Jul 25, 2010

Arizona; the New South?

I am little late to the party, but I think it’s still worthwhile to bring something to the table. Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration is back in the news this week since the Obama administration and civil rights groups have brought challenges to the courts. Another piece of legislation signed by Governor Jan Brewer that has been overshadowed by the broader immigration arguments is HB2281, banning ethnic studies programs in Arizona schools.

The new law bars classes that "promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment of a particular race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals". Arizona state school superintendent, Tom Horne, has condemned ethnic studies as “ethnic chauvinism” and “high treason”. Really?

I am not exactly sure what the so-called radicals in Arizona have been teaching in those classes but I am disinclined to buy the rhetoric. I’ve taken classes focused on African, African-American and Native-American studies and I don’t remember receiving the ethnic chauvinism alluded to by Horne and his league of fear mongers. 

What I do remember was learning about the history of the people, cultures, their contributions to the greater human experience, and so forth. There was value in these courses because I feel they presented a side to a story that would otherwise by a paragraph or footnote in a general history or anthropology textbook. Until, that is changed, there will be a need for such targeted courses.

I hate to break it to Mr Thorne and others, ethnic studies isn’t about selling the story of oppression and segregation, and making people angry. It is about recognising and understanding the different narratives of the country’s people. The spirit of these classes is to serve as a bridge and to foster a greater appreciation of the cultural diversity that exists in our modern world. 

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