Knowledge Is Power – The Frightening of the Ethnic Chauvinists

by on November 16, 2010 · 26 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Education, From the Soul, Organizing

knowledge+is+powerWhen 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.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin November 17, 2010 at 1:53 pm

amen! I was ust going through some of my essays that I wrote for my Intercultural Communications class and was reminded of how backward our counrty has been in accepting people of other cultures. Glad I do tno live in AZ !
(I had a chuckle imagining you with a moustache like Zapata!)


Ernie McCray November 17, 2010 at 7:32 pm

I have to chuckle imagining myself with a Zapata mustache.


dave rice November 19, 2010 at 6:35 pm

That class, taught by one Mr. Tom Gamboa at Grossmont Jr. College (I still have my shot glass with the school insignia), was one of the few bright lights in the rather dim story of my attempt to obtain a education. And the few other ‘ethnic studies’ courses I took were certainly rewarding, even though I racked up a bunch of credits taking them that will never amount to a degree in anything that’ll put food in my daughter’s belly.

Ernie, another article that’s good on ya. And even though I don’t know you, I’d like to see your version of a Zapata mustache…


annagrace November 17, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Ernie- your deep sadness and disappointment is so palpable. By virtue of growing up under the circumstances you did in Arizona, and because you went on to become such an amazing educator, your assessment of Arizona’s political environment is particularly noteworthy. Hard work lies ahead. And so do the possibilities for change.


Ernie McCray November 17, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Positive social change, I think, is about as fast as a snail walking backwards wearing shackles but if that’s the way it’s gotta be, so be it, huh? Hard work definitely lies ahead.


Lauren November 17, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Dear Ernie,

This is a great post. Long live love and ethnicity! Love abides.



Ernie McCray November 17, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Yes it do.


Joaquin Anguera November 17, 2010 at 7:22 pm

Outstanding, as usual, Ernie.
I’m sharing it with the 76 students in the class “Diversity and Aging.” You know that they admire you and they are very appreciative of you sharing your time with them. It is my hope that most of them will agree with your views.


Ernie McCray November 17, 2010 at 9:36 pm

That would be my hope too.


wendyEllen November 18, 2010 at 10:27 am

my mantra is….”I am still here…” They have cut my worlDance classes to one in the morning..yet the students fight to get in….I get up early two mornings a week to greet over 50 kids in the gym who want to practice on their own because they can’t be in my class…..they have decimated the hell out of dance in PE but…..I am still here…and even though I have to drag out the Filipino tinikling dancing stick onto the concrete while being forced to teach “Frisbee”….I am still here… gets so hard sometimes, I want to throw my hands up and retire…but…..I am still here, still teaching, still watching kids of all colors learn respect and the history of their own folklore…and sharing it with each other and audiences around the bay….still here.


Ernie McCray November 18, 2010 at 12:15 pm

And WE, with all our ethnicities and creeds and beliefs and human needs are still here and will remain so. And it would do us all a world of good to appreciate and support each other and learn about each other and dance with joy, thankful that we ARE. Or something like that (smile).


natalie legerrette November 18, 2010 at 9:27 pm


This was brilliant :)


Ernie McCray November 19, 2010 at 10:50 am

Gracias, mija.


Mary Ann Rosas November 19, 2010 at 11:44 am

Ernie (Charles),
Thank you very much for your great insight. Can always depend on you as a friend and scholar. Hope others will connect to the truth (knowledge is power). We shouldn’t be afraid of the truth but should learn from it.
Take care. God bless you. Call if you come to Tucson.


Frank Gormlie November 19, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Ernie, you’re our role-model out here in cyber-land.


JEC November 20, 2010 at 9:27 am

Any way you cut it, it’s a sensitive subject. Years ago the left chased a point we called cultural imperialism – that while the US was not actually conquering countries, our culture was still taking over through the arts and language. After 40 years of promoting cultural diversity, of watching the 1992 High School riots in LA and the head of the diversity program for LAUSD realize that not once did we stress what we have in common. With enough diversity soon the nation itself dissolves. Latino’s are imperialists – Mexicans too. Populate just like the US – with people from Ireland, Germany and even China. Poncho Villa though hated Chinese and massacred 20,000 in 1915 – Mexico’s enthic cleansing.

Enthic chauvinism? Potentially laughable, but doing so shows disrespect of the people who feel that way. It’s become far to easy to ridicule those we don’t agree with. We seem so quick to embrace the nobility of our morality while similtaneously condemning others. I respect Ernie, you walk your talk and have always shown sensitivity to others. But the cultural imperialism I opposed 40 years ago is still with us, only this time the US is on the receiving end. Consider the recent election – dozens of polls asked respondents for their ‘race or enthicity’. My enthicity is Celtic 100% – Danish, Irish and Scottish. The Celts warred with the Anglos and Saxons, the Franks and the other tribes of Europe for centuries. The white tribes of Europe dragged the world into 2 world wars in the 20th Century – so much for hegemony. But Celtic is not an option though Latino, Mexican, Cuban, Puetro Rican are. The more we focus on our enthic differences the more important are the distinctions. For years the same racial bigotry that fueled enthic chauvinism blamed white males for everything bad, to the point child psychologists became concerned. And if you check the racial data for the UC system, not the ideology, you’ll find white males are the most unrepresented cohort in the State and have been since the 1990’s. If the principle was balanced shouldn’t we now see affirmative action programs for white males? And Ernie, as you condemn Eurocentricism, what do you propose it be replaced with? Remember, Mexico speaks a European language, practices European religion and celebrates European features – (many blondes on Mexican TV). We are all mutts with a adhoc cultural created by chance. To argue against one culture in favor of another is to continue the cycle, repeat the pattern, invite new wars and new hostilities.


Ernie McCray November 21, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Well, I didn’t mean to condemn European perspectives as much as just point out that it is a powerful influence in our lives, in our education as human beings. What Arizona has done is try to prohibit the learning that can come from a diverse range of ways of looking at the world.
I agree with you that “to argue against one culture in favor of another is to continue the cycle, repeat the pattern, invite new wars and new hostilities.” Rather than replace Eurocentrism I would balance it with other perspectives, with other truths…
My take on affirmative action programs is that the approach should be that colleges should look around in society, at all times, and find people who seem to have something great or special to offer society and find ways to give them an opportunity to study at a high level – no matter their color or test scores.
Anyway, JEC, thanks for your contributions to this discussion.


Willie J. Horton, Jr. November 22, 2010 at 9:37 am

You article is very stimulating. I personally believe that culture and human competition makes race relations a problem. The instinct for species survival in lower animals seems to have a counterpart in human beings. Human beings compete with one another, on a collective basis,as if they belonged to different species. Many people actually believe that different groups-races, particularly -are of different species. (This belief points to the habit human beings have of operating not on the basis of facts but on the basis of their definition of facts.) Individuals cooperate with individuals with whom they identify; and they compete with outsiders.


Ernie McCray November 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm

I think you just nailed it, Willie, as you so often do.


Shane Finneran November 22, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Thanks for calling out 2281, Ernie. Most people have heard about 1070, but 2281 is just as bad. Did you know that more than 90% of the students in Tuscon High’s Mexican-American studies graduate from high school? This is versus an overall graduation rate of less than 50%. Sigh…

In other news, not many have heard that Arizona legalized medical marijuana back on November 2. That’s 16 states and counting. And it all started here in Cali in 1996.


Editordude November 22, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Shane – see this:


Ernie McCray November 22, 2010 at 9:35 pm

I’ve heard that much of the impetus for Arizona going after ethnic studies was due to Tucson High’s program. That’s very sad. On the other hand, I guess they can’t get everything wrong. Talking about the medical weed. More people need to take a toke and get their heads off trying to dim people’s hopes and dreams.


Priscilla Diaz February 24, 2011 at 10:24 am

Wow, this is so real. I believe that ignorance will diminish with the knowledge of our cultures, with the intermingling of histories. One of my fellow comrades, a young aspiring teacher spoke to me about your work. You see My name is Priscilla Diaz I am currently a Senior in Point Loma High School, President of M.E.Ch.A and a strong believer in Social Justice and Equality. Currently M.E.Ch.A Central a coalition of M.E.Ch.A’s in the San Diego region have been outraged with the current status in Arizona, Ranging from SB1070 to the extracting of ethnic studies in public high schools in Tuscon. We have been trying to spark a movement here in San Diego in solidarity with our Brothers and Sisters in Tuscon. When I mentioned this to Anna Flores, a consecutive reader of your posts’, she imediatley recomended for me to read your articles and I am awed by your position on such issues. We would Love to recieve your help in trying to change these policies and encourage the teaching of cultures’ history other than anglo-american or euro-american. I hope you can get in contact with me, your alliance would be of extreme help.

“Unity Makes Strength”


Ernie McCray February 24, 2011 at 1:48 pm

I’d be glad to help. I’m so clueless when it comes to cyberspace so I don’t know how we can connect without giving out all kinds of so called “private” information for all the world to see. I do have a home phone which can be found via 411 or, in all places, a phone book. I’m in contact with people in Tucson and there will be a fundraiser there in May to fight against the banning of ethnic studies. We could maybe help out in some way. Well, let’s see what can happen.


Kimberly May 9, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I really appreciate this entry. I am in a Ethnic Studies Program and it resonates completely with the statement you make : “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.”

The reason I am so passionate about Ethnic Studies is because it gives me a place in the world that wasn’t reflected in the mainstream media. Students then also made assumptions about me, my family… it can be really hard for a child to grow up thinking that they are “weird” because their culture doesn’t match up with their books, community, and friends. Ethnic Studies moves towards self love… community care… and hope for inclusion.


Ernie McCray May 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Thank you, Kimberly. It’s a good feeling to write a piece that resonates with something or somebody. Everyone has the need to feel that they truly belong in the world. Unconditionally. And you’re right. Ethnic studies do move ” towards self love… community care… and hope for inclusion.” Keep the passion.


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: