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)


  1. Anonymous4:33 PM

    I had similar experiences in high-school, although it was reverse hysterical color blindness. It was "you can't say the word 'black' if you're white, or you will be asked if you're a racist." Just acknowledging the fact that there were a few black students at my school, would raise eyebrows and people would ask if you're a "racist." It made no sense to me whatsoever.

  2. Thanks for the response. What I would say though is there is no such thing as "reverse hysterical color-blindness" just like there is no such thing as "reverse racism". You're either hysterically color-blind or you're not. Just sayin'.

  3. Thank you Phillipe for saying that. I've long thought about the term "reverse racism", which is usually used to identify racism againt whites. In other words, "it couldn't be racism, because how could you be racist against a white? I mean, we're WHITE."
    I grew up in white-bread (bred?) America, in a generation of kids trying to rebel against our racist parents. I now live in Phoenix, blocks from the Capitol building, right at the heart of the protests, watching it all from the inside, if you will. My dearest, best friend is black, as well as my fiance. We discuss racial matters all the time, sometimes in jest (they'll tell me I don't get a joke because it's a black thing) or in serious, as in the dynamics of being in inter-racial relationships (she is married to a white man and they have a daughter). I can't imagine pretending "not to notice" the very different skin color, background, and heritage that we have. We all have close friends who are "illegal", and others who are the children of people who came over without papers. Many of us are shocked and saddened by the atrocious laws that were passed recently. We half-heardtedly joke about it ("Don't get too tan, you'll get pulled over"), but in truth, a lot of us, I know, are scared. I have one particular friend whose parents, although they went through the very expensive and grueling proper channels to come here legally from Mexico, have decided to move out of state permanently. They are elderly, and want to have a peaceful life. They don't want to be concerned with harrassment at their age. My friend is understandably heartbroken. These laws are affecting all of us - it not only promotes racism but actually enforces it.
    Thanks for bringing these issues to the table. People need to be educated about their history, as well as the history of other nationalities. I believe that there are ways to educate while closing the gap and allowing room for expression of thought from students. I know as Bahais we are discouraged from being involved in politics, unless it is a human rights issue. Often, as it is here, the line gets fuzzy between the two. One tends to have to do with the other at some level. On that note, I must admit that when I saw that the Senator had expressed fear of encouraging students to overthrow the government, I thought, "Well, it's about time they did!" Although I personally do not care for the negative, heated energy of protests (partly because helicopters hovered low over my neighborhood, and I could hear the shouting from inside my house for days), my heart does well with pride at the young people screaming passionately in the face of injustice. We can't sit idly by; my generation has been too complacent, in my opinion. I pulled an exerpt from Wikipedia to leave you with; it's a fact that not many people know about our Constitution:
    The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that "when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their DUTY, to throw off such Government" (emphasis added). Martin Luther King likewise held that it is the duty of the people to resist unjust laws.

    And another almost eerily appropriate quote from the Writings:
    And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh are justice and right. Until these are realized on the plane of existence, all things shall be in disorder and remain imperfect. The world of mankind is a world of oppression and cruelty, and a realm of aggression and error.
    ('Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 227, p. 304)

  4. Having lived in Puerto Rico for some 17 years and in the Commonwealth of Dominica for some 17 more years, I have come to marvel at how Americans in the "mainland U.S." love to talk about race, racism, etc. Just an observation; no value judgements about it. Explanation? Maybe in Puerto Rico and Dominica at some point in the distant past, racism was discussed and that was that -- nothing more to say about it. Maybe the population in Puerto Rico is so racially mixed, it is tougher to find a good fight on the basis of race. Maybe in Dominica, the place is run by people of the vast majority here of African descent. So if anything, the only question might be how racist they (the majority) are and the answer is -- not all that much.

    Having lived also for some years in the U.S. so-called "African-American" community, this subculture is more like the Puerto Rico and Dominica described above -- not much discussion of racism -- like it's all been said, and so what else is new. There, to be original or interesting, as in Puerto Rico and Dominica, one definitely has to find other topics.

    Anyway, I hope Americans enjoy themselves in their race consciousness -- something distant observers notice whenever the cable news is on. It can be entertaining to watch how analysts will strain every muscles to find the "race angle" in almost any news story.

    For young Dominicans planning to go/study/whatever in the U.S., the joke around here is that you have to cultivate a race consciousness or you might be seen as a dummy when you hit the ground in the U.S. You must forget people are just people, like here, and see everything as color-teams vying to outmaneuver each other.

    Don't know whether all this is good or bad; just some observational data. For this distant observer, if Americans get so much pleasure from their "race games", well and good -- enjoy.

  5. Anonymous9:47 PM

    on this topic I have highly conflicted opinions that support BOTH SIDES of the argument..Obviously remembering manifest Destiny as it was taught to me in elementary school as well as college I was a way the USA justified the taking of territorial land since the Louisiana Purchase... but we are living in 2010 and reading the NEWS
    of the CIVIL WAR that is being waged in MEXICO and the RAMPANT gang crime in Chicago,chicago-five-stabbed-051510.article

  6. Anonymous9:40 AM

    oh BTW here is something else for you to consider before you post another unfair attack on Arizona's law....

  7. Anonymous, I fail to see how I've made an unfair attack on Arizona's law. You seem to be conflating the law regarding illegal immigration (which I have chosen not to comment on) with the law about ethnic studies courses. These are two different issues.

  8. Anonymous9:30 AM

    oh BTW the Arizona Law is the SAME Law as it exists in California and US Federal Law...