Along with other recent wackiness, Arizona’s state legislature passed a law, HB 2281, which aims to prevent or limit the teaching of ethnic studies.
Prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that:
- Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
- Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
- Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
- Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
This is not a new development — I first wrote about this on Savage Minds almost a year ago, although I figured it was the kind of right-wing looniness that makes great theater but never gets through the legislative process.
Arizona clearly has a hard-on for its Hispanic population, citizens and non-citizens alike, and this law combined with its other recent laws targeting Hispanics certainly makes White Arizona’s intentions against Hispanic Arizona crystal clear. The specific target of HB 2281, as I noted last year, is a set of programs offered in Tucson high schools that teach the history of La Raza, but the wider importance is a sort of forced and simple-minded assimilationism that lacks even the nuance of early- and mid-20th century “melting pot” models. Arizona is going on record saying there is one way of life, and one way only, that can be called “American”, and that way involves whiteness, English-speaking, and a subscription to the kind of bogus faux-historical mythical charter that makes up high school US history curricula nation-wide (and which, thanks to near-neighbor Texas, is about to get boguser).
But here’s the rub: what happens when the Texas curriculum — which, if allowed to stand, will shape history textbooks, and thus history curricula, throughout the nation — comes into conflict with Arizona’s HB 2281? Texas’ standards — and I’d venture the standards Arizona’s legislature wants to see imposed state-wide — are explicitly designed to promote resentment towards non-white and poor people (q.v. the exclusion of labor union history, the downplaying of the anti-slavery and ethnic civil rights movements, the excision of folks like Cesar Chavez as “irrelevant”) and, even more clearly, are designed to promote ethnic solidarity. In fact, HB 2281 itself is designed to promote ethnic solidarity, and quite openly so — the fact that Arizona’s legislators don’t recognize their own whiteness as an ethnicity, and their assimilationism as a way of advocating white ethnic solidarity, does not make it not so.
There’s plenty of case law, including Brown v. Board itself, that demonstrates that exclusion leads to stigmatization and therefore is not allowable in public education. Arizona may get rid of the ethnic studies classes it’s white, conservative leaders despise so much, but it’s white history, white literature, and white social studies classes — which is to say, virtually the entire curriculum outside of ethnic studies courses — is clearly illegal under the tenets of the new law.
And in fact, since the law’s main goal seems to be to eliminate courses whose enrollment is restricted by ethnic requirements, all those ethnic studies programs need to do is demonstrate that their courses are open to all. The state would have a hard time showing that any of them violate the principles listed above — teaching about Mexican history and the history of Mexicans in the US is not the same as teaching Hispanic kids to overthrow the government or hate white people. It would be easier, I think, for a Hispanic or African-American to prove that the traditional US history, literature, or civics class — especially one using materials shaped by Texas’ guidelines — violates those restrictions than for a white conservative to demonstrate the same for an ethnic studies class.
This is the blind spot in today’s resurgent assimilationism. Because American whiteness is seen (especially by white people) as a lack of race or ethnicity, and because American white supremacy works well to make itself invisible (again, especially to white folks) and thus “natural” and “normal”, white conservatives are unable to reflexively consider their own chauvinism, even as they target the supposed chauvinism of any other group that dares to claim a different identity. In fact, the same principle is at work in the labeling of same-sex marriage rights as “special privileges” when clearly it is straight people who enjoy a privilege denied to non-straight people.
There’s a good chance all this is moot, that HB 2281 will be overthrown in court or rescinded by a future, less loony state legislature, but I’d love to see activists grab onto this law and the leverage it gives to challenge the teaching of white supremacy, Christian ideology, and English Firstism in Arizona schools and, by extension, throughout the US educational system before HB 2281 goes away.
[Comments closed 5-10-10 due to off-topic posts and flaming.]