There are many things in life that occur with near universal certainty. One of those is our propensity to experience irrational fear. When irrational fears dominate public and political discourse, lasting painful legacies are often left in their wake.
We have been down this road before with the state of Arizona, most notably with their passing of the anti-immigrant (read: anti-Mexican) SB 1070. Though this law was mostly struck down by the Supreme Court recently, one of its less discussed legacies remains: HB 2281, otherwise known as the Mexican American Studies Ban.
In fact, many of you reading this article are probably reading about HB 2281 for the first time, in spite of the fact that it has been in effect since the beginning of 2011. This law was passed under the (false) presumption that such ethnic studies classes serve only to teach students to “resent or hate other races or classes of people.” Let’s put aside the fact that this statement is so unsupported by research, that it can only be deemed laughably absurd. Ethnic studies programs have instead been shown to produce significant increases in self-esteem and school engagement.
An investigation into the motivations behind the law reveals something more sinister. This law is a prime example of policy driven not by fact, but by moral panic. Recall that in a previous article, I described moral panic as the sense of outrage amongst a group of people that is directed towards a source, which, upon further examination, does not merit such outrage. Written under the guise of “American exceptionalism,” HB 2281 was motivated by the asinine idea that the very act of merely acknowledging the shortcomings of the United States will (A) lead individuals to hate the country and (B) provoke such individuals to enact violent aggression towards white folks.
As a result of this law, something even more frightening has occurred: the production of a list of books that are banned from being a part of the public educational curriculum. And to no surprise, most of these books have either Latino authors or include the mere discussion of racial issues. These books include Drown by Junot Diaz, Zorro by Isabel Allende, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, and The Tempest by William Shakespeare.
Yep, apparently Shakespeare is a threat to impressionable young minds.
Let’s put aside the irony of trying to promote colorblindness by subjugating a particular ethnic group. Let’s also put aside the hypocrisy of small-government conservatives who nonetheless use government action to target a particular group of people. We are still left with a level of ethnic censorship that is reminiscent of South Africa during Apartheid, as well as other countries with oppressive regimes.
To deny or otherwise attempt to eradicate the history, struggles, culture, customs and language of a group of citizens – particularly under the disingenuous and narcissistic concept of “American exceptionalism” – is to engage in one of the most deplorable actions known to humankind.