Some writers explain why Arizona is trying to shut down ethnic studies and why it shouldn't.
Arizona's Apartheid War against Mexican American Studies
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
Truthfully, the department shouldn’t have to be in compliance with a clearly immoral and unconstitutional law, whose primary aim seems to be a return to the 1950s policies of forced assimilation. During the colonial era, it would have been referred to as a reduccion–an attempt to obliterate peoples’ Indigenous history, knowledge, culture and memory. Five hundred years later and HB 2281 appears to be an attempt at implementing the final reduccion.
Yet 500 years later, international law is actually now on the side of MAS: virtually every human rights treaty, charter and convention protects the culture, history, identity, language and education of all peoples. These human rights charters exist to prevent cultural genocide. This attack against MAS is actually an attack on all education, not just Ethnic Studies. The notion of censoring and banning the teaching of certain materials–making Swiss cheese out of what can be taught–is antithetical to the very precept of education.
Ironically, the movement against MAS is having an unintended opposite effect; it is “re-Indigenizing” the Mexican American and Latino/Latina communities nationwide. People who formerly sneered at things Indian, or who viewed them as part of the past, are now coming to understand that the reason MAS is fiercely opposed is precisely because of the Indigenous roots of the peoples and their cultures.
In Arizona, one could deem this effort to eliminate MAS, along with the anti-immigrant SB 1070, as a form of Indian Removal–an effort to exterminate or capture or possess the mind, body and spirit [of Mexicans]. Removal in 2012 translates into mass incarceration and mass deportations via racial profiling measures and discriminatory practices. And for those that can’t be deported or incarcerated, this translates into de-Indigenization, de-Mexicanization and forced assimilation. The American Dream.
By Tim Wise
And to say that the TUSD program promoted racial resentment is equally preposterous. That it might have led to a more complete understanding of the role of white supremacy and racism in the shaping of American history (and Arizona’s) is undeniable. But there is no reason to assume that subjecting white supremacy to a well-deserved critique will, by necessity, subject white people as people to the same hostility as that reserved for the institutions of oppression. Indeed, well-crafted ethnic studies programs (and Tucson’s was one) typically make clear that there have been white allies in the fight against racism, colonialism and oppression of all kinds. Ironically, while the kids in TUSD could learn of those antiracist white allies in the Ethnic Studies program (like those whites who opposed the war with Mexico and viewed it as an unjust war for Anglo-Saxon domination, or who supported Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers), down the hall in the regular history classes—the ones conservatives consider “objective”—these antiracist whites are almost entirely ignored, calling into question not only the standard narrative’s accuracy, but also the degree to which the reactionary forces in Arizona are really concerned about diminishing racial strife.
Even at a more basic level, if we are to prohibit teaching about the truth of white supremacy, just because it might lead some folks to be angry with whites, then we would have to avoid teaching most everything accurately. History, after all, happened, and the history of the United States is one in which white supremacy was a daily and quite legal reality for hundreds of years, maintained by the active involvement, or at least passive participation of most white people. That isn’t said to promote racial hostility, but rather so as to promote historical literacy, the latter of which is apparently a grave threat to some, and especially those whose desire to “take their country back” from the forces of multiculturalism requires that they prevaricate about the most incontestable truths of their national experiment.
Yet in the interest of avoiding the stoking of resentments, I quite doubt that the Tucson schools will be instructed to cease teaching about, say, the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. And this is true, even though it is certainly conceivable that some weak-minded sixteen year old in an American history class could come to see all Japanese through the lens of that horrific act, including some of his or her own Japanese American classmates, who may be descended from families herded into concentration camps (or rather internment camps, because the other term sounds so German) by his or her own government not so long ago.
By Dr. Emery Petchauer
Thinking Critically. I often say that every way of seeing also is a way of not seeing. Ethnic studies courses implicitly operate upon this maxim by illustrating how different groups in the United States and around the world often have very different perspectives on events, people and eras—both big and small. Of course, some perspectives contradict with one another and are irreconcilable. When White students (or all students for that matter) are exposed to different and even contradictory perspectives, it teaches skills such as perspective-taking, abstraction and evidence-based argumentation. These are some of the basic components of critical thinking skills that are infused within state learning standards across the nation.
For people primarily concerned with traditional school outcomes, these critical thinking skills are positively linked to school and academic performance. The wide body of empirical research on conflict resolution education programs illustrates this clearly. Conflict resolution education programs (not to be confused simply with conflict resolution), such as those pioneered by Dr. Tricia Jones of Temple University, typically produce academic improvements in schools. And, this is not necessarily because schools may be safer. A byproduct of conflict resolution education is that students learn how to think in more complex, critical and sophisticated ways. These habits of mind translate into higher performance on academic measurements. The same can follow from ethnic studies. Thinking critically is not bound to one classroom. Learning it through an ethnic studies class can then transfer over into other classes, even for White students.
Replacing White Guilt. One of the sly accusations against ethnic studies is that courses make White students feel guilty and bad about themselves. Without a doubt, some White folks feel an abstract sense of guilt when they learn about some of the atrocities that White folks have inflicted upon people of color by action and inaction. Guilt is seldom a healthy place from which to act, so this feeling is certainly not productive. Ethnic studies courses—when working well—do not produce this abstract and unproductive sense of guilt. Instead, they teach White folks how to be critical allies in specific ways to struggles for equality. Stated another way, the opposite of Whiteness is not feeling guilty about being White; it’s not Blackness, and it’s not hip-hop either. The opposite of Whiteness is pushing against oppression, inequality and White privileges. And when White folks are doing those things, they are too busy to be burdened by a much played-out sense of guilt. As ethnic studies courses outline how people of color have successfully fought for their own education, liberation and humanity, this is a vital starting point for White folks to eventually join this important work and get in where they fit in.
Functioning in Today’s World. It has long been a statistical likelihood that White folks will be a demographic minority in the United States during the lifespan of current school-age children. Though many cities and rural areas still remain deeply segregated by race, the nature of the globalized economy and workforce means that the top leaders of U.S. industries will be working alongside people who do not check the same demographic boxes or hold the same social assumptions as they do. This global reality gives new importance for students to be able to function across differences. The guiding purpose that most consistently informs public education policy is to maintain dominance in the global economy. Perhaps ironically, ethnic studies programs like the ones (now formerly) in Arizona fit squarely within this purpose. Even if one subscribes to the ugly position that there is little value in studying the experiences and perspectives of people who are not White, one cannot refute the point that this area of study will prepare students—including White students—to be better leaders in today and tomorrow’s world.
As a whole, the recent iteration of the ethnic studies debate in Arizona reveals more about the longstanding political-racial ideology of the state than it does about ethnic studies classes themselves. To be clear, this political-racial ideology is one of White supremacy. Unfortunately, like the social toxin that it is, this ideology in practice will also have negative implications for White students by compromising the public education that could otherwise better prepare them for the world at large.