[Ed. note: this post in solidarity with Ethnic Studies students and educators in Arizona is inspired by FAAN Mail's #WishiLearnedinHS campaign. For more information about the Ethnic Studies ban, including a list of books confiscated from Arizona public schools, please click here.]
By Eliana Buenrostro
On Februrary 1 2012, the bill HB 2281 went into effect in Arizona, banning any ethnic studies classes from being taught in public schools. The reasons for this ban—straight from the legislation itself—is that ethnic studies classes “promote resentment towards a race or class of people.” The only race or class I can think of that this would apply to are white Americans and rich people, aka the dominant groups in this country. Ethnic studies also apparently “advocate [s] ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” This is just another example of white culture: white heroes and white media are inclusive and for everyone to know learn about and enjoy, but anything primarily including people of color or women is a “special interest” and flies in the face of white male “individuality.”
I can tell that the representatives who came up with this legislation have never been treated differently because of their race and have never been told their culture is only a subsection of history and not worthy of mainstream attention. This is extremely infuriating and is just another rehashed argument of how we shouldn’t have something like Black History Month because we are all equal now or something like that. The truth is that we do need to devote extra time to learn about our cultural heritage.
The reason we should have classes dedicated to learning about ethnic and cultural history, including the studies of African-American, Mexican-American, and Asian-American history, is that these lessons aren’t being taught in our regular American history classes. When I was in high school, the two history classes offered for sophomores were World History and European History. I remember mentioning this to one of my teachers, and he responded “isn’t all history already European history anyway?” He was referring to the way history classes are taught and how the stories told are primarily the successes of white males of European origin.
Truth be told, I am always surprised to learn some of the things women and people of color have accomplished. I am also consumed by anger knowing that is information is being kept from us because it’s not part of required curriculum. We should all be learning about cultures other than the white default.
What I wish I did learn in high school was about Dolores Huerta’s work for the grape strike and labor movements. She worked together with Cesar Chavez, yet he is the only one with a commemorative day and stamp. I wish I had learned in high school about the present staggeringly high incarceration rate of African-American men and women. I wish I had learned about the levels of poverty that Native American people still live in as a result of all the atrocities committed against them. I wish I had learned in high school about important black power leaders like Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis and Huey P. Newton. I wish I had learned in high school about the first woman shot during the revolutionary war. I wish I had learned in high school what it was it was like to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender all throughout American history and I wish it had been talked about that many important figures were in fact queer.
There is no denying that HB 2281 is fueled by racism. We are taught to think of white, straight American history as our own, but anything that doesn’t fall into that category is taught separately, if it is taught at all. Some people truly believe that racism will be conquered if we stop talking about our differences and just embrace what is already American culture. The truth is we all come from different cultural backgrounds and those differences need to be celebrated. I cannot just pretend I am not a Chicana. I couldn’t if I tried and I wouldn’t want to. It is an intrinsic part of me and it shapes my world view. The same could be said for every individual and their own background. It certainly doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn about other cultures including those already taught in American history. People of color and women are just as responsible for building this country, and I am tired of being told otherwise. How can you ignore such important parts of history when they involve so many of the people living in the US?