Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ethnic Studies and Marginalization

Arizona recently passed a law that among other things aims to remove ethnic studies courses from high schools.  House Bill 2281:
Prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that:
•Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
•Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
•Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
•Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

 Obviously, to anybody who has actually taken an ethnic studies course, this language in no way describes them.  Yet lest anyone doubt that ethnic studies programs are indeed the target, according to the Arizona Daily Star:
State schools chief Tom Horne, a Republican running for Attorney General, says the district's ethnic studies program promotes "ethnic chauvinism" and racial resentment toward whites.

People sometimes argue that, were ethnic studies programs to include white studies, they would be seen as racist. But this is a misunderstanding of the purpose of ethnic studies: to study the historical issues of oppressed groups. At the college level, this also includes women and gays. The reason it is important to study our interaction with these groups is so that we, as a society, may come to terms with our tendency to mistreat each other. This is a real phenomenon, and deserves attention.

To the extent that it emphasizes ethnic identity - what is wrong with that? As a straight white man I have no need to assert "pride" because it is inherent in the privileges I enjoy by default - society affirms my identity every day. The historical oppression of groups has occurred precisely because of their marginalization and disempowerment. What ethnic studies classes are doing is at worst simply adding what has been taken away, and at best providing us all an insight into how social structures and behavior patterns we take for granted ultimately result in the loss of freedoms for others. We are a nation rich in ethnic diversity and we ought to treasure the opportunity to learn to promote equality for all.

I could only find a piece of it, but Chris Rock does a great bit on the concept of false equivalency and social power structures.

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