When I was coming up in Tucson, the Old Pueblo, I would go this way and that way, to and fro, trying to keep a step ahead of Old Jim Crow. Somehow I survived that dude’s hateful antics and grew up with a lot of love in my heart and soul. But he doesn’t give up easily and seems to have a toe hold in Arizona and just won’t let go.
A few years ago the idea of a holiday for Martin Luther King came up and Arizonans freaked out and protested. But that got worked out. Years passed and then xenophobia, a few months ago, raised its ugly head and state legislators created a senate bill, SB 1070, aimed at getting rid of Latinos, aka as “illegals.”
About a month after that little maneuver the governor of the state, Jan Brewer, apparently with a lot of time on her hands for shenanigans as opposed to trying to bring people together to do great things socially and politically, signed a bill, HB 2281, that prohibits “ethnic studies,” out of some bizarre fear that such classes promote “ethnic chauvinism” and racial resentment toward whites while segregating students by race and advocates the overthrow of the government.
Say what? Does extreme heat fry the brain? Is my home state going insane? Such a law is so inane. In our schools with all the saluting the flag every morning and the singing of God Bless America and GI recruiters high stepping in the quads of our schools, at will – some teacher is going to gather a bunch of students of color and stir up anti-white mentality and recruit suicide bombers to bum rush the White House and the Pentagon? That educator would be out on the streets before he or she or the school district made the first contribution to the poor soul’s retirement account. Oh, don’t you hate it when they expel gas in your face and say “Somebody must have cracked a rotten egg” like your IQ is equal to your age?
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of “ethnic chauvinism” in our schools. “Eurocentric Studies” is its name and it’s the heart and soul of American education, known widely for promoting ideas like Columbus “discovered” America without mentioning that when he arrived he found people already here, “savages,” kicking back, as one with the elements, wondering what all the talk about “India” was about.
Due to “ethnic chauvinism” I had to learn on my own that blacks in this country were more than just slaves, that we were architects and politicians and philosophers and inventors and poets and teachers. When we gaze at the White House and the United States Capitol Building we are looking at the work of highly skilled builders including black folks.
Sitting at my school desk I used to think how cool it would be to have a mustache like Emiliano Zapata’s. It wasn’t until a little later that, because of how he was portrayed, I began to think of him less as a bandit and more as a revolutionary. There is a difference. And I was probably nodding off or doodling when they stressed Asians’ contributions to the building of America. I did catch something about how the Japanese couldn’t be trusted and “If you’re ever in San Francisco visit Chinatown. The food is sooo delicious.”
So what’s really going on in my home state? Huh? And they’re not alone in their thinking; they’re just bold enough to act on thoughts created in their dark side. But let’s not play the “race card” because that causes too much spitting and sputtering and gibberish about creating a “color blind society” which is a metaphor for acting like super bright lights are shining in their eyes when somebody darker than they are needs a little help pulling themselves up by their “bootstraps.”
Whatever else it is it’s a case of fear. And when people are afraid they take desperate measures; they try to force their beliefs on others. But force can never defeat power. And knowledge is power. The power students gain from ethnic studies is infectious. I know. I’ve taught it. When a student of any color sees themselves and their people’s contributions to society in their lessons they lean forward with interest. Ethnic studies are about inclusion, about truths being portrayed, about the various ways people see their world and why. It’s about love. Love and appreciation for one’s self and others. It scares the hell out of Ethnic Chauvinists.
But they’ll have to come around some day because the power will not be relinquished in any way. Langston Hughes put it this way:
“America was never America to me,
And yet I swear this oath –
America will be!”
People all over the country should swear likewise and help bring Arizona into the 21st Century.