I was once told that the definition of insanity is to continue to do what you have always done and expect a different result. This becomes obvious when it comes to matters of race. As sure as things change they remain the same. Every minority group has struggled to achieve the “American Dream” in its own distinctive way. I must say, and most would agree, that African Americans have endured the harshest treatment. Certainly, people of our hue have had to suffer these indignities longer than any other ethnic group. Having lived through the Jim Crow era I can’t avoid hearing echoes of a horrible time that I had hoped was long gone. Through the use of Black Codes during that era the authors went to great lengths to try to keep “agitators” from awakening the Negro sense of pride and injustice, which brings me to the new laws in Arizona.
Recently, Arizona passed a law that said a certain ethnic group MUST carry papers to prove they are legal, which sounds a lot like the “Black Codes” from the days of slavery. Then, like now, those codes were meant to control the labor force and to separate one race from another. Although there was the general perception that the illegal immigrant was the “New Negro”, we don’t have to pretend anymore. Arizona’s passing of that, at best, mean spirited immigration law “breathing while Latino” wasn’t about high-minded principle or the need to maintain public order. If I can keep it real, it was all about putting Latinos in their place in the same manner as it was designed to do long ago, but it didn’t end there.
On Tuesday, the Governor signed a measure making it illegal for any course taught in the public schools to “advocate ethnic solidarity.” Arizona’s top education official, Tom Horne, fought for the new law as a weapon against a program in Tucson that teaches Mexican American students about their history and culture that he claimed was to teach “ethnic chauvinism.” He has complained that young Mexican Americans are falsely being led to believe that they belong to an oppressed minority. History tells us the same claim was made during slavery and segregation when they said, “Negro’s love the Master”. Therefore, they felt the way to dispel that notion was to pass oppressive new legislation aimed squarely at Mexican Americans. That’ll teach the kids a lesson, all right: We have power. You don’t.
The education bill begins with a bizarre piece of nonsense, making it illegal for public or charter schools to offer courses that “promote the overthrow of the United States government.” Then it shifts from weird to offensive, prohibiting classes that “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” that “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” and that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” If you think about this language – we all should be concerned.
I am going to overlook whether it can apply to any other ethnic group – for a moment. Let’s just look at the intended targets. More than half the students in the Tucson Unified School District are Latino, the great majority of them Mexican American. The land that is now Arizona once belonged to Mexico. Might teaching that fact “promote resentment” among students of Mexican descent? Or does this mean they do not want to teach basic history? What about a class that taught students how activists fought to end discrimination against Latinos in Arizona and other Western states? Would that illegally encourage students to resent the way their parents and grandparents were treated? Ok, I’ll digress. There was no history concerning Negro’s presented or taught until about 1900.
Let say the Mexican American students should not be taught to be proud of their heritage. The good “citizen’s councils” of Arizona do know that about 30 percent of the state’s population is Latino, and that number continues to rise. As a result, I would argue that this demographic shift has induced culture shock among some Arizonans who see the old Anglo power structure losing control. It is evidently threatening to some people that Mexican Americans would see themselves as a group with common interests and grievances. Or even more threatening that they might see themselves as distant heirs to the men and women who lived in Arizona long before the first Anglos arrived. Therefore, any sense of solidarity among Mexican Americans must be delegitimized. This ethnic group has to be taught to see itself as a population of unaffiliated individuals.
It’s important to distinguish between Arizona officials’ legitimate concerns and their illegitimate ones. The state does have a real problem with illegal immigration, and the federal government has ignored its responsibility to enact comprehensive reform that would make the border more secure. To which I believe is the fault of the “Party of No”. But Arizona is lashing out with measures that will not just punish the undocumented but it will negatively affect Mexican American citizens whose local roots are generations deep. Mexican Americans are inevitably going to feel proud of who they are and where they came from; even if acknowledging and encouraging such pride in the classroom is against the law, which is simply absurd.
It was once proclaimed by a great man that injustice any where is injustice everywhere or was it injustice to anyone is an injustice to everyone. I said that to say this, in 1896 there was a landmark case Plessy v. Ferguson where the US Supreme Court decided in the jurisprudence of the United States upholding the constitutionality of racial segregation in public accommodations (particularly railroads), which established the doctrine of “separate but equal” that was the law of the land for a half century. Less we not forget…