Thursday, May 13, 2010

Arizona on My Mind

Last year I wrote a post where I explored the concept of what I've referred to as "hysterical color-blindness." Here's a little of what I said then:

"I believe that there are Americans for whom long term insistence on the untruth of not seeing color has effected their ability to see racism itself.

Not only that, but they insist that others join them in this not seeing. This is why they get so upset when people bring up the possibility of racism. I refer to this state of being as hysterical color-blindness.

Let me repeat that reasonable people can disagree about whether particular incidents or trends in America are based on racism or not. What I am describing is a completely different phenomenon. Hysterical color-blindness is anything but reasonable. It is the insistence that race not be discussed and the denial of the truth of racism even in the face of supporting evidence."

Race Wire, the blog of Color Lines magazine has the latest on developments in Arizona that got me thinking about hysterical color-blindness again:

Yesterday, Brewer signed HB 2281 into law, a bill that prohibits schools from teaching classes designed to teach students of color about their heritage and history because such classes promote resentment and encourage students to want to “overthrow” the U.S. government. Such classes, the bill says, advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individual people.

State schools chief Tom Horne, who has been pushing for the bill for years, said that ethnic studies and Chicano history classes in Tucson, Arizona, encourage Latino students to believe they’ve been oppressed by white people. Horne cited a book on one class’s reading list as particularly suspect: Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolfo Acuna, a leading scholar in Chicano studies at Cal State University, Northridge.

Horne told Yahoo news:

Public schools should not be encouraging students to resent a particular race, he said. “It’s just like the old South, and it’s long past time that we prohibited it,” Horne said. (Read the whole post here)

This latest Arizona law could be seen as an institutionalization of hysterical color-blindness. Telling students the truth about America's history (yes Latinos have been oppressed by white people) is reframed as teaching them to "resent a particular race". This is as amusing as it is disturbing. However, equating such educational efforts with the "Old South" is simply breath taking in its moral relativism. In this logic, telling students the truth about America's racial history is as bad as the very racism they are being taught about!

This kind of logic is a common feature of the psychology of hysterical color-blindness. At the level of the individual it is a serious problem, but when it's combined with the power of the state then watch out.

O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. (Baha'u'llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)