Growing up in the 1950s, in the shadow of the Second World War, it was natural for children-including little Black children like my two brothers and me-to want to play war, to mimic what we heard on the radio, what we watched in black and white on our brand new floor model Motorola. In these war games, everyone wanted to be the Allied troops-the
fearless, conquering white male heroes who had made the world safe for democracy, yet again, and saved us all from yellow peril. No one, of course, wanted to play the enemywho most often was not the Germans or the Italians but the Japanese. So the enemy became or, more rightly, remained invisible, lurking in bushes we shot at with sticks we pretended were rifles and stabbed at with make-believe bayonets. “Take that,” we shouted, liberally peppering our verbal assaults with racial epithets. “And that! And that!” It was all in fun-our venom and vigor. All’s fair in wars of words. We understood little of what we said and nothing of how much our child’s play reflected the sentiments of a nation that even in its finer, prewar moments had not embraced as citizens its Asian immigrants or claimed as countrymen and women their American-born offspring.