Ethnic Studies Unite or Divide?
About the author and the Alliance of Chinese Americans San Diego (ACA) Scholarship: Ms. Ruby Gao is a recipient of the ACA Scholarship. She is currently a sophomore at Canyon Crest Academy (San Diego, CA). This article is a part of her work within the ACA Scholarship programs. The views and opinions expressed belong solely to the author, and do not represent those of ACA and its members. ACA Scholarships are established to encourage API youth’s involvement and awareness in community events.
On Oct. 8, 2021, Gavin Newsome, the Governor of California, signed AB-101 in response to a recent rise in hate crimes against ethnic minorities in the United States. The new laws mandate the class of 2029-2030 and younger to complete a semester-long ethnic studies course for graduation credit.
The world knows America as the land of opportunities, freedom, and justice. We pride ourselves as a powerhouse of diversity. For decades, however, Americans shunned other hues of color and exclusively embraced one. We ignored the Asians, the Latinos, the Native Americans, and the African Americans for the stereotypical Caucasian.
In recent decades, we began to unfold the history of other ethnicities, embracing them in our history books and educational texts. Any unified curriculum to educate other cultures did not exist before AB-101. Now, the debate of whether schools should offer ethnic studies is the catalyst for newfound confusion and misunderstandings.
The nation's ideology of white supremacy heavily disadvantaged other ethnic groups. Although educational institutions never addressed these impacts, the course strives to change that, focusing on the effect of discrimination, inequality, and lack of representation of minority races. According to California State University's description for ethnic studies major, “the program teaches students about the social dynamics of race, racism, structural violence, colonialism, legalized discrimination, assimilation, and the resulting impacts of such processes”. Ethnic studies pursue awareness of newer generations and educate them of America’s checkered past, previously glorified and polished in history books written by white people, casting false propaganda that America is "the land of hopes and dreams."
Ethnic Studies directly originated from the Civil Rights movement, which empowers people of power to speak against injustice and maltreatment. Recent events similar to the Civil Rights Movement such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate united people of color once again. Content of ethnic studies gathered widespread positive public opinions back then and now. Local San Diegan Asian Student Unions and Black Student Unions both displayed supports of course materials. Many people believe the information provided is essential to understanding how the United States functions as a society. The nation’s success highly depends on the diversity of people. Therefore, American citizens are socially obliged to address misconduct of power on minority ethnicities.
Besides spreading awareness, ethnic studies’ ultimate goal is preventing racism. Fear creates racism. When humans fear something, our innate ability expels hostility— similar to how an animal attacks when it feels threatened. This fear turns into discrimination as a “coping mechanism” against the unknown. Ethnic studies intend to eliminate these fears by turning the unknown into common knowledge for the unity of the United States.
Students of San Dieguito Unified School District protested and petitioned for ethnic studies courses in district schools in response to SDUHSD’s initial decision to not offer ethnic studies courses despite the bill.
Bella Williams*, a junior at Canyon Crest Academy of SDUHSD, strongly advocated for AB-101. “I think offering the program provides a better education,” Williams said. “We’ve learned about the monotonic history of white people since 1st grade. It’s time to give more credit to other cultures.” Williams’ opinion aligned with the majority feedback for the course.
Some organizations and individuals in San Diego advocate against the bill. They fear the bill emphasizes the difference of cultures instead of unifying them. Although we should “embrace different cultures” and respect our differences, not differentiating cultures assists in eliminating racism more efficiently, they argue.
Opposers of AB-101 believe covering the history of discrimination of minorities serves better benefits than highlighting it. “Damage to the minorities is already done. Why should we bring up the past and cause more damage?” Or, “I do not want my child to feel ashamed for what was done to the minorities.” Some concerned parents think the history is too cruel and bloody, therefore, inappropriate for school.
People of color who are opposed to ethnic studies have differing reasons. They believe the consciousness of our differences creates racism. If a child grows up without society constantly addressing the difference in skin tone, the child will not know the difference between races. He will simply think everyone has one nose, two ears, one mouth, and two eyes; therefore, everyone is equal and are the same. The child would not have racial stereotypes of groups who are “dangerous” or “uneducated”. On the other hand, supporters of AB-101 mainly worry that ignoring the uniqueness of races will eventually hurt society in the future. Pure disregard in a social hierarchy based on color is wishful ignorance. If society does not address mankind’s individuality, others create harmful stereotypes to replace their ignorance.
Supporters of ethnic studies embrace individual unity for the greater harmony of a community; while opposers have individual reasons to oppose ethnic studies. The topic’s matter is not of right or wrong, black or white. The sole purpose of ethnic studies is to unify the nation by learning history, acknowledging wrongdoing to prevent its repetition in the future. As long as we provide equal opportunity, freedom, and respect to everyone, we can uphold the founding spirits of America. We can fulfill the intentions of ethnic studies. The program is only a method, while its intentions are the essence.
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