Arizona and the Colonization of the Mind

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.

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8 Responses to Arizona and the Colonization of the Mind

  1. Heather Flescher May 14, 2010 at 3:41 am #

    Argh! That video is surreal. Tom Horne repeats "land of opportunity" so many times, it's like it's a magic spell to keep at bay all the ugliness that's intruding on his worldview. (Which I guess is what it was always supposed to do.) I thought Michael Eric Dyson did a good job of making his points, considering how little time he was given… but Horne wasn't even listening to him, and there's no way to have a dialogue with someone like that.

    I want to know what Horne is so afraid of. Some kids reading Paolo Freire got dressed up in uniforms and bandanas. So what? Did they harm anyone? Did they threaten anyone? Did they negatively impact anyone's life in any significant way? What's Horne afraid of… other than brown people in general?

    And it's sickening how again and again, right-wingers latch onto that one little bit about "the content of their character" from Dr. King's speech at the 1963 March on Washington, and use it to try and smack down any suggestion that we're not one big happy homogenized family. Somewhere along the line, some of them must have read the actual speech. Some of them know they're twisting it into a completely different meaning. And they can quote it with a smile.

    Great post, Tasha. This is the stuff that Americans need to be paying attention to.

    • Tasha Fierce May 16, 2010 at 3:55 am #

      I bet he was so excited he could bring up how he was at the march on Washington. I felt bad for Michael Eric Dyson. I'm sure he wished he could seriously lay the smack down but had to be restrained for the purposes of the interview.

      And yeah, that "land of opportunity" repeat was really, really annoying.

    • mizztcasa May 22, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

      so agree with you! …and yeah, he's smile was def annoying.

  2. Twistie May 14, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    You know, watching that all I could think of was the story my husband told me about the time his fifth grade teacher stood him up in front of the classroom and demanded to know if he was sorry for Pearl Harbor.

    Mr. Twistie's mother was from Japan. In fact, she was a Nagasaki survivor. Somehow his assertion that he had nothing to do with the attack on Pearl Harbor, what with being born a generation later in a completely different country didn't impress his teacher.

    Unfortunately, incidents like that throughout his childhood made him feel that knowing or caring much about the Japanese side of his heritage was a bad thing.

    Under this sort of hysteria and fearmongering, my guess is that schoolkids in Arizona (and any other state that tries to follow suit) will, like Mr. Twistie, hear only the 'worst parts version' of any ethnicity that isn't white and Christian.

    My disgust knows no bounds.

    • Tasha Fierce May 16, 2010 at 3:57 am #

      I know, those kids are going to hear a sanitized version of American history and as the old cliche goes, if you don't learn from history it will repeat itself. I fear for the white children not learning about how their privilege has affected others throughout history.

  3. Dawn. May 16, 2010 at 8:32 am #

    Excellent analysis. I completely agree. What's happening in Arizona and what's happening with the Texas Board of Education are two stark examples of 21st century colonialism. It's really chilling how well it's working. I mean, we've been doing this for so long. Remember how it's, you know, really racist and imperialist?? I mean really, I thought we'd already come to that agreement. I guess not.

  4. la niebla May 17, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    Directed to your site from Shapely Prose, now browsing around. I love your writing! And thank you for this post in particular. Comparing slavery to the situation of present-day brown immigrants is a comparison that needs to be made, and needs to be made LOUD. I think it's at best a way to frame the discussion in ways that people already understand (slavery bad, freedom good), and at worst an inflammatory remark that people will have to contend with and therefore think about.

    I also was yelling at the tv when i saw that interview, half the time cheering desperately for Dyson and the other half raging helplessly at Horne. I felt bad for Dyson… how much more frustrating it had to be for him to be in that conversation than for me to listen to it!

    What's happening in AZ right now is so scary, and it isn't even new. I mean, the fact that the public school system even *has* an "ethnic studies" class to ban came as a really pleasant surprise. Not that it's existence makes any of this any better, since it's just being *banned.* I mean, not just cancelled, but BANNED. Jesus.

  5. mizztcasa May 22, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    This stuff gets me fired up – I love it and it makes my stomach sick at the same time. I can't believe this guy…and I can't believe this ban. At least they got Dyson to fire back at him – He's one of the best human/civil rights advocates out there. Thanks for posting. I def will share.

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