Arizona and Ethnic Studies

19:57 Thu 06 May 2010
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In addition to the immigration law that Arizona recently passed, there’s another gem, an apparent attempt to outlaw ethnic studies.

My personal favorite quotation on this subject is from Representative Steve Montenegro: “They shouldn’t be taught they’re oppressed”. He presumably means that nobody in the US should be taught that they’re being oppressed since he’s sure there’s no oppression—rather than being against actually teaching the oppressed about their oppression, but one never knows. He also says “We’re trying to prevent the promotion of victimology”, which might seem reasonable unless you think that exploitation and prejudice based on ethnicity are prevalent, in which case it again sounds more like “we don’t want the exploited to learn that they’re exploited”.

Apart from the specifics, the bill also reflects a struggle over political control of public education; the individual school district presumably has a political makeup that supports the ethnic studies program, while the state as a whole does not, and so the state as a whole is trying to enforce orthodoxy on the topic.

3 Responses to “Arizona and Ethnic Studies”

  1. Michael Franks Says:

    First off, my bona fides, because in a legal sense I have standing on this issue. I still maintain an Arizona drivers license (it doesn’t expire until 2034), I hold degrees from Arizona State University (BS Economics, MS Political Science [with a specialization in Latin America]), I grew up in Arizona, and I maintain a residence in Arizona.

    Second, I decry Arizona SB 1070 as patently offensive to civilized society in almost every way imaginable. Although your post only once mentions the Enforcement of Immigration Laws bill, we both know that the Ethnic Studies topic wouldn’t have been mentioned were it not for the prior legislation. I would typically file this under “fuel on the fire,” but I take exception with your correlation.

    Third, I don’t even think this is really about curricula standards. While that’s the approach this sponsors of this bill (A Salvadorean!) have taken, I strongly suspect that they see it primarily as a means to an end. That end, from my point of view, isn’t a Huxleyan society, but a post-racial one.

    What is this really about? Prima facie, this is an attempt to stop the cycle of victimism. I encourage you to read (at least) the first chapter of Cornell West’s “Race Matters.” In the abstract (for those that haven’t and/or won’t read it), West posits a system whereby American Blacks operate in a system in which they bring about negative circumstances because of their actions and they are perceived from outside their communities as negative. The system was most succinctly exemplified by Rod Smart . While West’s focus is on the African-American community and its plight, it’s applicable to the issue at hand. If you perceive yourself as a victim and then act like the rules don’t apply to you because you’ve been victimized, then you’ll full the perception that you’re a victim and that you deserve special treatment (incarceration, welfare, etc.). Who does this help?

    I find this proposed bill offensive as well, although not on the same grounds you’ve presented. You know me and that I’m a civil libertarian. I’m affronted by any limit on speech, and I see this is prime ground for an ACLU suit. That said, I find that the bill’s sponsors’ hearts are in the right place. To attack the Honorable Steve Montenegro for his misplaced intentions, at this time, is opportunistic and cheap.

  2. Tadhg Says:


    The goal of a “post-racial society” is laudable in a very long-term view. The notion, however, that we can get there in the short-term by outlawing certain kinds of ethnic consciousness is laughable and, worse, dangerous. The US is nowhere near “post-racial” in terms of fact (70% of the prison population is non-white, a rather clear indicator) and promoting a belief that it is primarily benefits those currently atop the power structure.

    The notion of victimhood may be psychologically harmful in certain respects, but awareness of institutional racism is also rather necessary to achieve change. I’m not sure whether our disagreement here is one of fact (whether or not institutional racism is present and important in this country) or of tactical opinion (what the effective means of eliminating that racism are). In either case, I don’t think that preventing a sense of victimhood is effectively served by prohibiting specific ethnic groups from deciding for themselves what their own history, identity, and relationship to the United States are.

    Also note that the terms of the bill are extraordinarily broad: barred would be classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people”, which is ridiculous. A reasonable analysis of extremely recent economic events would fairly naturally lead to a resentment towards the class of people responsible for creating our current economic crisis—and thus couldn’t be taught in Arizona.

    I can’t really judge the hearts of the bills sponsors, but I remain extremely skeptical about their motives. However, even if their motives are entirely pure, it doesn’t really matter; what matters is the actions they take, and the action of supporting this bill is wrong on a number of levels.

    I don’t know much about Steve Montenegro, but I suspect that he believes, possibly judging from his own experience, that it’s perfectly possible for non-whites to succeed in the United States, and that teaching children otherwise is doing them a disservice. Since I believe that there are extremely significant obstacles placed in the path of those who are non-white and/or poor here, I think that teaching children this fact is teaching them the truth, and a rather important truth for them to know. I stand by the interpretation of his words that I wrote in my post, and remain unimpressed by his actions and statements; even if he does sincerely believe what he’s saying about “victimology”, it is his responsibility to know better.

  3. garret Says:

    The USA moved the mexican border in a huge landgrab. Mexicans should go around Arizona and ask US citizens for their papers and if they don’t have them, they should be then shackled in irons and deported back to Washington state. VIVA MEXICO. I think Los Tigres Del Norte and their Narco Corridos best sum up the reality of the situation:


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