Emphasizing My Existence Doesn’t Diminish Yours

On May 11, 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2281 (2010), which prohibits a school district from including in its program of instruction any courses that (1) promotes the overthrow of the U.S. government, (2) promotes racism or classism, (3) advocates ethnic solidarity instead of individuality, and (4) are designed for a certain ethnicity. When conservative Arizona officials, who supported HB 2281 law, accused Mexican American Studies courses in Tuscan Unified School District of “politicizing students and breeding ethnic resentment,” the ethnic studies programs were suspended despite statistical evidence of a boost of graduation rates and academic achievement of students who took the courses. The program had been left in limbo as it was neither banned nor allowed.

Shortly after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, the #BlackLivesMatter movement was created as a response and call-to-action to the virulent anti-Black racism that persists in society and culture. Despite efforts to combat and expose the continual systematic violence against black bodies, the movement has received more criticism for an emphasis on “black lives” rather than promoting a defense of “all lives”.

Whats the connection between the two? A group of Chicano-identified teens were labeled as being potentially hostile for learning a culturally and socially relevant history because it is a history that is not canonically white-centric. Emphasizing the lives of African Americans rather than “all lives” somehow has given some members of the public an assumption that the movement does not care for the lives of others. Why does creating a self-awareness — a cultural and communal revelation of the historical and prevalent issues of structural violence against marginalized bodies — produce such a negative perspective amongst the American public? Efforts to create a space for marginalized identities to educate and combat the injustices faced amongst these communities have given way to discriminatory responses by the people and varying institution.

#BlackLivesMatter and the T.U.S.D.’s Mexican American studies courses are deemed as being outside of a norm, or a “docile” norm, as described by Michel Foucault. Foucault contextualizes the docile body as “something that can be made; out of formless clay,” a malleable object on which disciplinary force is acted. In then observing the body we can determine the organization of powers during moments of history. By existing outside of the norm, refusing to accept white, patriarchal hegemony, and exposing decentralized accounts of histories and social interactions, gender and ethnic courses and activist groups are presented by the institutional powers as having antagonistic intentions.

Taking an ethnic studies course when society continues to place people of color at the margins, provides an assurance that a students of all ethnicity and racial identities are of worth. The students of T.U.S.D. became actively involved in trying to protect their program because it provided them with aspirations for a better future. Ethnic studies courses provide an education that places them within history, allowing them to understand their social situations. A refusal to be docile means these students are passionate in seeking proper treatment from a country that has grown from voluntary and force migration of persons and supposedly celebrates freedom and equality for all. Taking part in any ethnic studies courses, like Mexican American studies, allows for students to read works by and are about people they can identify with. Students study issues that directly affect them like race, discrimination and socioeconomic inequalities. Realizing your own cultural worth does not take away any self-identification and connection to the United States. These students are able to contextualize a better America through a change a pedagogy in high school to college courses and in action with American society and culture.

Emphasizing “Black lives matter” also does not mean that other lives do not matter. This statement does not intend to take any importance away the lives of others. It stands to create awareness of the fact that while all lives matter, in America, lives matter in varying degrees. When black lives have to take extra measures to protect themselves when encountering men in uniform — having to accentuate in their mannerisms that they mean no harm, asserting publicly they have mental stability, needing to provide a proper picture if worse comes to worse so that media cannot askew their identity — there is a need to emphasize that “black lives matter”.

Knowing that your body matters, realizing your self-worth and value in a society that continues to marginalize you should not be taken as a threat; it is never used to diminish someone else’s worth or identity. “All lives matter”… “We’re all Americans”…these statements that attempts to create universality, do not project the very real hierarchical construction of mattering, of American-ness. When institutions continue to discriminate — overtly or privately — emphasizing race, color, gender is necessary.