Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Land of the Free?

"Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among rocks." - Charlotte Bronte

Truer words could never have been said. Luckily, we live in America where our education is balanced and prejudice is a thing of the past.

Oh, did I say balanced? I meant "balanced" if all you want to learn about is the individual triumph of the white man and the historical degradation of ethnic cultures that make our country the "melting pot" it is said to be. Oh, and did I say prejudice is a thing of the past? What I meant to say was that prejudice is a thing of the past, present, and if we don't stand up and speak out, a thing of the future.

To preface my post, this is not about LGBTQ issues per se, although what I am discussing directly affects LGBTQ people of color. The vast intersections of social inequality and oppression create an urgency for activism from all sides. We need to be aware of social injustice regardless of our primary allegiance to a cause. We all have a race, we all have a sexuality, we all have a self-identified gender identity; oppression on these terms is detrimental to all of us, and should not be justified based on fear tactics.

Case in point: Arizona. Arizona has now passed an immigration law that allows police to demand immigration documents from people if they suspect they make be an illegal immigrant. Oh good, a law that encourages racial profiling and strengthens racial power asymmetry.

But, wait, that's not all!

There is also a new education policy testing the waters of destroying strong cultural diversity! There is a new ban on ethnic studies programs in Arizona state universities.

According to the Huffington Post, the ban states that schools will lose state funding if they offer any courses that "promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment of a particular race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

Resentment of a particular race or class of people? Could this resentment you speak of stem from a systematic discrimination of different races by white people? Teaching someone about the history of America or the current structure of our society through different cultural perspectives is valuable because it shows the weakness in the system not to overthrow it but to change it for the better. But no, I guess the best way to alleviate resentment of a particular race (aka white people) is to continue educating people through a white-washed lens that ignores privilege and structural factors of oppression.

Furthermore, I'm really tired of this idea of "color blindness." Yes, race is purely a social construction, but is real in the sense that it is loaded with historical context and power differentials. The power behind the social construction of race creates socioeconomic stratification and different life opportunities. I think we should be advocating ethnic solidarity! White people have solidarity: our solidarity is our economic system, our education, the external factors that favor our chances of success. Our historical solidarity has been in using our unmerited advantages to perpetuate a racial inequality that keeps us on top, whether or not we are overtly discriminatory. By gaining solidarity, different ethnicities in our society can decide what are the best paths and goals for gaining equality. Furthermore, I think it's interesting to point out that in the same month that a law is passed that allows police officers to corner people based on their suspected appearance of being an immigrant, Arizona is also saying that we should treat people like individuals and not based on their race or ethnicity.

I really wish that was the end of it. It's not. The Arizona Department of Education has now stipulated that people with "heavy" or "ungrammatical" accents are not allowed to teach English anymore. My question is: I've had some teacher with "heavy" country accents whose everyday grammar was not pristine, so under this new rule, would they be removed from their teaching position in Arizona? Probably not. It's sadly obvious that "heavy" or "ungrammatical" means not white.

It's really sad. Arizona has hit three big aspects of discrimination: discrimination in the criminal justice system, discrimination in education, and discrimination in the workplace.

We think we are moving forward. We hear the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., and we see images of the American Dream. Everyone has an equal chance at life; racism is a thing of the past. But, the American Dream is a myth. It's a lie. Even if you are white, the American Dream will not pull you out of structural poverty. The American Dream will not give you the resources you need to be successful, especially when our Boards of Education are failing our young students in public schools so terribly. Arizona has shown us that we are moving backwards on the front of racial equality. It's frightening to ask what's next.

Charlotte Bronte was right. Much of the hate that comes from homophobic people is because they have had no education about LGBTQ people and issues. They don't have a framework for the hate they are spewing. Now that ethnic studies classes are being banned in Arizona, education about racism and racial inequality will become less visible. Prejudice will stay firmly rooted in people's hearts. As we fight for LGBTQ equality, we must fight for equality on all fronts. LGBTQ people are treated as second class citizens in this society, and we cannot let this continue for anyone or any identity. Stand up for what's right. Speak out against ignorance and hate.


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