By Brian Feist
First Arizona legislators passed a law that requires local law enforcement agencies to verify the citizenship of anyone they feel may be in the United States illegally. That’s a polite way of saying if you’re in Arizona and look or sound Hispanic, you’d better have your papers with you if you don’t want to get arrested. (Sounds a little bit Nazi to me, but hey, that’s just me.) “Breathing While Brown” is the new “Driving While Black,” a “crime” with which many, particularly southern, African-Americans are well acquainted. Now Arizona legislators have added insult to injury and have passed a law banning so-called cultural studies classes, or classes designed for students of a particular ethnicity, in Arizona schools.
These laws, the basis of which supporters claim is frustration on the part of predominantly white Americans at the Federal Government’s inability to control our borders, are further evidence that racism in America is alive and thriving. I can understand the frustration, especially when you consider that “terrorists” can cross our borders with impunity while law-abiding citizens can’t take a tube of toothpaste on an airplane. But an even stronger motivation for this misdirected nationalism is fear.
White Americans of European descent have comfortably dominated the culture on this continent for over 300 years, routing out the Native Americans and Hispanics and anyone else who got in the way. But as Bob Dylan wrote, the times, they are a-changin’. The natives are getting restless, so to speak, and the “minorities” are growing in numbers and political clout. Whites are on the verge of losing their edge, and they’re scared. And anyone with a lick of sense knows that a scared animal is a dangerous animal.
The Arizona laws are not new–they’re just the latest, most visible attempts being made to promote some sense of white nationalism (supremacy?) in America. For years “language purists” have been fighting the inclusion (tolerance?) of the Spanish language in the United States. (It’s the same in some parts of Canada, albeit with French vs. English.) Some people want to pass laws declaring English as the “official” language of the United States. Some municipalities have passed ordinances banning bi-lingual signage, hiding their ethnic intolerance behind claims of “budget concerns.” Their mantra is, if you’re going to live in America, learn speak English. These language purists seem to forget that if they are of anything other than Native American descent, they are the descendents of immigrants.
They also fail to grasp that few immigrants managed to learn more than rudimentary English upon arrival to America. For most it has taken at least a couple of generations for their families to become fully integrated into a “mainstream” American existence. Indeed, in some larger cities there still remain neighborhoods where citizens continue to speak their native language and retain their native cultural identities, even generations after immigrating. Further, many of our “charming” regional American dialects and accents are directly related to the ethnic backgrounds of the immigrants who settled in those regions 150-200 years ago or more.
Some of these jackasses who are demanding that every new arrival in this country immediately start speaking English ought to take their own advice and learn the language, themselves. Read the posts some of these people put online and you’ll see my point. It’s the height of hypocrisy when some idiot who clearly wouldn’t know a participle from an integer writes, “them f**king mexicans [sic] need to learn to talk f**king english [sic] or go home.” Seriously!
Which brings me back to Arizona’s new law. Banning ethnic studies courses is not only blatantly racist, it’s just plain stupid! If anything, we should be promoting broader inclusion in minority studies courses. By teaching the contributions of women, blacks, Latinos, etc. in American history, these courses not only engender pride in one’s ethnicity or self-identity, they also round out what we all traditionally learn from typical history books.
Let me give an example. When I was a child I learned that George Washington Carver was a black man who developed hundreds of uses for peanuts, and that this was a significant contribution to the agricultural economy of the South, after years of over-production of cotton had depleted the soil. End of story.
Had there been a Black Studies program I may have learned that his work with peanuts was just the tip of the iceberg for this brilliant scientist, botanist, educator and inventor who was born into slavery and rose to international renown. Had we had a Gay Studies program I may have learned that Carver was also very likely homosexual. Now maybe, whether you’re gay or black or not, you don’t care, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to know that George Washington Carver’s life was more than just peanuts. And just maybe, knowing the whole story could give someone a little different perspective on black or gay people, in general. But that might promote tolerance, and we can’t have any of that, now, can we?
Too many people are too comfortable with a one-sided view of history, and don’t want to have their perceptions challenged with the facts. If you don’t know Pancho Villa from Sancho Panza, or Angela Davis from Zora Neale Hurston, maybe your education could be a little bit more well-rounded. Mainstream history books don’t provide the full story of the Bayard Rustins and Susan B. Anthonys of the world. Minority Studies courses shouldn’t be banned, they should be required–for ALL students, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity. Anything else is just bowing to fear.