Arizona’s Ethnic Prohibition and Definitions

The law inspired by Superintendent Tom Horne in Arizona prohibits ethnic-studies classes that appear to “teach” ethnic solidarity. So I thought we might look briefly at some definition of keywords in the law. (Definitions generate their own form of solidarity.)

From this site, we get a definition of “ethnic”:

ethnic group
a category or group of people considered to be significantly different from others in terms of cultural (dialect, religion, traditions, etc.) and sometimes physical characteristics (skin color, body shape, etc.). Commonly recognized American ethnic groups include American Indians, Jews, Latinos, Chinese, African Americans (“blacks”), European Americans (“whites”), etc.

From the OED online, we get a definition of “solidarity”:

1. a. The fact or quality, on the part of communities, etc., of being perfectly united or at one in some respect, esp. in interests, sympathies, or aspirations; spec. with reference to the aspirations or actions of trade-union members.

I don’t know how crucial the word “perfectly” is above; anyway, key words in the definition are “interests, sympathies, or aspirations.” The reference to trade-unions acknowledges both French and Polish uses of a similar word (e.g., the “Solidarity” [translated] movement in Poland, 1980s).

A problem with Horne’s vision and the law’s attempted prohibition is that a history course that covered contact, commerce, or conflict between whites and Mexicans or Mexican Americans might violate the law because it could be accused of teaching ethnic solidarity by reporting it. A second problem is that the law might violate itself, by definition, because it appears to be biased in favor of white ethnicity, which is implicitly offered as a default setting. That is, if you teach “just [white] history,” you’re all right–but really not all right because white can be viewed as an ethnic group.

An attorney and blogger named Michael Yaki discusses more potential problems for Horne and the law (SF Gate):

Horne’s dilemma is that enforcement will be so arbitrary, so capricious, relying, most likely, on Horne’s particular biases and whims that the statute is begging for a First Amendment challenge. How do you quantify or measure “resentment.” “Ethnic solidarity?” If two Latino students, hearing about the plight of migrant workers in the lettuce fields of California, feel that they should send a donation to the United Farm Workers to help them combat the agrigrower owners, has that crossed a line? If a teacher shows “Roots” and black students feel compelled to talk about the anger they still feel at the legacy of slavery, is that a violation? If students leave a classroom finally understanding the prejudice and struggles of their parents of whatever race or religion or background, and feeling justifiably angry, will Tom Horne be there with a questionnaire to gauge whether their teacher fueled their discontent so he can yank their funding?

And let’s not forget Arizona’s participation in one of the most shameful acts of racism in American history: the incarceration of over 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. The Arizona desert was a lovely place for west coast Americans to spend their time simply because of their ethnic heritage. If a Park Ranger spoke at a class in Arizona about Gila River and Poston, and condemned the paranoia and racism at the time, and several Asian American students petitioned their school to form an after-school group for Asian Americans, is that the “ethnic solidarity” deemed a no-no by the law?


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