FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Intellectual Incest

by RODOLFO ACUÑA

It has always been difficult to convince Anglo-Americans that they should know more about Latinos.  It did not seem to matter to Anglos that their ignorance spawned stereotypes that damaged Mexican American children.

Even after World War II and the Korean Wars when Mexican American proportionately received more Medal of Honors than any other group, just convincing Anglos that Mexican Americans were entitled to veterans benefits was difficult. This rejection forced Mexican Americans to form the American GI Forum and other organizations to demand equal rights.

I remember that as late as the 1970s when Mexican Americans students began to enter graduate schools, counselors would refer them to the foreign student office.

Mexican Americans had to sue and convince judges that they were an identifiable minority who had been historical discriminated against and consequently entitled to equal protection. This right was not clarified until Cisneros v. Corpus Christi Independent School District (1970).

It was a frustrating experience for those struggling for fairness and equality. We tried to explain the consequences of benign neglect of a group. Mexican Americans were disadvantaged because of poverty, unequal schools, racism, and a society that did not care – not because of their genes.

The problem was exacerbated during the War on Poverty in the 1960s when many some whites tried to play blacks against browns, trying to frame the Civil Rights Movement in Black-White terms.  When this did not work, they brought up arguments such as “If we give it to Mexicans, how about Asians and Native Americans?”

The majority society could not overcome its tunnel vision. They could not get it that it was not solely a matter of color. It was about human rights; it was justice rather than “just us.”

Liberals could not understand that the best way to insure fairness and correct problems was to know about people.  Not all Mexicans played a guitar and not all blacks tap danced. Not all Mexicans craved jalapeños and not all blacks liked watermelon.

Mexican American (AKA Chicano Studies) came about because of the failure of the educational establishment to deal with systemic problems such as high school drop outs. Chicana/o Studies proposed improving the education of Mexican Americans (who by 1970 were 22 percent of the LA Schools) by increasing knowledge about them.

It was not just about Mexican Americans knowing about themselves but about others knowing about them.  Very really in 1969 many white people could drive to and from work without seeing a Mexican American.  The only white people Mexicans saw in the barrios were teachers, cops and some merchants.

In the San Fernando Valley, neighborhoods were neatly separated. It was the land of the Valley girl and San Fernando/Pacoima was like foreign colony – a gated community within a gated community.

When the upheaval began at San Fernando Valley State in 1968, Mexican Americans were fortunate that there were enough faculty members on campus who knew what a black American was and knew enough history to realize that blacks were oppressed.

At SFVSC and on other campuses there was not overwhelming support for outreach to Mexican American high school students. This lack of support should not be confused with the black-white syndrome –seeing every issue in terms of black and white. It was more a matter of Mexicans being invisible – an issue that I addressed more fully in my book Anything But Mexican (Verso 1996).

When I arrived at Valley State in the spring of 1969 to set up a Mexican American Studies Department there was resistance. Some faculty members could understand that African Americans had a corpus of knowledge and a history of oppression. However, they did not have the same awareness about Mexicans in the United States. I would venture to say that most did not even have a Cliff Note level background on the Mexican American War, remembering only the movie versions of the Alamo.

I soon found that you could not equate their ignorance to ideology. Many were good liberals –against the Vietnam War and in support of civil rights for blacks. These people were color blind to the extreme. They failed to see a lack of equality in having an institution with 18,000 students with only fifty students Mexican Americas. They had a harder time with demands for a Mexican American Studies program.

While blacks were begrudgingly acknowledged as Americans, it was up to Mexicans to earn this right. It was not a matter of citizenship. At the time, most Mexican Americans were born in this country, and many of their fathers were veterans.

The ignorance was systemic. For example, when I was doing my teacher training at Los Angeles State College very few of my education professors were from the southwest; fewer had taught in Mexican American schools; but they were there to teach us how to teach Mexican students.

When I expressed my desire to go into higher education, I was advised to go to the East Coast because California universities were reluctant to hire PhDs from local universities. They wanted to avoid intellectual incest which is when where too many people in a group all think alike. They rationalized that intellectual incest would “exclude legitimate diverse viewpoints.”

Outside of academe, this principle has fallen apart with the growing popularity of fads such as home-schooling where it is taken to a ridiculous end.

Cal State Northridge has the largest Chicana/o Studies Department in the nation, offering 166 sections per semester, which is larger than some small colleges. Over 11,000 students are Latino; however, over 75 percent of the academic departments do not have a single person of Mexican descent. Why?

It is not because of color blindness but an adherence to it. Most conservative and liberal professors want to select people that look like them. They tend to repeat the ideas of their professors.

While I believe that the notion of intellectual incest in the first instance was wrong, it goes on all the time in life.

Take the Supreme Court.  Most justices in this and the past century have come from three law schools, Harvard, Yale and Columbia. This term is no exception. Most of these justices are from upper middle-class families and worked for large firms representing corporate interests. Their friends are from the corporate world and some even receive honorariums to speak before the one percent. Is it being divisive to point this out as an example of intellectual incest?

Bill Clinton nominated my friend and former student Samuel Paz to the U.S. District Court. Sam did even make it out of committee. Many Republican and Democratic senators said he could not be fair and objective. Sam had been president of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties chapter and he did not practice the right kind of law, representing the poor against police brutality. Sam also did not go to the right law school – the University of Southern California.

Can we accept the logic that Clarence Thomas and his gaggle can be fair?

This brings me back to Tucson, which as you all know has been on my mind. Right now the issues are being played out in the courts where the state courts punctuated by intellectual light weights are beholding to politicians beholding to the same special interests as those influencing the Supreme Court.

Red flags went up when United States District Judge, David C. Bury, held “This Court finds that discontinuance of the MASD courses during the remainder of the USP’s life expectancy will not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution by intentionally segregating or discriminating against student’s based on race or ethnic group.” The issue with many of us was the enforcement of the law, which Arizona has avoided with impunity since Brown v. The Board of Education.

Bury acted on the recommendation of Special Master Willis Hawley who on paper has a good record in supporting progressive education. But most of his experience is with African Americans in Maryland and he has had little exposure to Latinos and even less with Arizona politics.  The decision alarmed many of us since we have seen the decimation of Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program and the retaliation against teachers through retaliatory, disparate, and discriminatory practices.

At this very moment the Tucson Unified School District is refusing to renew the contract of Sean Arce, the coordinator of its highly successful Mexican American Studies program – his crime, he defended the community.

Thus far, Hawley has chosen to consult with TUSD leadership rather than Mexican American educators who know the needs of the Mexican American students. At this point, it does not appear that Hawley or Judge Bury are considering fifty years of non-compliance as well as the manipulation of the appointment of school board members. Intellectual incest has a way of distorting reality.

It is a scary process not only for Mexican Americans but society in general. I don’t want to be a pessimist but consider,  “Would you want to be judged or taught by someone home schooled by Rick Santorum?”

RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution. 

 

RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail