Roque Planas over at HuffPo Latino Voices reports on a controversial court ruling concerning an equally controversial law in Arizona:

A court upheld most provisions of an Arizona state law used to prohibit a controversial Mexican-American Studies curriculum in Tucson on Friday. …

Federal Judge Wallace Tashima said the plaintiffs failed to show the law was too vague, broad or discriminatory, or that it violated students’ first amendment rights.

The news wasn’t all bad for supporters of the suspended classes. Tashima ruled that the section of the law prohibiting courses tailored to serve students of a particular ethnicity was unconstitutional.

Based on the tenets of critical race theory, Tucson’s former Mexican-American Studies curriculum asked some K-12 students to think critically about alternative historical narratives and present-day perspectives, specifically, in this case, those of the Mexican-American community.

Opponents of Mexican-American Studies — and opponents of critical race theory, generally — have argued that such programs condition an antipathy toward white Christians, who are lumped together in the oppressor class, religion and race being the tools of oppression.

And because many Americans mistakenly identify the United States as a white Christian nation, opponents of ethnic studies rooted in critical theory believe such programs surreptitiously call for the overthrow of American government and the dismantling of society.

Nonetheless, as America becomes further multicultural and empowered groups continue struggling to have their voices heard and their stories told, critical race theory will increasingly fall on the mainstream radar.

I myself graduated from a history program in which critical theory was the modus vivendi (my concentration within the department was even styled “Ethnic Relations in the United States”).

In January a high school in wholesome Delavan, Wisconsin made headlines when local parents began complaining that the school was teaching their children “white guilt.”

“They’re saying to non-whites, ‘You have been oppressed and you’re still being oppressed,’ “ one parent told reporters. “‘If you’re white, you’re oppressing. If you’re non white, you’ve been a victim.’ “

I’m critical of critical race theory. At it’s best, it can teach the wondrous complexity of history. At its worst, it can instill in someone a distrust toward Northern Europeans.

It boils down to how one views history itself.

On the one hand, you have those who believe history is a blueprint for the present and the future. History, in their eyes, offers a definitive explanation of why things are the way they are and how things will continue to be.

In this group you get the likes of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, two racial separatists who preached that because the Vikings were Northern Europeans, their modern-day descendants must harbor a natural inclination toward pillage and plunder. (Conversely, Adolf Hitler’s own view of history led him to believe that the Germans had a birthright to the same.)

On the other hand, there are others (like myself) who acknowledge the complexity of history and use it as a tool for providing clues as to the present state of things.

In all, however, oppressiveness is not a genetic disposition carried on the 8th or 15th chromosome. A person’s skin color cannot predict how they’ll think or act.

The truth of the matter is that had it been the Songhai in West Africa or the Aztec in Mesoamerica who rose to world dominance following the Dark Ages, today the country might be reading about a prohibition on Anglo-American Studies in Arizona (and a mostly black or brown Republican Party might currently be aligned against America’s first white president).

Power, it must be said, is an equal opportunity corruptor.

Yet it’s because anyone can be on the giving end of oppression that America’s youth must be exposed to critical theory, which teaches alternative viewpoints and how certain groups were oppressed by certain other groups.

We as a nation must understand our histories and the mistakes we’ve made in the past to better understand who we are, where we are, and where we want to take this great experiment modestly labeled “America.”


[Photo: jay galvin via Flickr]

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