Watching this video of an interview with Tom Horne, AZ’s public schools superintendent, and sociologist Michael Eric Dyson on AC 360 made me start yelling at my computer screen. It’s just unbelievable. I’ll wait here while you watch it.
Back? Okay. This got me thinking about methods of colonization. One of the ways colonizers maintain their dominance over the colonized and force their assimilation is “deculturation” and colonial re-education. It becomes forbidden to teach the colonized about their history, to speak their language, and to practice their religion. Their history is replaced by Western history, their language changed to that of the colonizer, and their religion is banned in favor of Christianity (in most cases). Teaching the colonized about their history is considered treasonous because it may inspire them to rise up against the colonizer. Take the slavery of African peoples in the U.S. for example, although it is a flawed example because slaves were obviously not colonized but commodified. In any case, slaves, too, were subject to deculturation and re-education. Learning among slaves was banned because if they realized they were slaves, they would revolt. (Which they did, in many cases.) They could not teach their children their native tongue, nor tell them the rich history of their homeland. All these actions could lead to slaves realizing the nature of their bondage and demanding their freedom, by force. This was the slave owners’ equivalent to “promoting the overthrow of the U.S. government”. Slaves must be made to believe they were better off slaves, or even meant to be slaves according to their new religion. Now illegal immigrants are the de facto slave class in society today. To draw another parallel to the days of U.S. slavery, Latinos born here or who immigrated here legally could be said to be in the position of free blacks in the North.
It is clear that the Arizona law was conceived as a response to the Tuscon Chicano studies program, as you can see from the video. Horne states that Latinos were being taught that they were oppressed by white people, and that’s a “downer”. Yes, he actually said oppression was a downer. America should be portrayed as the “land of opportunity”, with none of these downer subjects mixed in to distract from how great it is. Basically, Arizona and those who agree with their recently passed laws are reading from the colonization playbook. Latinos must speak English, no publicly speaking Spanish because YOU’RE IN AMERICA NOW, JACK! No learning about the varied history of Latino nationalities and no solidarity with their ethnic group because that might promote the overthrow of the U.S. government. And definitely don’t be a downer and let them know they’re being oppressed. Because once you know the name of the problem, you might want to fix it, and we can’t have that. Again, slaves can’t know they’re slaves.
So since we can’t have ethnic studies because the classes are designed for single ethnic groups (although as Horne admits, any student can enroll in the classes), surely Horne will fight to have the curriculum taught in the Tuscon ethnic studies classes integrated (for lack of a better word) into mainstream U.S. history courses, right? Somehow I doubt it. As with the immigration law, I can imagine that some states will follow suit in attempting to ban ethnic studies. Because the way to control a population and force their assimilation into the mainstream is to insure that they “forget” their heritage. Systematically stripping an ethnic group of their traditions, customs, language and history is the tranquilizer dart of the oppressor. An oppressed group that does not recognize the nature of their oppression lacks the basic tools to fight it.
This mentality that the U.S. is “ours” (and by “ours” I mean white, straight, cis, able-bodied and male) and we must jealously guard it from people of color trying to wrest it from our grasp is what got us in this position. If America truly is the land of opportunity (a moniker which makes me vomit a little in my own mouth), children of color should have the opportunity to learn about their heritage. Erasing their knowledge of their culture in order to assimilate them is unfortunately a common theme in U.S. history. Racism and prejudice are proliferating unchecked in our society right now, especially towards Latinos and Arab-Americans. Yet so many white public figures and ordinary citizens see us as being in a “post-racial” period, what with there being a Negro in the White House. This is just another reminder that our racial demons are alive and well, and don’t appear to be leaving us any time soon.