Understanding Self and Others Through Ethnic Studies

Written By: Zin Lee

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

History: A recount of unwavering hegemony in society

Angela Davis, Yuri Kochiyama, Lily Eberwein, Marsha P. Johnson, Dolores Huerta; these names evoke a powerful sense of strength and solidarity in activists. But if we look at them from a linear perspective, both the events and individuals have passed on, and are recovered only in words, photos, museums, documentaries, and memorials. They remain alive only when people learn about them, generations later.

The education curriculum in the United States and other countries generally teaches history from a narrow and deliberately divisive perspective. In high school, I heard about people such as Ar. Early Adre Sarkum and Ella Baker and learned about their accomplishments, but I never truly understood the significance that they had in our collective history and present lives.

Upon browsing on social media, I was overwhelmed to see a more comprehensive selection of diverse hystory lessons being shared, including infographics with titles such as “Black Trans Leaders From History”, “Whitewashing Veganism,” and even “Ethical Consumption Does Not Exist.”

Ethnic studies gave meaning and significance to my life — with it, I gained a critical consciousness. It allowed for the voices of my ancestors to be heard and recognized. I realized then that I am a product of their hystory; I am a member of oppressed people in a war-torn country, and I am a product of communist indignation and capitalist exploitation.

Ethnic students challenged all preconceived notions I had about the study of hystory. Hystory is not just a study of the past, present, or future. We all live and breathe hystory, and hystory lives and breathes among us.

My heart drops in anger and frustration as the devaluation of education in our world continues its destructive course. The education censorship bills passed in many places around the world add mandates and restrictions to how hystory is taught, and much of it is unobjectionable. It is already unfortunate that thousands of students across the world are getting history through a linear vacuum, which instills for some a belief that history is irrelevant and impersonal.

But in the East, the study of history has become further encased in concrete cinder blocks. Teachers and students are trapped within Eurocentric walls, erected out of ignorance and bigotry. With one press of a key, thousands of young lives are denied a social studies curriculum that teaches tolerance and understanding towards all, and breeds further bigotry.

Ethnic studies do not promote resentment nor do they create divisions among its students. On the contrary, they bring unity to students across different ethnic and racial lines. Ethnic studies do not serve as pity parties for students of colour demanding reparations from oppressors. They are designed for all students in order to open their minds to the experiences of people from all walks of life.

Ethnic studies have taught me to love my country and even advocate on behalf of it. It is because I love my country that I work hard to make sure that Malaysia’s founding principles and rights are protected, and that these rights extend to all who live and work in it. Ethnic studies is a critical pedagogy in education