Neo-Racism in the Southwest


The surge of neo-racism in Arizona, especially racism directed at people of Mexican descent, has received sporadic media coverage over the past year.  But for the most part news about the economy and presidential politics has pushed off the front page Arizona’s attack against its working class of color and their children.  In other words, the slow motion creation of a new Jim Crow regime for Mexican Americans in Arizona is not “trending.”

But what is taking place in southern Arizona deserves our attention as the most fanatical episode in the war against public education.  Specifically, the question being posed is whether or not young people from working class communities and communities of color ought to be educated and if they are what are they entitled to learn?

Last month, the U.S. Supreme court agreed to hear Arizona’s appeal of a 9th Circuit decision that declared the draconian anti-immigrant SB 1070 in violation of federal law and therefore unconstitutional.  In the meantime, those who promoted 1070 steadily go about their business dismantling the highly successful Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson school district.

At first glance, the ban against “ethnic studies” would seem to be a prohibition against an entire academic discipline.  In reality, it is a narrowly targeted attack on Mexican American or Chicano studies.  As former University of Arizona dean Sal Baldenegro reports, the ban leaves other “ethnic studies” programs in place.

Accompanying the elimination of Mexican American studies is a list of prohibited books.  Shakespeare’s The Tempest leaps off the list as the most recognizable title.  Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and well-known histories by Howard Zinn, Ron Takaki, and Rudy Acuña join the castoffs.  According to the list, one-act plays by the Teatro campesino, short stories by Sandra Cisneros, essays by James Baldwin, and a speech by Cesar Chavez will be added to the bonfire (or at least sentenced to perpetual confinement in a local book depository).

The list of banned books invokes more ironies than I am able to unpack here.  That a collection of short stories (Cisneros’s Woman Hollering Creek) whose main characters are young Latina women negotiating gender and ethnic roles should be on a list of banned readings seems silly.  Silly unless one realizes that what frightens the right-wing Arizona politicians has less to do with the content of the books and more to do with the way they might be juxtaposed and interpreted by teachers who seek to empower their students.

Joining Shakespeare on the banned list is former UC Berkeley professor Ron Takaki.  In his history of the United States, A Different Mirror, Takaki takes the image of Caliban from The Tempest and uses it to explain how Native Americans, African slaves, and almost every single immigrant group that has come to these shores—Irish, Jewish, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, and so on—have been cast as the monstrous and dark outsider and fed through the grinder of white supremacy and economic exploitation.  Perhaps the Arizona Inquisitors (as Rudy Acuña calls them) are smarter than we thought.

But there is one more stunning paradox.  Although these books are banned for courses taught under the umbrella of Mexican American studies, many of the same books are allowed in other classes at schools such as Tucson’s University High where students are placed on a college track and exposed to a variety of uncensored curricular materials.

Could it be that the attack on Mexican American Studies in Arizona is less about “ethnic studies” and more about denying the right to education to the coming Latino majority (and to the Black community that the neoliberal consensus considers equally disposable)?

Across the Arizona border in California, we are witnessing a related transformation that is different in its details, subtler, and less openly racist.  There are no Sugiyamas, Hornes, or Huppenthals, the henchmen of the Arizona Tribunal.  But throughout the University of California and Cal State systems invisible technocrats are slowly destroying the public university and converting it into a corporate bastion where students from California are displaced by foreign students (who pay more), where students are “taught” in classes of 900 people, and where faculty are forced to become “entrepreneurs”–a fancy word for academic panhandlers.

At UC San Diego (UCSD), campus leaders recently published their three top priority areas for the future–all of them had to do with creating products for the market.  The word “education” was not mentioned once.  Academic areas that emphasize history and critical thinking are either shrinking or becoming a parody of themselves.  The push for on-line education is strong–no need to interact with real students.  We simply sell them virtual courses and have underpaid graduate students grade the work. Administrators brag that UCSD is no longer a California university; it’s an international university—this in a state that will be majority Latino by the year 2040.

As costs go up (more than a 300% increase at the UC system over the last decade), working class and youth of color will slowly be denied access.  The few that make it in will have to take on serious debt to finish.  The future? — Education for the already privileged and for a few tokens.  Education as preparation for the job market.  Education as the site of corporate-driven research.  Education to train elites from around the world.  No more critique of the status quo. Minimal engagement with local populations. A ban on critical pedagogy in the classroom.  No interest in teaching strategies that empower youth, especially those who do not already arrive with an abundance of social and economic capital.

Back in Arizona, Yolanda Sotelo, now in her thirtieth year of teaching in Tucson schools, was informed last week that monitors would visit her classroom to make sure banned books were not being used.  Teachers who assigned reading from prohibited titles would be reprimanded.  Monitors would also evaluate all posters in the classroom.  In other words, no critical thinking, no critical history, and no critical pedagogy for the new Calibans who must take their designated places in the market economy and forget their past.

JORGE MARISCAL has taught at both public and private universities for thirty years. His latest book is “Brown-Eyed Children of the Sun: Lessons From the Chicano Movement ” (University of New Mexico Press). His website is http://jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/

November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation