Arizona: For Whites Only?

May 17, 2010  |  

by R. L’Heureux Lewis

Recently, I penned a piece discussing the need for Black folks to join in with the fight against Arizona’s racist immigration bill SB 1070. My goal was to challenge Black folks, to think beyond the immediate immigration bill to the larger injustices that are taking root in Arizona. In the past few weeks, Arizona has continued to make their intentions clear. Whether you agree with SB 1070 or not, the state of Arizona has begun a march towards making the state free, open and inhabitable to Whites and closed to people of color, particularly Latinos.

Arizona is now pushing a package of policies that serve to malign, discriminate against, and reduce the freedoms of non-Whites, citizens and non-citizens alike. The signing of SB 1070 into law has increased the legal discretion and support for thinly veiled racial profiling. This week, the governor signed into law a bill that eliminated Ethnic Studies at the primary and secondary grade levels. Arizona’s Department of Education has been lobbying for the removal of teachers with strong accents or whose grammatical structure is found to be unacceptable. It would be naïve to suggest that these policies are simply about the safety, quality, and fairness as they’ve been pitched; instead they represent a concerted attempt to cleanse Arizona of ethnic influence.

The recent law banning ethnic studies was targeted at a program in Tucson. The legislation prohibits courses that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” The course at which the bill was targeted concentrated on the experiences of Chicanos and history from the perspective of Mexican and indigenous people who had land stolen and experienced heinous oppression as “America expanded.”

Unfortunately, grounded and authentic discussion of national expansion and race is illegal in the Arizona’s legislature’s view. If we are interested in teaching youth history from the ground up and not just from the perspective of “the victors” we need ethnic studies. It’s hard to instill the significance of the Civil Rights Movement, the Chicano Civil Rights Movement or the Women’s Suffrage Movement without the voices of these groups. By erasing their voices and their group interests, we are erasing their true contribution to the mosaic that is the present. The more you erase the past, the more you can meld the present.

Eliminating Ethnic Studies is not the only move that Arizona’s legislature is making; they are making headway in removing teachers with accents or whom they define as lacking sufficient English proficiency. In the 1990s, Arizona hired a cadre of teachers who would work in bilingual education in their public schools. However, in 2000 Arizona moved to an English-only model of education and is now in the process of trying to purge these teachers. Through these statutes, Arizona is relying on highly subjective and pejorative classifications, which makes them all the more dangerous.

In a just society, the laws protect not only the interests of a few, but the whole. Each bill, law and policy that is being floated now is sloppily constructed and ushers in hazardous conditions for adults and children of color. This is no longer (if it ever was) about immigration, crime, or labor. Arizona is continuing to Brown and in 2005, the Census projected it will be one of the next states to be majority-minority, meaning there will be more non-Whites than Whites.

The current Arizona legislature is wasting no time in installing discriminatory laws and policies towards communities of color, which ultimately serve to secure the place and rights of Whites. The sad reality is that too many of us see these laws passing and think “good” without realizing the slippery slope to which they’re attached. Targeting ethnic communities is not new, as the African-American community knows, but Arizona is continuing and expanding this tragic trend. We cannot afford to sit idly as human rights are violated and cultures are erased.

R. L’Heureux Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York – CUNY. His research concentrates on issues of educational inequality, the role of race in contemporary society, and mental health well-being.

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