This week we finished up Robert Self's "American Babylon" and also read a short piece by Bob Wing in the reader, "Educate to Liberate!: Multiculturism and the Struggle for Ethnic Studies."
In Wing's essay, he traces the history of the institutionalization of Ethnic Studies academic programs in universities and colleges across the U.S. As of 1999, he says "Ethnic Studies today probably occupies a more prominent place in U.S. academic and intellectual life than at any time in history." He then writes about the initial goals of Ethnic Studies and how they have been watered down for corporate sponsorship in the late 1990s, at the time of Wing's essay.
I found the initial goals of Ethnic Studies programs valid. A few that Wing lists include transforming the racist educational system, demanding relevant education for racial struggles, and support for community organizing. This curriculum seems to support educating students in past racial struggles, the continued work towards a unified student body, and valuable lessons in affecting real change through political and community organization. Perhaps I have a skewed view due to my place in the 21st century and my liberal political leanings, but how could these goals be considered "radical"?
An issue that Wing discussed that was new to me was the shift to "multiculturism." He argues that this was an umbrella term used to "obscure racism and promote tokenism." This idea of tame and safe "multiculturism" was an easy sell to corporations looking to underwrite university programs. This is problematic because academics can take a backseat to the agenda of the corporation providing the funding. It is also difficult because it ignores the original aim of Ethnic Studies which is to change the structure of the university system. Due to the corporate take-over of the Harvard program by the Ford Foundation, "blacks had to succeed in the context of white institutions and Euro-American standards" instead of creating their own standards.
Despite the problems mentioned by Wing, I think that an Ethnic Studies program should be integral to universities and colleges across the U.S. As we have previously discussed in class, many students have not been exposed to a different form of U.S. History besides the Euro-slanted version regarding the formation of the United States as a country and political entity. Little regard is given to the people that inhabited the United States before the arrival of the pilgrims or how the dominant power structure left out those not belonging to the Euro ancestry.
This week we also finished up Robert Self's "American Babylon," reading chapters 6 and 8.
Chapter 6 outlines the formation and evolution of the Black Panther party in relation to their birthplace of Oakland. I had a very cursory education regarding the Black Panther party and tended to lump them together with other revolutionary groups of the counter-culture movement of the late 1960s. During the mid-1960s, the two ideas of "black power" and civil rights were seen as separate ideologies. The Black Panthers wanted to meld these two ideas into one group that would seek power for all the people. Instead of proclaiming separatist ideals, the party would seek alliances with anticolonial whites and Chicanos.
I was surprised at the expanse of the Panthers' community outreach efforts. These included the idea of "self-determination" within subjugated communities and the formation of social programs to help others. These programs were described as "Survival Programs" since humans have essential needs that need to be addressed before they can engage in political action. The Panthers set up free breakfast for poor school children, free groceries for families, and child care. The care for the social welfare of their community, however, has historically been overshadowed by the call to vigilante street violence in the wake of constant police threats and brutality.
Chapter 8 brings us into the late 1970s and the evolution of the Black Panther party into a viable political party, complete with candidates for local office and enviable grassroots organization.
I found Elaine Brown to be a particular inspiring figure. She became chairperson of the Black Panther party in 1974 and addressed the gender divisions within her party. For her two campaigns for City Council (she would, unfortunately, lose), she appointed women in strategic positions of her campaigns. Although she never became a part of Oakland's political system, she continued to push for the BP agenda in her speeches and calls to action.
The second half of Chapter 8 details the political climate that gave way to the implementation of Proposition 13 in 1978. Coming from a family based in the suburbs, I understand the hardship that rising property taxes have on a family, but I find this proposition incredibly short-sighted. A short term solution to middle class families and homeowners once again reeks havoc on those disenfranchised. We are now fully seeing the devastating effects that Prop 13 is having on the public school system. As a student interested in pursuing post-grad education, I am now forced to look for an education outside of California due to rising tuition and uncertainty in the university and college system. The UC system was once thought to be one of the premier educational systems in the United States and the Cal State system was one of the most affordable for struggling students. I'm frustrated that something that was enacted before I was born is now able to shape where I am able to receive my education. Students in the current situation are now looking at higher costs and lower returns in their education. What kind of future is this going to bring for future generations?