Friday, May 14, 2010

Counterpoint: On Utah Copycatting Arizona's attack on "Ethnic Studies."

I recently subscribed to a blog called the "Voice of Deseret" written by a self-described "Utah expatriate." VoD came to my attention when they objected to me calling Jason Chaffetz--at various times--"an uninformed horse's ass" and "...a megalomaniacal, narcissistic douche bag."

I've since agreed to be less crass in my characterizations of the lying, hypocritical ignoramus that currently represents Utah's 3rd District.

VoD has written a post about legislation in Utah that mirrors a law recently passed in Arizona banning ethnic studies classes.

I'd like comment on a few of the remarks VoD made in their analysis:
On The University of Utah's ethnic studies program: "... you'll note that there's no provision for European-American ethnic studies."
That's like complaining because there's no "White Entertainment Television" to go up against Black Entertainment Television (BET). White people don't need a "W-E-T" network because white people have been dictating most television programing since Nazi Germany broadcast the 1936 Olympics. (That's not Godwin's law creeping in, that's just history)

European-American ethnic studies courses already exist. European-American ethnicity is the DE FACTO paradigm through which the American education system is filtered. Most American text books are written largely from the point of view of "European-Americans" AKA "a bunch of rich white guys."

VoD also mentions new Arizona guidelines "...prohibiting a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that:
  • Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
  • Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
  • Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  • Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."
I have a question for VoD, Have you--or anyone for that matter--verified that there even exists an ethnic studies class at an accredited school that actually "Promote[s] the overthrow of the United States Government" as part of its curriculum?

When one considers the reality of racism that has existed and still exists in this country,, how can one NOT expect a certain degree of resentment toward a race--even one's own--just from taking a general studies--i.e. European-American--history class?

Has VoD ever taken an ethnic studies class? They aren't designed for a particular ethnic group. They exist for students of all backgrounds to better understand the American experience from the point of view of the many ethnic backgrounds that represent the population of the country. When one considers the rich ethnic tradition of our nation of immigrants, I can't think of anything more valuable to understanding our nation's history than to understand from the points of view of EVERYONE involved, not just the one ethnic group (European-Americans) that have had the greatest advantage over others for the past 500+ years.

And there is nothing wrong with celebrating one's ethnicity and feeling a certain solidarity with others who share a common heritage. There's nothing endemic to American culture that requires one to pretend that their ethnic roots don't exist or that they should be shunned and forgotten.

Vod goes on to say:
"This was necessitated by the fact that many ethnic studies classes had been hijacked by anti-racist white progressives and actual non-white racists who taught that the United States committed "genocide" against the American Indians... [this] trivializes and minimizes real genocide committed in Europe and Asia during the 20th century..."
I guess VoD has an issue with the definition of the word "genocide." Considering the fact that it's a relatively new word in the English lexicon, there are varying definitions--many of them legal definitions--but I say let's take it to the source.

Raphael Lemkin, the person who coined the term in 1944, defines genocide thus:
"By 'genocide' we mean the destruction of an ethnic group . . . . Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups..." (Axis Rule in Occupied Europe ix. 79)
One of the things that modern genocides all have in common is that they occurred within a relatively short period of time but Lemkin points out early on that "Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation..." When we consider the degree of territorial, cultural and populous expansion of European settlers--and the concurrent displacement and decimation of native Americans--over the first 400 years of American history, it's difficult not to couch the plight of native Americans in terms of genocide. VoD might argue that there was no "final solution" to rid the Americas of its native inhabitants. Apparently he's never heard of the Indian Removal act of 1830. No, it didn't try to legalize the deliberate murder of native Americans but it did codify an agenda of removing them from the land they called home for thousands of years and many of them did die in the process. Perhaps VoD has never heard of the Trail of Tears. How far removed from the ethnic ghettos of Nazi occupied Europe are American indian reservations? How many wars against native Americans were waged for the sole purpose of acquiring the land they occupied? Native Americans have been scapegoated and vilified as much as any other "ethnic" population by so-called European-American settlers and yet they were here first. We should also consider the cost in human lives that were the result of this treatment of native Americans. The European holocaust took the lives of approximately 6 million Jews and that is considered genocide. The destruction of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire witnessed between 1 and 1.5 million Armenian deaths and that is called a genocide. Around 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda and that too is considered genocide. Estimates of native American deaths as a result of European colonization range in the millions. That sounds like genocide to me. It may not have been state-sponsored murder but the results were largely the same.

VoD goes on to point out that the Arizona law does "NOT" restrict "Courses or classes that include the history of any ethnic group and that are open to all students."

Has any ethnic studies class actually discouraged students from participating in said class because of their race? I doubt it. I always understood that unpopular courses get dropped from the schedule. Excluding ANYONE from attending based on anything other than a lack of required academic prerequisites would be seriously counterintuitive to anyone who wants the core message of their agenda to be available to a broad audience.

Let there be no doubt that this latest law in Arizona, like the "Papers, please" law that's garnered so much more attention, isn't based on concerns about the quality of public education, it's based on racism.

1 comment:

  1. Well said! I came across VoD's post because in one of my - dare I say it? - Multicultural Education classes - we were talking about the Arizona law and Utah's interest in following suit. So I was looking around the internet for info on Utah and their consideration of a similar law. I was horrified by VoD's post and I think your rebuttal is thoughtful and I am glad it's out here!

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