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I’m having a bout of insomnia for reasons unknown this morning. So, with no one to talk to at 5:26 AM EST, I turned to that 24-hour depot of wonders known as the internet. One of the top stories over at CNN.Com involves the banning of ethnic studies courses in Arizona schools, highlighted by a lively debate between Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, and famed sociologist Michael Eric Dyson. And let me tell you, the expressions on their faces let me know right away that this was going to be a fun time…

In a nutshell, Arizona’s governor has just signed a bill banning courses that “promote resentment” of other racial groups. Per CNN’s report, “The new law forbids elementary or secondary schools to teach classes that are “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” and advocate “the overthrow of the United States government” or “resentment toward a race or class of people.”

Obviously, any course that advocates “the overthrow of the United States government” should be banned, since we, you know, live in the United States. However, I gotta tell you, I’m skeptical that such a course ever really existed. I don’t live in Arizona, and I never attended an Arizona school, but I do find it hard to believe that any class promoting a government coup would have required 2 years of advocacy on the part of Mr. Horne to get it stopped. This sounds more like a tagline…that single sentence on movie posters that makes the feature sound super exciting (even if it’s Furry Vengeance).  In other words it’s the line that makes something sound better (or in this case, worse) than it really is.

Then there’s that part about “resentment towards a race or class of people”. Sure, if you’re taking a surface view, there shouldn’t be resentment towards a whole race or class of people. Harboring such feelings–using generalizations to judge individuals–is, essentially, profiling. And it’s wrong. But, I don’t think that’s the real issue here since Arizona just passed legislation that will likely fuel resentment towards a very specific race/class within its own state borders.

I think Mr. Horne’s comments to Anderson Cooper and Professor Dyson are a bit more telling. In several instances he mentioned that the Mexican-American studies program taught (Mexican-American) students that they were oppressed, which is wrong. Since America is the land of opportunity, they shouldn’t be taught that they are an oppressed people because, gosh-darnit, it’s just not true. This from the prominent politician who happens to be running for Attorney General.

Here’s the question I have to pose: Why is it people who most often claim that there’s no oppression/racism/discrimination are the ones least likely to have been affected by such social ills?

I don’t know a thing about Tom Horne other than what I’ve seen in the news and read on his campaign website, but what I can say with certainty is this: he’s not Mexican-American. Nor is he a school-age child/teenager. Which tells me that, despite being Arizona’s superintendent of instruction, he’s far-removed from what it’s like to be a minority youth in modern day America.

When I attended High School, there were no “Ethnic Studies” options. We took classes called Social Studies and History, and in both I remember thinking, “Wow, with the exception of the obligatory chapters on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harriet Tubman, doesn’t seem like people who look like me had much to do with American History or Society.” It would’ve been cool to see a curriculum that tried to shine a little light on the accomplishments of those less touted, since the majority of public education traditionally skews a certain way. And, if such an option had been available, then systematically banned for fear of anarchy, any resentment I had wouldn’t be squashed, but amplified.

Is America one of the greatest countries in the world? Absolutely. Are there opportunities here that don’t exist in anywhere else? Certainly are. Is there an ugly history of discrimination and racism here? Sure, it was only 2 generations ago when my grandfather wasn’t allowed in certain restaurants. Does tailoring school curriculum to focus on ‘safe’ topics make things better for everyone? That’s what Mr. Horne would have you to believe. But, does he really not understand that taking the option away only makes people seek it more? When you’re told to ignore the man behind the curtain, the curtain becomes your whole world.

Congratulations, Mr. Horne. You’ve successfully abated resentment towards a particular class or race of people, at least in the short term. For now, those who have been incorrectly labeled as oppressed can focus their resentment on you and your state government colleagues. And, if that feared government coup begins to spark, the rest of us will have fair warning because the opening battle will likely be at your doorstep.

And I’m sure you’ll be on CNN saying, “Told ya so…”

Speak up:



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