Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Zoot Suit Riots, June 1943

by

“We have to constantly critique imperialist white supremacist patriarchal culture because it is normalized by mass media and rendered unproblematic.”

– bell hooks

Seventy-one years ago this month — during the reign of liberal (sic) hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt — the Land of the Free™ was yet again cynically exploiting the standard good vs. evil rhetoric in the name of furthering its global agenda.

Translation: It was not the safest time for a non-white human to own a zoot suit…

As the Good (sic) War progressed, young Mexican workers entered the U.S. en masse in response to a worker shortage on the Pacific coast. At the same time, some Latino youths began to dress almost exclusively in zoot suits.

A zoot suit has described as such: “A very long jacket, flared at the bottom, with exaggeratedly padded, boxy shoulders, and pegged sleeves. The trousers are pleated at the waistline, cut very wide over the hips, and taper to such narrow bottoms that men with big feet have trouble slipping the pants on.”

While the zoot suit eventually attained widespread popularity in the mainstream, it also became a pejorative synonym for “Mexican” on the West Coast as some Americans took umbrage at what they choose to perceive as able-bodied young men not “helping to win the war.”

To the local white population of Los Angeles, the manufacturing of zoot suits was a glaring example of waste in a time that — they were programmed to believe — demanded sacrifice in the name of defending democracy (sic). This skewed perception inevitably led to racist violence — sparked by angry white soldiers on leave.

“In June 1943, the ‘zoot suit’ riots exploded in Los Angeles,” explains historian Michael C.C. Adams. “For almost a week, off-duty white enlisted personnel roamed the streets, assaulting Hispanics.”

Not just Hispanics.

Blacks were also dragged into the streets by soldiers and civilians, where they were stripped and beaten. The response of the Los Angeles City Council was classic Home of the Brave™ stuff. Rather than address the issues of racism and exploited labor, it became a misdemeanor offense to wear a zoot suit. (insert rimshot here)

“Mongrolization of the white race”

Lest anyone get the impression I’m cherry picking, please keep in mind that the racial climate during the Greatest Generation years was one of institutional intolerance even for those who “served” in battle.

For example, blood plasma collected from black soldiers was separated from that of white soldiers to avoid the “mongrolization of the white race.” This was openly done by the Red Cross with the full approval of the U.S. government. Ironically, the blood bank system was developed by a black physician, Charles Drew, who was initially put in charge of wartime donations but later fired when he spoke out against blood segregation.

Of course, as historian Howard Zinn reminded us, WWII was allegedly being fought to prove that Hitler “was wrong in his ideas of white Nordic supremacy over ‘inferior’ races” yet the United States’ armed forces were (wait for it) segregated by race.

“When troops were jammed onto the Queen Mary in early 1945 to go to combat duty in the European theater,” Zinn added, “the blacks were stowed down in the depths of the ship near the engine room, as far as possible from the fresh air of the deck, in a bizarre reminder of the slave voyages of old.”

The men that devised and carried out the despicable behavior described above (and so much more) are widely considered to be part of this country’s “greatest generation.” By any rational definition, these men are terrorists.

Never forget, comrades: This is what we’re up against.

A few take home messages:

*Racist scapegoating is an enduring American tradition.

*White supremacy is a dangerous reality and continues to be a dangerous reality.

*Harking back to the “good old days” is neither a helpful nor revolutionary choice.

*It’s long overdue for those who benefit from this oppressive and corrupt system to recognize and reject the normalization of their subsequent privilege.

#shifthappens

Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on a couple of obscure websites called Facebook and Twitter. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.

Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here. This piece first appeared at World Trust News.  

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyon
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]