Banning César Chavez: Whites “Sanitizing” US History Again

The July 10, 2009 issue of the Austin American-Statesman’s online edition features an article titled “Education ‘Experts’ slam César Chavez.”

It reports that the often controversial Texas State Board of Education appointed a six-member panel of experts to help “guide the revision of social studies curriculum standards.” At a recent panel’s meeting, three of the members called for sanitizing various discussions of racial matters in textbooks and thus for the removal discussion of the iconic César Chavez from the textbook standards. The main “reason” was Chávez’s association with Saul Alinsky, a major political activist trained as a sociologist/criminologist.

In his lifetime Alinsky provoked the anger of many conservatives because of his work in community organizing in many cities against injustice. Now these conservative Texas panel members take their turn. They seem to ignore that Alinsky advocated peaceful resistance and that in 1969 was the recipient of an award given by the Catholic Interracial Council, the same award given to Mother Teresa and Senator Harold Hughes.

Cesar Chavez Memorial
Creative Commons License photo credit: Scani – Salina Canizales
Nevertheless, César Chavez, a key organizer for U.S. farmworkers for much of his adult life and highly regarded in Mexican American communities and many other communities, is guilty by association and all of the achievements and selfless work of this internationally renowned labor and human rights activist are ignored because of his association with another experienced community activist. It’s a baseless excuse, I guess, as good as any such notions.

By the way, I personally witnessed anti-Latino racism in Texas up close in the early 1970s, first as a soldier and later as a sociology graduate student. Sadly, anti-Latino racism is alive and well in Texas.

Note on Saul Alinsky, from a book by Joe and Hernán Vera (Liberation Sociology):

Saul Alinsky (1909-1972) was a practicing sociologist, an intellectual activist who worked for and tried to understand the experiences of the oppressed. He founded the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in 1940. Alinsky’s IAF has fostered much community organization across the U.S., currently with about 57 affiliates operating on behalf of the poor in more than twenty U.S. states, Canada, the UK, and Germany. With 150 or field organizers, the IAF serves numerous coalition organizations linking hundreds of local citizens’ groups and at least a million families. A recent IAF statement summarizes the organization’s current efforts: “IAF leaders and organizers first create independent organizations, made up of people from all races and all classes, focused on productive improvements in the public arena. IAF members then use those new political realities to invent and establish new social realities.” The statement continues with a clear example of contemporary efforts: “One new reality is the living wage movement in the United States. The first living wage bill was conceived, designed, and implemented by the IAF affiliate in Baltimore in 1994. The second bill was the work of the IAF affiliates in New York City in 1996. Since then, IAF affiliates in Texas, Arizona, and elsewhere have passed living wage legislation.”

President Obama on the Arrest of Prof. Gates

Last night, President Barack Obama answered a question about the arrest of Professor Gates during a press conference about health care. The President said that police acted “stupidly” and despite racial progress blacks and Hispanics are still singled out unfairly for arrest. Here’s the short clip (2:10) in case you missed it:

While it’s hard to imagine any of the previous presidents speaking out in this way about a “police matter,” the fact that President Obama would speak out should not, in fact, be that surprising. For Obama, racial profiling was a major issue for him as legislator in Illinois. He was the chief sponsor of a bill, which became law, that requires police to record the race, age and gender of all drivers they stop for traffic violations and for those records to be analyzed for evidence of racial profiling.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell provides an excellent analysis in The Nation both about Gates’ place among black intellectuals in the U.S. prior to this and about the significance of Gates’ arrest for what she calls “the post-racial project.”

Yet, for all this outrage (I believe I referred to it as a ‘tsunami of outrage’ originally, and it is certainly turning into that), James Crowley, the cop who arrested Gates, says he won’t apologize. And, lots of other white folks are lining up to defend him (starting with comment #8 at that link). This could get even more interesting.