Ethnic Studies and the Tea Party
Over at the U.S. Intellectual History Blog, Andrew Hartman has a thoughtful post on the Arizona anti-ethnic studies law. What I especially like about the piece is the way that Hartman wrestles with the concept of “ethnic solidarity.” On the one hand, he fears that the concept can promote as much harm as it does good. He points out that conservative campaigns (such as the one successfully launched by the Texas Board of Education) to present a sanitized version of the nation’s past essentially amount to “an egregious form of ethnic, religious, and political solidarity that has no place in the schools.” On the other hand, however, he argues that whatever “ethnic solidarity” Chicano Studies may promote, it would be unfair to equate the programs’ view of history to those on the right. To make his case, he provides a brief historical account of the intellectual origins of Chicano Studies, in which he emphasizes the movement’s anti-racism and internationalist orientation (concerns that the School Board in Texas and Arizona State Legislature seem to lack).
I would also emphasize that the Chicano Studies movement aimed to promote ethnic pride by providing a more accurate portrayal of United States history: one in which Mexicans and Mexican-Americans played an important part of the story. Some of this history, of course, would be characterized by conquest and exploitation.
Much of today’s right, by contrast, seems intent on sweeping such unpleasantness under the rug. Consider the Tennessee Tea Party’s recent statement (which Hartman also quotes) that “no portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.” The group’s spokesperson, a Fayette County Attorney, later elaborated that the point was designed to combat: “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another.”
Textbooks wars, as Joseph Moreau shows in his book Schoolbook Nation, have long played a role in American life. They predate the 1960s by at least a century. Still, it would be hard to beat the Tennessee Tea Party in its recent exercise in historical “revisionism.”