most common event specified.
In other states, it still might be taught even though it’s not specifically mentioned in state rules. For example, South Dakota standards refer to teaching of “the causes, events, and consequences of the Second World War, including issues at home and abroad.”
President Ronald Reagan signed bipartisan legislation in 1988 to give reparations of $20,000 each to surviving internees. Biden was one of four senators who didn’t cast a vote on the bill.
Also Monday, Biden called civil rights activist Karen Narasaki “Karen Nagasaki” — using the name of the Japanese city obliterated by a US atomic bomb in 1945, rather than her actual surname.
The president also said the shootings last year that killed eight people at three Atlanta-area spas — six of them Asian women — were “a symbol of the anti-Asian hate in America today.”
The accused shooter, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, allegedly told police he committed the crimes because he was addicted to sex and wanted to remove a “temptation.” Long denied he had a racist motive, though that remains a matter of debate.