This post was originally published by Campus Progress.
Last May, Arizona passed HB 2881, a bill that implicitly bans ethnic studies classes in publicly funded schools—courses in African American history, for instance, or Chicano literature. The justification? That these classes promote racial divides, “ethnic chauvinism,” and "the overthrow of the US government," according to Arizona school Superintendent Tom Horne.
The bill came as the ideological follow-up to SB 1070, the immigration law that would have allowed police to detain anyone who looks like they could be an illegal immigrant, had a federal judge not blocked the most controversial parts of the bill from going into effect.
This week students and teachers in 27 states are holding events in support of ethnic studies departments at universities and multicultural education in high schools.
Brittany Lewis, one of the student organizers of Ethnic Studies Week events in Minnesota, thinks the real motive driving the ban is fear about who gets to craft the country’s historical narrative, and about giving different people a voice to tell their side of the story. “We all document this American space in a different way,” she says. “The only ones who were here from the start were Native Americans—we all came here in a different way, and ethnic studies programs want to question how our narratives as American people and our racial categories were crafted.”
Ethnic Studies classes exist to fill gaps in the core curriculum, particularly the lack of discussion of the history behind the realities of racial inequality that minority students live with every day—and to teach about the history of people who’ve pushed back against those realities.
Lewis studied race and ethnicity as part of her undergraduate degree at Macalester College because she felt the history she’d learned was fairly one-sided. “When I got to undergrad and learned about all these other powerful black women who look like me doing all these amazing things, it was inspiring for me. It made me think I don’t have limits, I don’t have to feel limited by this narrative I’ve been given,” she says.