Social Justice: Eric Yamamoto creates a framework for conciliation
Anger and confusion about race has been called Americas number one problem. University of Hawai'i Law School professor Eric Yamamoto thinks so. Hes seen some Americans retaliate against fellow citizens of Arabic heritage in their anger over the September terrorist attack on the United States. He fears that strict national security measures could trample on civil liberties. He knows its happened beforeto Japanese Americans during World War II.
For 15 months during the early 80s, Yamamoto volunteered on the legal team attempting to overturn the wartime internment conviction of Fred Korematsu. The team succeeded, and that decision along with a 1987 case swept out the legal foundation of the WWII Supreme Court decision that justified internment as military necessity. As a result, Congress passed the 1988 Civil Liberties Act, which called for a presidential apology and reparations for Japanese Americans who had been interned. Yamamoto received the Korematsu Civil Rights Award for his efforts. The lesson: We must not scapegoat other people. Both U.S. citizens and our courts need to be vigilant about protecting civil liberties while addressing genuine threats to national security.
Yamamoto addresses that topic in his books, Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese-American Internment and Interracial Justice: Conflict and Reconciliation in Post-Civil Rights America. The latter, named one of the top 10 books on human rights, social justiceand civil rights published in North America, deals with interracial discriminationone group using social, economic or political structures to subordinate another. The wounds such discrimination inflictsinterracial justice grievances, Yamamoto calls themare being overlooked in the courts fervor to outlaw race consciousness.
The majority of the justices say that to analyze historical and current racial differences can actually damage the nations interest in racial harmony, he says. The court is mistaken. We are seeing more, not less, interracial tension across America. The anger it generates exists in areas like housing, education, business and law. Because the courts turn a blind eye, old wounds remain open.
Racial discrimination isnt motivated purely by racial dislike, but more by self-interest and past actions, Yamamoto explains. We have to find out what justice grievances lie beneath the surface of the immediate conflict and set about healing the wounds.
To do that, Yamamoto proposes a four-point framework of racial conciliationrecognition, responsibility, reconstruction and reparations. Its not a magic formula. Its a method and a language for asking questions and moving the process forward. People have to learn how to do this. Its going to take some disciplined and serious work. The courts should encourage discussions about racial justice grievances, but the law itself is too narrow, so most of the process must take place outside a legal context, he says.
Surprising words from a lawyer, but Yamamoto didnt plan to enter law when he majored in humanistic studies in UHs experimental 70s New College. The turbulent timesVietnam war protests, the breakdown of communities, stirrings of the Native Hawaiian movementand discussions with his father, a UH professor who taught race relations, profoundly influenced the thoughtful young man immersed in Nietzsche and Zen Buddhism. He decided to study law at Berkeleys Boalt Hall to shape how communities would be. After the Korematsu case, Yamamoto joined a Hawaii law firm. He also served on the boards of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation and was counsel to Alu Like and the Womens Health Center. In 1985, he joined the UH law school faculty. Hes assisted Native Hawaiian Homelands trust beneficiaries, sovereignty activists and the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace. Hes received the UH Presidential Citation for Excellence in Teaching twice and been named Outstanding Professor of Law three times. This spring, he will hold the Haywood Burns Chair for Civil Rights at the City University of New York.
Yamamoto prefers to remain in the background. Sometimes having less of a profile makes it easier to help people accomplish their goals, he says. Still, he hopes his framework will get people talking to each other about racial justice. It can only make our country stronger, he says.
Medical Change: Milton Diamond challenges gender reassignment
As a University of Hawaii professor of anatomy and reproductive biology, Milton Diamond teaches neuroanatomy and sexology. But his international notoriety resulted from what he calls a simple search for evidence.people think there has to be something strange about me to study sex, says Diamond, who directs the medical schools Pacific Center for Sex and Society and lectures worldwide. Personally, I wonder why more people arent studying sex. Its so intrinsic to so many aspects of our lives.
A graduate of Bronx High School of Science and college ROTC, Diamond pursued anatomy, endocrinology and experimental psychology at the University of Kansas. In 1967 colleagues asked him to help start UHs John A. Burns School of Medicine. Diamond and his wife thought the islands would be a good place to raise their four daughters. He found it a good place to workwriting several books, developing PBSs award-winning Human Sexuality series and contributing to the American Medical Associations handbook on sexual problems.
A few years ago, Diamonds investigation of what he calls the John/Joan case thrust him into the limelight. The 1960s case involved a 7-month-old twin whose penis was severely burned by the electrocautery instrument used during circumcision. The boys parents contacted psychologist John Money, a leader in the field of gender identity at Johns Hopkins University, who counseled them to raise their son as a girl. Money believed a childs sexual identity is determined by the appearance of the genitals and the childs upbringing. Its the nature/nurture debate, says Diamond. Nurture advocates believe that if youre raised (figuratively) in a blue room you become a boy and in a pink room, a girl. The only problem is, that theory doesnt work.
The child underwent surgery to remove his testes and fashion female genitals. His parents were instructed to raise him unambiguously as a girl. In journal articles and a book, Money described behavior so normally that of an active little girl and so clearly different by contrast from the boyish ways of her twin brother. Time magazine reported the experiment has apparently succeeded. Skeptical, Diamond called for evidence in various publications.
The medical establishment embraced Moneys conclusions. Surgical reassignment of sex for a variety of reasons, including cases where the penis was considered too small (less than 2.5 centimeters), became standard medical practice. Diamond kept digging. In 1994 he contacted British Columbia psychiatrist Keith Sigmundson, in charge of John/Joans treatment under Moneys direction. Sigmundson knew the sex conversion hadnt worked. Unaware of her history, Joan had refused to wear dresses, hated make-up and fought like a boy. She was banned from the girls restroom for standing to urinate. At 14, she decided to live as a male. Sigmundson hadnt challenged Johns Hopkins. He thought that if it wasnt working, it was his fault, Diamond says.
Sigmundson put Diamond in touch with John/Joan, by then a married man struggling with psychological scars. In 1997 they presented their evidence in an article on implications of sex reassignment in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. This time the medical establishment listened. Diamond addressed the American Academy of Pediatrics. I expected them to throw rocks at me because I was basically telling them that what theyd been doing for the past 40 years was wrong, he says. Instead, 30 seconds of stunned silence gave way to applause.
If you change someones gender as an infant, youre doing something fundamental to them. As they grow up theyre living with incongruities that dont make any sense to them, and they have no way of dealing with their feelings. Many contemplate suicide. Diamond says as many as 200 pediatric sex reassignments were taking place annually in the United States due to damaged or ambiguous genitals. About 1 child in every 2,000 is born with enough ambiguity that its externally noticeable. One in every 100 has hidden ambiguityXXY or other sets of chromosomes or combinations of ovaries and testes. Gonads produce hormones that affect the brain, and its our brains that tell us whether were male or female, he says. In most cases, theres a physical reason why individuals might be unsure about their sex.
Yet doctors must classify a childs gender at birth. Diamond offers three guidelinesdont do surgery based only on genital appearance; do follow-up studies on the success of sex-reassignment; eliminate secrecy. Yes, its disturbing for someone to find out they have male chromosomes along with a vagina, but keeping them in the dark is disturbing, too. People could deal with the truth if told in the proper way and provided with counseling.
Since exposing the failure of the John/Joan case, Diamond has received numerous international honors and been interviewed on national TV. He served as president of the International Academy of Sex Research, which encompasses physicians, psychologists, sociologists and other scientists. You work for 40 years then youre an overnight success, he quips.