Fighting Racism in Higher Education

Throughout the last academic year, incited by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and guided by the energy and example of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, students in colleges and universities across the country have increasingly turned to protest. Over the last few weeks alone, student protests at some campuses have reached important junctures, making headlines and creating a powerful moment of possibility.

The New York Times recently provided a cursory overview of some of the more high profile protests and their inciting events. I’m certain this is only scratching the surface when it comes to chronicling racist incidents at colleges and universities as well as student efforts for change.  Sadly, students and faculty at the community of liberal arts colleges where I work (and, specifically, the campus where I was a student) are facing a very similar example of our own this week.

These student protests have mostly been in response to racist incidents at the local level, but they’re not about those incidents, not really.  They’re about a larger and widely shared problem: 21st century racism in the university.

Each has its own shape and mood, it’s own set of assets and liabilities.  But these varied protests each voice part of a unified chorus of what it is like to be nonwhite in the university.  They’re about the lived realities that exist underneath the word “underrepresented.”  They’re about the feelings of inferiority, anger, and frustration incited by life in an institution devoted to whiteness.  They’re about that whiteness, an ideology our institutions do not see and, yet, can not see beyond.  They’re about the expectation for something better from institutions that sell themselves as places that are welcoming and “inclusive.”

Though these student movements are not formally connected, and while each campus has its own particular context to address, it’s hard not to view them as part of a critical moment in higher education, one forcing a reckoning with how our institutions act on issues of race, racism, and “diversity.”  One of the lessons that’s easy to take away from these (not yet concluded) struggles is that most of those in charge of our institutions of higher education are not adequately prepared to effectively hear (let alone address) students’ concerns.

Members of the student protest group Concerned Student 1950 hold hands following the announcement that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe would resign.

Members of the student protest group Concerned Student 1950 hold hands following the announcement that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe would resign.


Fundamental to this is the way these institutions view “us”–the underrepresented, the minorities, the people of color.  They languish in the conceit that they are “moving forward” and actualizing “progress” simply by opening their doors to us.  Despite the rhetoric, what is painfully obvious is that they do not understand the most fundamental truth related to their “commitment to diversity.”  That truth is this: we do not need them as much as they need us.

“Diversity” was always made to benefit them, of course.  The university who can paint its portrait with the faces of nonwhite students and faculty wears the hue of modernity and progress.  Through our presence we allow them to embody “the future” by helping them distance themselves from their white supremacist pasts.  What’s worse, we legitimate their most addictive myth–that the ivory tower is home to only the best and the brightest our society has to offer.  Our presence is proof of their contention that entrance is now guided by merit and merit alone.  We alleviate their mid-20th century inferiority complex, incited by the Black Freedom Struggle, that forced those who studied in these hallowed halls to come to terms with the fact that they were the beneficiaries of a racist system.

Our most palpable gift to these institutions is the way we animate their moral purpose.  As they admit and enroll us they are emboldened by what they see as their commitment to the “greater good.”  We’re lucky to be here, they tell us.  And how good are they to let us in!  It’s a paternalism the student of the past will be most familiar with, one that makes “diversity” evidence of their “commitments” and inherent goodness.

Of course, our presence in the university is good and it is meaningful.  We know this.  It is one small step toward something better.  It is this knowledge, in part, that fuels the current protests.  Our real and powerful value is also indicative of the extent to which they need us.  They need us to be their mirror, to show them to themselves as they are.  Only then can they move forward as institutions–as communities–and become more like the places they believe themselves to be.

We are here to give them a chance to understand how their ways of knowing, ways of being, and ways of dreaming are not the only ways.

Our colleges and universities are vessels of whiteness, proponents of an unacknowledged project of conversion.  This is the hangover of a history of formal white supremacy in the US, a system where racial prejudice became the rationale of deciding who could have power.  Even when you alter the system, if you do not actively dismantle the ideology, you risk doing little more than cosmetic change.

The palpable remnants of this ideology course through this conversion project to which most colleges and universities are committed.  They see our value only in so far as we are willing to surrender ourselves to that project and become like them.  It’s a tired notion, laughable if not for its resilience.  It deserves to be laid to rest.  If they can learn to listen to us, to see as as truly equal, they stand to be liberated from it too, from the cage it represents.  To be truly free, of course, they also have to learn to be more like us.  That’s its own struggle, to be sure, one that has few success stories.  (At least not yet.)

The student protests now taking place, and taking shape, are about this kind of liberation. But they can not make it come to fruition.  When it comes down to it, you see, that’s not our job to do.  There is no saving to be done here.  They’ve got to save themselves!  We can speak our truth and let it enable a culture of learning, even a culture of crisis.  But we can not make them learn from it.  That is a choice they have to make.  Let our voices be an alarm bell that the time for that saving is now.

What we can do is frustrate complacency and nurture empathic understanding.  That’s much easier said than it is done, not for the processes it represents but for the context in which we now struggling.  I was a “student of color” once, too.  I remember the epiphanies, the anxieties, the disappointment, and the anger.  I remember the frustration, and the exhaustion.  As a “professor of color” in the same institutions you’re in now, I remember these because they are a part of my present.  Daily I come to terms with the fact that they are also part of my future.

It’s from that place, a place of love and caring and respect, respect for what you feel and for what you know, that I offer these reminders:

Take care of yourself and each other.  Protest can be exhilarating and affirming when we experience it as a real community.  It is also tiring and diminishing.  Respect those costs and seek to care for each other through it.  Listen to each other.  Hug one another.  Make space to learn with one another.

Don’t mistake the symptom for the disease.  We engage oppressive institutions through episodes that wound the soul, instances when the realities it produces are unavoidably clear.  Each is easily removed or reprimanded without altering the system itself.  Do not let them think this is about Halloween costumes.  If we do, we lose. In fact…

The system of higher education is nimble.  It is self-critical, liberal, and able to agree with you as it defends the fundamental core of its problems.  Its reflex will be to co-opt your energy and welcome your protest because it is designed to do so by bending to give the illusion of substantive change.  Only vigilance, and an understanding of its inherent flexibility, can provide a check against this survival mechanism.

Remember that they, like us all, are learners.  Ignorance is our start in life.  Ignorance of these matters, at this point in time…that ignorance is made.  It must be unmade.  Do not let this stifle your need to speak your truth.  Do let it guide the work of finding solutions, real and meaningful solutions.

If I did not believe in the inherent value of education, as well as the ability of institutions of higher education to be better than they are, I would not be in the line of work I am in.  Change is possible.  These places can be the places they think they are, the places they need to be.  That takes work.  Real work.

As students, you have done–and are doing–more than your share, even as you know there is much more still to be done.  Let us hope the others come to realize that most of the work rests on their shoulders.  Let us hope they learn to hear and accept their part.

What is a movement?

On September 16, 1965, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) voted to join a strike of grape pickers begun by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC). AWOC and the NFWA were distinct organizations–the constituency of the first were primarily Filipinos and the latter, Mexican. AWOC also had legal status and the support of the AFL-CIO, of which they were a part.

The NFWA saw itself as more than a labor movement. Its founded and leader–César Estrada Chávez–envisioned his efforts as a poor people movement, something that could fundamentally attack the inequitable power system which determined the poor quality of famrworkers’ lives. Though they didn’t plan on a strike in 1965, their larger project was threatened by being placed in the position of strike breakers. Their primary goal–recognition–would ultimately be served by the dynamic leadership role they played in the ensuing 5-year struggle.

In the same month they voted to join the strike, their English/Spanish newspaper–El Malcriado–began publishing pieces to help educate the Mexican famrworkers about the moment in which they found themselves. One piece asked “What is a movement?” It answered:

It is when there are enough people with one idea so that their actions are together like the huge wave of water, which nothing can stop.

The NFWA and AWOC merged in 1966 to form the United Farm Workers (UFW).

Latino History Month #1

They say those who do not know their past are doomed to repeat it. I say, those who do not know their past have no future. For what are we if not the bearers of the collective memories and struggles of our ancestors?

In service of “Hispanic Heritage Month” (which I fear means little more than a few PBS specials and an enchildada dinner at the White House) I offer you a free Chicano/Latino history lesson every Wednesday for the next month.

This week, we go into the past to explore a moment in our collective history when youth radicalism seemed to be sweeping barrios from East LA to East Harlem.

Known as a Chicano nationalist organization with a militant leaning, the Brown Berets began in 1966 as a Church-fostered youth group called Young Chicanos for Community Action (YCCA). Sustained police harassment and an emerging exchange of “radical” ideologies and organizational examples reshaped them by the late 60s into the Brown Berets.

Their ten-point platform might be both easy to celebrate or deride, depending on your political sensibilities. As historians of our collective past, however, it is a significant statement of self-determination and youth idealism, shaped by a particular moment and place. We might wonder what experiences framed this utopian vision as “truth” for the young men and women involved?

Brown Berets, “Ten Point Program,” 1968. Reprinted in “Brown Berets: Serve, Observe, and Protect,” La Raza (newspaper), June 7, 1968, 13.

  1. Unity of all of our people, regardless of age, income, or political philosophy.
  2. The right to bilingual education as guaranteed under the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.
  3. We demand a Civilian Police Review Board, made up of people who live in our community, to screen all police officers, before they are assigned to our communities.
  4. We demand that the true history of the Mexican American be taught in all schools in the five Southwestern States.
  5. We demand that all officers in Mexican-American communities must live in the community and speak Spanish.
  6. We want an end to “Urban Renewal Programs” that replace our barrios with high rent homes for middle-class people.
  7. We demand a guaranteed annual income of $8,000 for all Mexican-American families.
  8. We demand that the right to vote be extended to all of our people regardless of the ability to speak the English language.
  9. We demand that all Mexican Americans be tried by juries consisting of only Mexican Americans.
  10. We demand the right to keep and bear arms to defend our communities against racist police, as guaranteed under the Second Amendments of the United States Constitution.

Like many other nationalist organizations, the Brown Berets’ history was marked by deep conflicts over sexism, as well as debates over the meaning of being “Chicano.” This is the story that flows from the above document, one best encompassed by questions like: How did this platform reflect the needs and interests of their membership and the larger community of which they were a part? How did it not? How did they go about trying to implement their vision?

If you are interested in pursuing just some of the above questions, feel free to do some further reading. A nice overview of the rise of the Berets can be found in Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice, by Ian F. Haney-López. A superb collection of feminist writings from this era, ones that often express the tension between nationalism and feminism, is Alma Garcia’s Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings.

You are reading LATINO LIKE ME.

The Future of Chicano/Latino Studies

We’ve reached the end of Latino Heritage Month 2009.  Hope you had a good one.  I live every month like its Latino Heritage Month, so for me it’s been as good as life…

I thought I’d leave you with an excerpt of a historical primary source that helps us connect the past and the present in a meaningful way.  I work in the fields of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies.  Founded some four decades ago, as a direct result of student and community efforts to remake the university and create an institution which could better serve the poor communities from which they came, these academic fields began with a political charge in mind.  As the years progressed, that charge often confronted an opposition.  Today, from efforts in Arizona to make Chicano Studies classes illegal to efforts in the Cal State system to begin eliminating the programs for financial reasons, the existence of Chicano/Latino Studies is anything but certain.

Our source comes from Ernesto Galarza, one of the first ethnic Mexicans to receive a PhD in History in the U.S.  Dr. Galarza was the Mexican and Mexican American specialist in the U.S. for much of his professional career, one that spanned academia and work in community service organizations.  He lived what he preached and, near the end of his life, as he spoke to Chicano students at UC Berkeley, preach he did…


SOURCE: Ernesto Galarza, “Student’s Responsibilities to the Chicano Community,” address delivered at the University of California, April 20, 1977, Berkeley, California.

You Chicano scholars who are here now today must recognize this drastic change on the American campus, and begin to ask yourselves, must we abandon what’s here for us?  This campus contains immeasurable treasures for all of us.  Here is an accumulation of experience that should be open to us for each one of us to analyze and evaluate and put to our own uses.

And you can’t get it off campus—these magnificent libraries and research facilities.  These are public facilities. This is public wealth organized and set up here for your use. Please think very carefully before you abandon this place because of certain difficulties that you’re having.  The thing to remember is that the training, the capability in the law, in sociology, in whatever these disciplines may be called, is available only here. Unfortunately, it is under the control, under the vigilance of people who don’t share your motivation. But that is no reason why you should abandon your claim to these resources.

You do have a claim to them. The point of view that I’m asking you to consider, of course, is not an easy one to carry out.  One of the difficulties that we as Chicanos and Mexicans have always faced is that our universe in the university is so unfamiliar and so distant from the community from which we come.  It’s awfully hard to explain to your families and to your neighbors—neighborhoods that are constantly in turmoil and in the process of change—what it is you’re up to, what you’re doing, what your difficulties are. There’s a gradual alienation between us on campuses and those in the community.

I contend that the solution or the effort to overcome that alienation is ours and not the community’s.  We understand what causes it.  We know why we are victimized by it.  We know why the community itself is victimized.  But you cannot ask a person who has not had your opportunities to become mentally critical and professionally competent to dig at, to go at the fact that you need to establish a thesis.

The Struggle We Share: A Love Letter

I delivered this address in 2007, to celebrate the impending senior year of a very special high school student, as well as the college graduation of students I had known since their first year.   I offer it now in honor of that same student–who is about to finish his first year of college–as well as the thousands of other Chicanas and Chicanos celebrating educational achievements in the upcoming months. To you all, ¡Felicitaciones!

The Struggle We Share:
A Love Letter to Chicana and Chicano Students

An address by Tomás F. Summers Sandoval Jr.
Delivered at the First Annual Raza Day
California State University, Monterey Bay
Seaside, California

May 6, 2007

We are now living in a time of profound crisis. The more I study the past the more I think that is all there ever is but, clearly, at this moment in the history of the United States, even in the history of our world, we—you and I and all of them—we are all trapped in a crisis. This is a crisis that affects you and I very personally, but you and I can also affect it.

This crisis has many faces. Right now, people of all colors and faiths, some who call themselves “American” and many more who do not, are dying in war. This is war being fought in our name, even though you and I don’t agree with it and don’t support it. However gross and incomprehensible it may seem, this is also war being fought in the name of “freedom.” Despite what politicians will tell you, wars do not make people free; they make them afraid, they make them hurt. Wars make people dead. Freedom is what comes when there is no war, the precious moments in the human past when there is peace and the possibility of more peace. Only then are people free.

Right now, much closer to the place we call home, other people, brown people, are also dying in another kind of war. People whose lives began in Mexico, just like yours, people whose lives have been filled with struggle—the struggle to eat, to love, to live—right now some of these people are dying. They die in a war many people over here don’t even recognize is being fought, but what else can we call something that takes peoples lives or fills them with violence? This war, too, is being waged in our name. This war is taking place in the desert that spills over both sides of an imaginary line called “the border.” A long time ago, men drew this line as a result of war. This line they created in a treaty of peace has, ironically, become an “open wound,”1 a home of pain, of war, and of death. Their efforts to define it, to maintain it, to turn the imaginary into a reality people can see and feel, these efforts have produced and reproduced the violence taking peoples’ lives right now. This is war. This isn’t war fought only with guns, but guns are a part. It is war waged through laws, through ideas. It is war felt in the lives of these people who struggle to live, everyday.

This crisis I need to tell you about today has another face. Like these other examples, this face is marked by violence, too. But this is a violence of silence. This violence also hurts, and even kills, as all violence does. Through it, lives are indirectly taken, slowly, for it is a silence that never lets them speak who they are or who they can be. This violence silences our humanity.

You see, silence is sometimes devastating. When it is something that denies who we are, what we have survived, what we have struggled to achieve, then silence is erasure, it is forgetting. The Chicana writer Cherríe Moraga writes: “Silence is like starvation.”2 The tragedy of this starvation, of this crisis of silence, is that there are thousands upon thousands of young people, just like you, who are struggling in it right now. The outrage of this crisis is that little is being done to stop it.

• • • •

I often try to remind myself that I am where I am in my life as a result of struggle. By this I don’t mean just the struggle it took for me to get my degree, to get a job, and to have and maintain a family. I mean, more, the struggles that have made those a possibility for me. In part, this includes my family and the other people who cared for and about me, but it is bigger than them, too.

I am also who I am because of the struggles carried by people whose names I don’t know and whose faces I have never seen. I am the recipient of other peoples’ fights for a more just world. I benefit from the efforts of people who tried to destroy a society based on fear, and on hate, one that limited who we could be. Their struggles to change a system that said Mexicans “are lower than animals,”3 that Mexicans are good for nothing but labor in the fields, were struggles waged for me, and for you. My life is the result of other people’s struggles for equality and equity, even their imperfect struggles for social justice.

In the 1940s, just after the end of World War Two, a Mexican family who lived in Southern California thought that it was wrong for their daughter to have to go all the way across town to what was called the “Mexican school” when a brand new (but all “white”) school was right in their neighborhood. This family—the Mendez family—went to court and sued the school district to end the segregation of Mexican children. When they won their court case in 1946, it didn’t just change the lives of their children, but of all Mexican children who were then learning in segregated schools in California. Their struggle for equality also changed the lives of us, of those who were not yet even born, but who could now enter a world where this kind of exclusion would be illegal.

In 1968, more than 10,000 Chicana and Chicano high school students walked out of their classes in protest. These students, who attended school in East Los Angeles, protested what they said was a school system that didn’t care about their education. In East L.A. at the time, more than half of the students dropped out of high school. Few went on to college. Counselors treated them like criminals, and encouraged them to aspire to be manual laborers. Their protest drew attention to the ways the education system was failing them. Though they were not successful at changing much in the school system immediately, that generation of students would inspire change for years to come. Classes in Mexican American history, counselors who spoke Spanish and understood Latino cultures, bilingual education, and much more resulted from their struggles.

In the early 1970s, throughout the entire state, all students were regularly given an IQ test to determine their mental capacity. Based on their test scores, students were placed into what are called “educational tracks.” Back then, as a result of these tests, most students were placed in regular classes, some were placed in gifted programs, and others—those who scored below a certain level—were placed in classes for the so-called “mentally retarded.” Thirty years ago over 55,000 students in the state were in these special education classes.

But in Soledad, California, not far from here, a group of Mexican parents, whose children were classified as “retarded,” complained. They said even though their school district gave their children the same test given to all the other students, treating them equally, they still weren’t being treated fairly. You see, these children were not fully fluent in English. Some were immigrants, others the children of immigrants, but few of them were competent enough in English to take an IQ test in it. These parents knew that their children were as smart as any, but the school district said they were “retarded.”

These parents also went to court, arguing the schools did not treat their children equitably, that is, each according to their needs. When the court ordered all children in the state to be tested in a language in which they were fluent, some 20,000 students found themselves no longer classified into “mentally retarded” classes.4

We are both products of these struggles and many, many more. Every person who suffered deportation, segregation in the workplace, or the humility and poverty of being imported as a worker into this country, we are even the products of their struggles. You and I live in a time when we can see the results of the years of toil, of effort, of struggle for change, of the fight for a decent life.

• • • •

“But what does this have to do with a crisis,” you might ask. “How is this silence?”

We live in a time of crisis, in part, because we have been robbed of our opportunity to know what equality, equity, and social justice mean, how they have changed over time, and how people have struggled to make them real. Our struggles of the past have been silenced. They have been silenced for a reason.

In the United States, people think of all rights as being based on equality. But equality—treating people the same—is only one part, an important part, of a healthy, human life or society. It must exist, but its existence does not assure us of justice. If we are all equally starving, then none of us is truly happy or free. Equity—treating people fairly and in recognition of their rights—this joined with equality is something much more powerful. But even that does not assure us of true justice. The struggles of the past often created some kinds of equality and equity for us in the present to enjoy, but they did not wipe out inequality and inequity.

This brings us to another kind of silence, the silence of our present struggle. To explain this, I have to explain how I understand “social justice.” However odd it might sound, social justice is, to me, about love. The writer M. Scott Peck defined love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Social justice can only exist with this kind of love, with this kind of nurturing. Social justice is a society where each of us can be as fully human as we can be, where our human spirit can thrive. It is one where our needs are met, not only equally, but equitably, fully, and completely.

At a basic level, education is one of those needs. Though people have struggled to provide us with what we have, what we have is not enough. Based on the figures from the last census, only 46 out of every 100 Mexican American high school students will graduate high school. That means most—54% who start in elementary school—will never finish high school. Of the 46 who do graduate, only 26 will attend some kind of college. Of those, only 8 will earn a baccalaureate degree—the college degree granted by a four-year college or university. Of those 8, only 2 will go on to earn an advanced degree.5 Eight out of every 100. That means out of every 100 Mexican American voices, 92 voices, 92 sets of hope for a better life, 92 opportunities to make this a more just world, are silenced.

In comparison, for every 100 “white” elementary school students in California, 84 will go on to graduate high school, 26 will graduate college with a baccalaureate degree, and 10 will earn an advanced degree.

This is not justice. Why this happens is for many reasons, but each of them are a reflection of how we continue to live in a society that is characterized by much inequality and inequity. What is worse, is the silence. We live in a society largely silent about this tragedy. We are in a crisis of education because we silence the needs of Latino students, because we are silent about our anger, and because too many of us are silent about our need for change. For every student who is pushed out of the system, that silence is compounded. That is a voice we will never hear speak for change, for hope, for justice.

• • • •

I worry now that I may be sounding dramatic, but issues that so meaningfully affect people’s lives are dramatic. I must not, however, sound pessimistic. Even in the midst of this crisis, of this violence, I am hopeful. Though I do not want you to think that the burden of change and progress is on your shoulders (that is too heavy a weight to bear and, anyways, there are others who must lift the lion’s share before you), you are the hope of a better future. I want you—I need you—to know this: I know the future before you is scary, but you will be alright.

All these crises, all of them, flow from a society and a world that has made a commitment to the opposite of love. We are not nurturing each others’ humanity. The violence of an unequal and inequitable education system is the way it destroys the spirit and the potential of a human spirit. The society that does this so easily, so seemingly unconsciously, does not have the right to claim innocence because they did not know. When silencing voices is the crime, not hearing is no kind of defense. But you must also know that even these tragic goals are imperfect. In you, right now, is the living, breathing symbol of their failure. When someday you graduate college, your very existence will help shatter this crisis. You are an explosion of success that can fight back against this violence as you do nothing else other than just get your education. Our struggle, now, is to make sure we are not the only ones.

• • • •

Let me close with a few parting words for you to take to heart. We must know that the 92% of Chicana and Chicano young lives who do not go to and finish college are not failures. The vast majority of them want to. They have been failed by a system that does not care whether they succeed or not. They have not been given the tools, or the valuable information, on how to move forward and achieve. Just like them, your own progress will be based on more than just the desire to succeed (but that is so important).

So, first, you must know that you are beautiful. Beauty marked your birth into this world. The fires and possibilities of a new life are powerful matters. They are mysteries to our present ways of knowing, mysteries growing evermore elusive. But somewhere deep in the recesses of our memories we know that one’s entry into the community of the living is beauty itself. When you entered this world, a force of endless potential was born. Yes, beauty marked your birth; of this be sure.

(I pray this is not a revelation to you. I hope that everyday of your life there is at least a moment when you realize that you are beautiful and good. Even if this is only a fleeting moment, one that passes as quickly as it seemed to have arrived. At the same time, you deserve so much more.) You deserve a life where at every turn and with every breath all of creation reminds you of the beautiful creature you are. But I know this is not the case. I know that for many of your days, here in this life, your beauty has been hidden from you. So I tell you—you are beautiful! If I can leave you with only one thing, this is it.

If you do not see your endless beauty, it is not your fault. We all have our moments and our phases of life where this is our struggle. To be a young person can be hard, I know. To become aware of the world around you as confusing, unknown, as limitless, and at the same time to actively forge your own sense of your individuality—to define who you are and who you will be—yes, these are frightening matters. . .

Second, I also know the fear of going to college, of succeeding in education when many of those around us continue to struggle in their own ways. College will change you, and it must. That change doesn’t have to mean losing the language—the tongue or the heart—to relate to where you came from, or to speak to the people you love. Even if they do not come with you, they do not have to become foreigners. Your sacrifice in choosing and attending a college will not have to include giving up who you are or want to be. But it will change you. What that means (for both you and them) will be for you to decide.

Finally, do not give up. Life will be filled with difficulty, and you know this already far too well. But you must also know life is filled with joy, with happiness, with love, and with community. Whenever times get difficult, whenever your struggle seems like too much to bear, remember that you are not alone. You never will be and, if you remember those who came before us, you never were.

The original was edited for factual information, as reflected below in note 4.

1. Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera (Aunt Lute Books, 1987), 3.
2. Cherríe Moraga, “La Güera,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1981, 1983), 29.
3. Gerald Chargin, Superior Court Judge, from transcript of 1969 trial. As quoted in Ian F. Haney-López, Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice (Belknap Press, 2003), 85.
4. This figure includes those formally decertified due to testing and those otherwise not classified into EMR classes due to fears of litigation.  See Richard R. Valencia, The Mexican American Legal Struggle for Educational Equality (New York University Press, 135-36.
5. Tara J. Yasso and Daniel G. Solórzano, “Leaks in the Chicana and Chicano Educational Pipeline,” Latino Policy & Issues Brief, no. 13 (March 2006).

Chuck Norris is a Right-Wing Nut

Chuck Norris–the man who destroyed the periodic table because he only recognizes the element of surprise–turned 69 this week (March 10).  I was going to write something smart-ass or mean (or both) but then thought better of it.

And then this came my way.  Seems old Chuck is celebrating that milestone by giving us a glimpse into the cuckoo that lurks in the mind of this martial arts legend.  Sadly, it’s more scary than funny.

In a “think piece” published at WorldNetDaily, Norris declares “I may run for President of Texas.”  Here are some excerpts:

“That need may be a reality sooner than we think. If not me, someone someday may again be running for president of the Lone Star state, if the state of the union continues to turn into the enemy of the state.

From the East Coast to the “Left Coast,” America seems to be moving further and further from its founders’ vision and government.”

. . .

“How much more will Americans take? When will enough be enough? And, when that time comes, will our leaders finally listen or will history need to record a second American Revolution? We the people have the authority according to America’s Declaration of Independence…”

. . .

“On March 1, 1845, then-President John Tyler signed a congressional bill annexing the Republic of Texas. Though the annexation resolution never explicitly granted Texas the right to secede from the Union (as is often reported), many (including me) hold that it is implied by its unique autonomy and history, as well as the unusual provision in the resolution that gave Texas the right to divide into as many as five states. Both the original (1836) and the current (1876) Texas Constitutions also declare that “All political power is inherent in the people. … they have at all times the inalienable right to alter their government in such manner as they might think proper.”

Anyone who has been around Texas for any length of time knows exactly what we’d do if the going got rough in America. Let there be no doubt about that. As Sam Houston once said, “Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may.”

Norris concludes by inviting “those losing hope, and others wanting to rekindle the patriotic fires of early America” to join him and Glenn Beck for the broadcast of “We Surround Them,” an upcoming FOX News feature that smacks of a right-wing militia movement. “Thousands of cell groups will be united around the country in solidarity over the concerns for our nation,” says Norris, including a viewing party from his ranch in Texas. “We’re united, we’re tired of the corruption, and we’re not going to take it anymore!”

Norris and Beck are both part of a radical posture in the U.S. which sees plays out Conservative fears of government to an extreme.  As they do so, they pick up people who fear we have strayed from God, whiteness, and our “true” creed.

The upcoming telecast–“We Surround Them”–uses the metaphor of Oz as it promises to “show America what’s really behind the curtain.”  This FOX News-sponsored movement advertises “Nine Principles” which they use to garner support by suggesting your personal identification with their agenda.  If you believe in seven of them, they say, “then we have something in common.”  They are:

1. America is good.
2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.
3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.
4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.
5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.
6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.
7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.
8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.

Those of you who know what is at work here–in both Norris’ half-cooked analysis and in the list above–know what I’m talking about.  Fear is a heavy part of this “movement” and, as such, it serves to help nurture the radical, anti-humanist and ideological “pure” stances they take.

As a person of color, I get scared at this kind of stuff.  As a parent, too.  But as a historian, I am a little bit interested in the way they construct a sense of history and then employ it to their ends.  In a perverse way, they are actually more historically rooted in the past than they think.  While they think they are being more “true to the Founders’ ideals” of government, they are actually far more in line with the Founders’ shortcomings–cultural chauvinism, racism, fear of the “other,” as well as a healthy dose of fear of government tempered with John Winthropian dystopia (omnes sumus licentia deteriores–we are all made worse by license).

This nation is still struggling with the same two-hundred year-old demons.  Let’s hope we get some therapy before we hurt someone…again.

Rights have a tendency of coming back

Today is the anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, overturning the 18th Amendment and giving Americans the right to manufacture, transport, purchase, and sell alcohol (again).

The 21st Amendment
Ratified December 5, 1933

Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use there in of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

This is a perfect opportunity for opponents of Proposition 8 to take heed and keep the faith.  While the rights protected by this article are largely different from the ones taken away by Prop. 8, the broader picture is important here: you can’t take away a right.

It is also important to remember, as King eloquently wrote, “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor.”  The most welcome consequence of the passage of Prop. 8 has been the re-birth of a queer rights movement in which youth are constitutive.  History is not inevitable, but with collaborative effort, the defeat of injustice can be.

Rosa Parks and the Truth of Movement

Today–December 1–is the anniversary of the arrest of Rosa Parks.  On this day, in 1955, she boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and refused to comply with the city code delineating segregation on the bus system.


In our national history, this “simple” act is now depicted as the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Indeed, Miss Parks’ refusal to give up her seat did initiate a chain of events providing the context of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a campaign that mobilized that Southern city, drew the attention of the nation and world, and marked the public debut of Martin Luther King Jr. But “the movement” has a history much more complex and with longer roots than suggested by the simplistic narratives we to which we cling.

In this era, when the election of Barack Obama is being characterized by many as the fulfillment of the dream of racial equality and equity, it is perhaps even more important to remind ourselves of how “the movement” has roots in the U.S. radical traditions of the first half of the 20th century; how organized movement by groups of women activists turned a simple arrest into a global campaign; and how the cause of justice remains a worthy endeavor.

For more information on the bus boycott and how collective action turned Rosa Parks’ act into a movement, check out the classic Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson from your local library. For an interesting and detailed account of the long historic roots to the mid-century movement, see Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore’s new book, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950.

The Legacy of Harvey Milk


November 27th is the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Harvey Milk, San Francisco politician and activist. The first openly gay man to be elected to office, he analyzed the significance of his election as follows:

Somewhere in Des Moines or San Antonio there is a young gay person who all of sudden realizes that she or he is gay; knows that if the parents find out they will be tossed out of the house, the classmates will taunt the child, and the Anita Bryant’s and John Briggs’ are doing their bit on TV. And that child has several options: staying in the closet, suicide. And then one day that child might open the paper that says “Homosexual elected in San Francisco” and there are two new options: the option is to go to California, or stay in San Antonio and fight.

Two days after I was elected I got a phone call and the voice was quite young. It was from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And the person said “Thanks.” And you’ve got to elect gay people, so that that young child and the thousand upon thousands like that child know that there is hope for a better world; there is hope for a better tomorrow. Without hope, not only gays, but those blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us’s: without hope the us’s give up. I know that you can’t live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you, you got to give them hope.

In many ways elaborating on the above point, Milk recorded some thoughts on his career, in the event of his untimely death. They were featured in the 1984 documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk”:

While this time will mean many things to many people, I hope it can also be a time to savor the victory that can come with people united in movement. At their most meaningful, these victories are not about representation or simplistic political gain: they are about life and hope.