Apartheid is not just about physical domination over a particular ethnic group. It has a cultural component as well. Now that the Arizona state government has passed its apartheid-like SB1070, which encourages racial profiling and turns the entire Latino population into potential “criminals” to be monitored and harassed, it has decided to launch a broad attack on Latino culture as well.
Aiming to eliminate a popular Mexican American studies program in the city of Tucson, the state recently passed a bill banning all courses 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.”
State school chief Tom Horne, who is running for state attorney general in the upcoming election, has been pushing the bill for years. His argument ranks up there with the most dishonest co-optations of civil rights rhetoric. Horne calls Mexican American studies “racist” and “just like the Old South,” segregating Latino from white students and then teaching them to hate whites.
Horne and the racist reactionaries who surround him have no concern for promoting unity between white and non-white students. Quite to the contrary, they intend to conceal this country’s history and present reality of racist discrimination, while stirring up fear and hatred among white workers.
But white workers have nothing to fear from courses that focus on Mexican American (or African American) history and perspectives. In fact, they have everything to gain from taking such a course. Many white Tucson students have done precisely that—disproving Horne’s ridiculous claims of “segregation”—and have since joined the efforts to save it.
Any honest U.S. history course would start with the acknowledgment that the country developed by grabbing land from Native peoples and Mexico, and by exploiting Black slaves, indentured servants and wage laborers of all colors.
Flipping history and logic completely upside down, Horne claims the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King— for people to “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”—has been violated by the presence of ethnic studies.
Here are the facts. Ethnic studies courses emerged out of the civil rights movement, not in opposition to it. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, university students successfully waged militant struggles to diversify the standard curricula. In the fields of history, anthropology and sociology in particular, course materials were overwhelmingly Eurocentric, and in the United States the unique experiences of non-white peoples was downplayed or forgotten. The centuries-long struggles against racism, slavery and discrimination were simply erased. Academia played an important ideological function in promoting and legitimating white supremacist ideology.
The overthrow of Jim Crow segregation and the militant social struggles of the late 1960s changed this situation. As the progressive movement surged forward, and young people from oppressed backgrounds won entrance into higher education systems, they demanded that their histories and perspectives be represented as well. Ethnic Studies departments were created—and additional Black, Latino, Native and Asian faculty were hired—to ensure this mission be carried out.
Dr. King premised his famous remark about judging individuals by the content of their character alone on the dream of a nation where “one day” skin color was of no importance. As Arizona has so dramatically confirmed with its most recent racist laws, that day is yet a long way off.
The ruling class has largely been able to co-opt many of the gains of the civil rights movement (including in some ways, ethnic studies), but the Arizona elite is hell-bent on turning the clock back. In the midst of a deepening economic crisis inside the state, the possibilities of intensifying the anti-immigrant hysteria are just too juicy.
On May 12, 15 people, most of them students, were arrested while protesting against the racist education law. High school student Kim Dominguez told Democracy Now!: “We’ve done petitions. We’ve done letters. We’ve done calls. We’ve done everything that this American United States system has asked us to do. We vote. I vote. And I think it’s time to move to the next step.”
We couldn’t agree more.