Ethnic Studies Is Still Under Attack: White Identity Politics In Control of the LA Times Opinion Pages?

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by Maya Mackrandilal

In response to the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board’s attacks on the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum draft in their opinion pages, I wrote in a letter to the editor:

“While members of the editorial board might have trouble wrapping their minds around terms like ‘cisheteropatriarchy’ and ‘womxn’, I promise you that thanks to Twitter and Teen Vogue, your average American teenager has encountered them and would welcome the opportunity to delve deeper than 280 characters, which makes them more qualified to comment on the value of this curriculum than the board of a nationally recognized newspaper.”

But the paternalistic tunnel vision continues as the LA Times publishes a series of Op-Eds that cater to a particular type of politics, a politics clearly on display in Karin Klein’s most recent Op-Ed attacking the curriculum on September 30th (the ink had barely dried on her last attack published by the Times in August). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us about “the white moderate who is more devoted to order than justice…who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.” We find ourselves in the wake of his words, building coalitions of resistance against a nation-wide wave of white supremacist organizing as the white liberal establishment focuses their political will on reigning in disobedient “leftist activists,” public intellectuals, and even congresswomen of color. We can call this state of affairs, both present and historic, white identity politics. White identity politics dictates that it will be the white ruling class who will draw the boundaries of our struggle, that they will tell us what our liberation will look like and the means by which we should achieve it. The ultimate goal is the preservation of white social and economic dominance, offering incremental adjustments to our oppression in order to improve its optics rather than dismantling the structures that sustain the oppression of people of color.

A perfect example of white identity politics is playing out right now in California. After a grassroots effort to add Ethnic Studies to the state’s education code (section 51226.7), a committee of leading educators and Ethnic Studies scholars was formed to create a draft model curriculum. The mobilization against the resulting curriculum was swift. Conservative political groups attacked the curriculum as both “jargon”—as if a discipline centered on communities of color can’t have its own academic language—and politically biased. This is to be expected, as the right has espoused a broad anti-facts platform that spans from the hard science of global climate collapse to social sciences like history, where the severity of slavery and its central role in the Civil War are now open to debate. It would be impossible to put forward anything remotely based on scholarship that would not upset some portion of their Eurocentric patriarchal cosmology of magical thinking. What is more concerning (though not surprising) is the ease with which the white liberal establishment fell in line, including the (very white) LA Times Editorial Board, proving that going to that one social justice march a few years ago and tweeting #resist every once in a while was just as empty as most people of color suspected. White identity politics always wins out, because it is the foundation of political power in the United States. It was planted in the soil at the beginning, when Native land was stolen under the premise of “saving the savages from themselves”, when colonial law prohibited the generational enslavement of white people and ruled that the killing of an enslaved African by their master could never be considered murder. It is what bonded the founders of this country together, what allowed them to say “all men are created equal” while owning human beings. It is what tore down the achievements of Reconstruction and what fuels the prison industrial complex and border militarization today.

White identity politics is a politics of erasure and institutional violence. It seeks to maintain the invisible hand of white privilege, to keep its mechanisms hidden behind “color-blind” rhetoric and neoliberal multiculturalism. It treats whiteness as a neutral position from which non-white experiences are deemed non-neutral, excessive, messy, politically correct. Our project now, as a nation, is to see whiteness. Not simply in the nazi salutes and confederate flags of the far right, but in the “well-meaning” actions of those who claim to be the allies of people of color.

We must understand that whiteness is political, and this politics infuses every institution in this country, from senate floors to boardrooms, from prisons to the focus of this article, the press and our education system. The value (and thus threat) of Ethnic Studies, for young people of all backgrounds and identities, is that by studying the historical and contemporary struggles of POC communities in the United States, the white identity politics of the rest of the curriculum becomes clear. It highlights the omissions, the concealments, the mythologies of white identity politics.

For the white liberal so quick to align with conservative attacks, the threat of Ethnic Studies, the threat of white identity politics becoming visible, is more dangerous than the systems of oppression that are killing POC every day. This is the trap of neoliberal “multiculturalism” – the idea that all narratives are equal, the concealment that certain narratives (colonial, white supremacist, Euro-centric) are predicated on the oppression of others, and that other narratives (Black liberation, Indigenous sovereignty, worker’s rights) by their very nature disrupt the mechanisms of power. Our freedom lies beyond the bounds of the white liberal imagination, fenced in so tightly by white identity politics. Dr. King knew it, and because of Ethnic Studies, we do too.

Thanks to the tireless grassroots organizing of communities of color and the Save CA Ethnic Studies movement, the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum draft now has broad support across many diverse groups, including over 100 organizations and institutions, the California Teachers Association, a petition of support signed by over 10,000 individuals, and positive feedback from California State Board of Education and Instructional Quality Commission members. These are the broad coalitions that the LA Times opinion pages seek to undermine with their relentless concern-trolling. Is it too much to ask that the LA Times Editorial Board uplift those who are working to bring people together rather than those who wish to divide us? The lessons of Ethnic Studies are the lessons that will sustain us in our fight against white identity politics and towards a future where people of color can carry the telling of our own stories.

Maya Mackrandilal is an LA-based artist, writer, educator, and arts administrator.


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28 thoughts on “Ethnic Studies Is Still Under Attack: White Identity Politics In Control of the LA Times Opinion Pages?”

  1. Alan Miller

    The word “Jewish” was not mentioned once in this article.  You might say it was “omitted”, just like Jewish history in the California ethnic studies curriculum.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Alan… think the Lehrer song… “National Brotherhood Week… with a new twist… the ‘traditional’ NBW,

      Brotherhood Week had its roots in rising anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish sentiment in the 1920s.

      Not completely sure where the new “ethnic studies” fervor comes from, but it very similar, yet very different on the specifics… haven’t reviewed the curriculum in detail, but expect it to exclude Jews and their influence, the Catholic influence, etc.  Yet not sure how one can tell the story of the Civil Rights movement without addressing the Jewish and Catholic, other Christian influences… at least truthfully…

      Note the picture heading this piece… MLK was not just a POC…

       

      1. Alan Miller

        It’s OK, Bill.  The Holocaust happened in my parent’s lifetimes (they were adults).  So long ago . . . so the Jewish experience doesn’t matter.  Oh, and there are more hate crimes against Jews than any other single group . . . and rising . . . but that doesn’t matter, only “ethnic” studies matter, because Jews aren’t oppressed, or aren’t ‘ethnic’, or some f*cking logic bullsh*t like that.

      2. Alan Miller

        think the Lehrer song… “National Brotherhood Week… with a new twist…

        WM, you should have included link for the masses.  I remember this song from my childhood and haven’t heard it in maybe forty years or more.  Hearing that as a Jewish child, that peak line, even as comedy (which always has its roots in real) truly resonates, . . . and everyone hates the Jews!

        As well, you should have linked to the article you got the quote from, truly an important piece of history for this context:

        https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-02-21/whatever-became-national-brotherhood-week

      3. Alan Miller

        Yet not sure how one can tell the story of the Civil Rights movement without addressing the Jewish and Catholic, other Christian influences… at least truthfully…

        WM, you should explain what you mean by this . . . you assume everyone knows what you are talking about.  Think the context of this piece — the audience may need a bit of history.

        Note the picture heading this piece… MLK was not just a POC…

        OK, you need to explain what you mean by that one.

    2. Marisa VillegasRamirez

      Actually Alan, the words “Chicanx, Latinx, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Arab American, etc” aren’t mentioned in the article either, because it is clearly about naming a very real bigger picture and concern that relates to all of us, and especially to communities of color. You seem to miss that point entirely. And as this Sacbee article notes, https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/education/article235257837.html , different groups are now actually coming to the same page about what you shared. So again, rather than choosing to troll, maybe we can get to the heart of the matter here instead.

      1. Alan Miller

        the words “Chicanx, Latinx, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Arab American, etc” aren’t mentioned in the article either,

        Good point.

        because it is clearly about naming a very real bigger picture and concern that relates to all of us,

        agree

        and especially to communities of color.

        agree-ish

        You seem to miss that point entirely.

        nope

        And as this Sacbee article notes . . .

        I had read that article.

        different groups are now actually coming to the same page about what you shared.

        Yes they are

        So again, rather than choosing to troll,

        I troll because I care.

        No but seriously, instead of labeling, let’s get to the heart of the matter here instead.

        maybe we can get to the heart of the matter here instead.

        That’s what you said.

        No but seriously, we are getting to the heart of the matter.  You used ‘especially’ communities of color.  I have long believed that history is told from the ‘white’ conquering perspective, and this echoes into the full curriculum in many ways.  I am all for a multi-perspective viewpoint on all studies so affected.

        The issue with the ‘ethnic’ program as presented is that it, too, is exclusionary.  Certain groups are given privilege (due, ironically, to their perceived (based on a very real) lack of privilege).  And then others are left out.  And this is all based on a particular politic that many of us do not agree with — and without that politic this program would not be so under attack.

        So all these groups are coming to want ‘their’ part of history included.  Which is fine as far as it goes, but it’s all based on the original program from a group with a political-based agenda of its own.  So it would take quite a change for this to be acceptable to yours truly.

        Also, despite what DG claimed that this would all be incorporated into existing classes, that is not confirmed by what I am reading elsewhere.  And if it really is it’s own course, then what we will end up with is ‘white history’ vs. ‘ethnic history’, and that will not end well.

    3. Craig Ross

      Alan – seriously.  You’re a broken record and you’ve missed the point of the article which has nothing to do with a particular group and everything to do with a general pushback against ethnic studies itself.

      1. Alan Miller

        Alan – seriously.

        CR – seriously.

        You’re a broken record and you’ve missed the point of the article

        You’re a broken record who makes personal attacks devoid of and in place of substance.

        which has nothing to do with a particular group

        Agree

        and everything to do with a general pushback against ethnic studies itself.

        Agree

  2. Marisa VillegasRamirez

    It’s good this article came out today. I’ve been noticing the same thing, and the bias of the LA Times opinion editorial pages on this. It was surprising to see that their whole op-ed editorial board is white/white-passing, how is that possible in a city like Los Angeles? Calmatters, which also has only white editors, has also reported in a very biased way on this issue. Sacbee, which is more diverse, has been more fair in its coverage. This Davis Vanguard piece today is a very interesting and necessary take on things.

  3. Alan Miller

    Our project now, as a nation, is to see whiteness.

    “I see white people” – said in the tone of that creepy kid from “The Sixth Sense”.  Oh, and spoiler alert:  Bruce Willis was dead.

    Not simply in the nazi salutes and confederate flags of the far right,

    Nazi salutes?  That’s pretty d*mn far right.  Though I have to admit more and more I do hear far righters gathering and yelling ‘sieg hiel’ in Central Park on weekday evenings all the way in Old East.  It is a bit creepy.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Our project now, as a nation, is to see whiteness.

      I hear echoes of the same type of “project” used to persecute Jewish people, in this statement.

        1. Alan Miller

          Do you ever filter yourself.  Same question for Alan.

          Yes, and the brand of filter I use is different from the one you would recommend. Because if I used the brand of filter you would recommend, it would make my words sound like your words. And that would be weird.

  4. Ron Glick

    It is difficult to evaluate the critique of the LA Times work on this topic without any links or quotes.

    I feel the same way Allen does about an ethnic studies curriculum that ignores anti-semitism likely conflating Judaism with Zionism. With anti-semetic attacks on the rise the new draft Ethnic Studies curriculum that left out anti-semitism feels like one more punch to the gut.

    I hope Ms. Villegas is correct and a consensus will be reached. After all, as we can see locally at protests about the inhumane treatment of people at the border, the Jewish and  Japanese Americans in this community are together and out front because we understand where this can lead. We are all in this together and unless we see the value in every child’s identity  being validated we will be divided and conquered.

    1. Alan Miller

      There are numerous references to the Jewish experience and to Israel there.

      Well, I guess my group’s covered so we all have nothing more to be concerned about.  I think I’ll watch a new episode of “Dancing with the Stars” and join with my pet ostrich in his favorite activity.

    2. Ron Glick

      The model you cite is well and good but the Ethnic Studies draft is for a curriculum with a required course of studies. Merge the two and I’m okay. Keep them apart and I’m concerned.

  5. Alan Miller

    I just finished reading the LA Times editorial.  I would like to state for the record that I agree with the editorial 100% — no actually 85% because I don’t agree with this being a separate course, as I stated above.

    Here is a link to the editorial.  I recommend that everyone read this editorial.

    https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-08-02/californias-new-ethnic-studies-curriculum

    It states such outrageous things as:

    History has for too long been told by the winners, who have often left out the unsavory and sometimes tragic aspects of the story.

    a current draft of the model curriculum . . . is an impenetrable melange of academic jargon and politically correct pronouncements.  It’s hard to wade through all the references to hxrstory and womxn and misogynoir and cisheteropatriarchy.

    the proposed ethnic studies curriculum feels . . .  designed to proselytize and inculcate more than to inform and open minds. It talks about critical thinking but usually offers one side and one side only.

    there is no mention . . . of students who might dare to disagree with the party line . . .  for instance, some students might think that the right to vote in mayoral and city council elections is the prerogative of citizens, not noncitizens . . . Chances are, with a curriculum like this one, they’d be afraid to even mention it.

    there’s a suggested list of social movements that students might research — but here again, the curriculum feels awfully one-sided. There’s nothing wrong with students studying the Black Panther Party or the Third World Liberation Front or the Occupy Movement or the Palestinian-led BDS movement. But what happened to studying a range of ideas, reflecting a variety of ideologies and perspectives, and having students take sides, dispute and debate those ideas, honing their research and thinking in the process, and ultimately deciding for themselves?

    This curriculum feels like it is more about imposing predigested political views on students than about widening their perspectives.

    the model curriculum lists capitalism with white supremacy and racism as “forms of power and oppression.” . . .  shouldn’t students also hear arguments that capitalism has allowed for an expansion over time of the middle class . . .

    isn’t it possible that some students won’t agree with the curriculum’s assertion that BDS is a social movement “whose aim is to achieve freedom through equal rights and justice.” Does that perhaps merit further debate?

    The final curriculum should emphasize the deep, disturbing and complex facts of racial and ethnic history, respecting differences of opinion, and encouraging open discussion on an often difficult subject.

    Oh, LA Times, you SO wrapped in up in your “paternalistic tunnel vision”.

    #Bleeeeeech!#

     

  6. Alan Miller

    Hey DG, “honest question . . . ”

    I asked several weeks ago if the ethnic studies program was to be incorporated into existing classes to give a more balanced view, or taught as a separate course?  You said at the time the intention was to incorporate ethnic studies into existing classes.  Based on your response and what I read and before the severe backlash that got me looking more into the curriculum of the program, I stated at the time that I supported the idea.

    Yet everything I have read since says this is a separate course.  So my honest question to you is . . .

    . . . why did you lie to me?

    Or am I taking this in the improper context, somehow?

    1. David Greenwald

      I have not seen anything from the school district on their intentions. My comment was based on the only discussion of the issue that occurred at the school board level. So until something else comes forward, we will not know what the plan is. At the time I said it, it was the best available information.

      1. Ron Glick

        In the discussion on creating an ethnic studies class at DHS I believe the district and the school board have consistently talked about waiting for the new state curriculum to be adopted.

      2. Alan Miller

        I have not seen anything from the school district on their intentions. My comment was based on the only discussion of the issue that occurred at the school board level.

        Fair enough answer.  But, isn’t the school board at the mercy of what the state decides, and therefore any discussions of intention at the board level on the issue is rather irrelevant?

  7. Alexis Solano

    Alan, since you seem to be so into this right now, can you do us a favor, and please start breaking down the heavy bias and jargon of the entire CA K-12 curriculum for us? Perhaps you may take a reverse approach and begin with the one sided bias and jargon present in Senior Economics, a required course with theory often taught as facts, that all Seniors must take? (unlike this ESMC, which even under AB331 wouldn’t be required curriculum, districts will still have their own autonomy to do what they wish; whereas with Senior Economics and the rest of the Eurocentric state standards, it’s actually still mandated curriculum – see the difference?).

     
    Yes, from your “white liberal” (and admittedly sometimes humorous perspective), may you please break down the heavy bias present in the CA state standards, starting with Senior Economics and going all the way down to Kindergarten for us all? That’d be enlightening for most of us I think and really helpful to this discussion… Thanks!

    1. Ron Glick

      Alexis what is your point? If there are deficiencies in one curriculum we shouldn’t try to improve a draft of another curriculum before the final product is adopted. Not sure that is the best approach.

  8. Alan Miller

    (and admittedly sometimes humorous perspective)

    thank you, thank you very much

    may you please break down the heavy bias present in the CA state standards, starting with Senior Economics and going all the way down to Kindergarten for us all? That’d be enlightening for most of us I think and really helpful to this discussion… Thanks!

    Yes.  I’ll let you know as soon as Simon & Schuster release my new book, “The one sided bias and jargon present in Senior Economics, ESMC, AB331, district autonomy, Senior Economics and the rest of the Eurocentric state standards”, due to be publish in 2136.

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