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.”


  1. They also wanna take Thurgood Marshall out of the curriculum. 2 of the 6 received BA in religions education, and many observers believe this is more about religious and social values than about education. What makes this even more disturbing is that because Texas is such a large market, publishers gear textbooks to what Texas wants and these same textbooks are sold to school systems in other states. To be clear, the curriculum Texas promotes effects students in other states.

    AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Civil rights leaders Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall receive too much attention in Texas social studies classes, say two members of a panel advising the state on curriculum standards.

    Chavez, a Hispanic labor leader, and Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in racial desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, have schools, libraries, streets and parks named after them across Texas and the U.S.

    But to have Chavez “listed next to Ben Franklin” as an important historical figure “is ludicrous,” wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks.

    What’s the reasoning, I wonder, that makes this non-racial?

  2. Danielle

    Oh, Texas, you perverse beast. I believe Texas has the largest number of textbook publishers in the US. I can count several off of the top of my head just here in Austin. Sigh.

  3. Texas is the 2nd largest market. Textbook companies devies these textbooks for Texas, and then sell then to other states. If it wasn’t bad enough what young Texans were learning, it does have a ripple effect.
    Without mentioning specific people, I’m still waiting to hear how this isn’t racist.

  4. I’m disappointed. No one has to come to challenge the argument of this post. Though, I can understand why. What discredit research can deny the racism in taking Chavez and Marshall out of the curriculum?
    You may have discussed things like this in your books, Joe, but I wonder how this plays into the white racial frame. My guess is that students who are taught that only white people did anything significant in US history and literature and who are also bombarded with racist images have no problem not giving people of color proper healthcare or charging us more for loans or arresting us without cause or any of the other myriad disparities people of color face. This is what helps cause the disparity in opportunities – not IQs or personalities. It’s this stuff, the white-washing of US history.

  5. MoM-No1KState1

    Mom@No1State –I have been reviewing a lot of interesting articals on this site, and I plan to read “white frame”. I would like to come back someday, and acually have a better understanding.. However, I think you are a very interesting person, and I wish you the best of luck in whatever direction in life you take..Also, I may ask some questions time to time..

  6. MoM-Joe

    Mom@Joe Joe, I will be asking my questions to you after I read your book..I’ve noticed that when I asked you questions you have completely and continuously ignored them. However, what I found interesting, as long as, I’ve stayed on this site, that you have been more prone to answer Men’s questions with longer explanations, which were helpful to me… I know how that works, I lived in the South for over ten years, and yes, I learned very quickly, how Men in general, from the southern states treat women.. In fact, there are some firms that do not hire women to this day…Now, I would think that would be gender discrimination? So, if I take the time to read your work, I hope you will be able to take the time to answer my questions.

    Thanks, Mom

  7. @Mom – What a sweet thing to say to someone! Thanks! I have a blog. I am in NO way suggesting it’s anywhere close to as good as the info here, but it’s a good way to get in contact with me. Godspeed to you, and your son(s ?), as well.

  8. @siss – The way I read it was that it was just pointing out the clear racism in what the board of “experts” suggested be done. If you want my opinion, most history books for high schoolers don’t tell enough of Latin American and African American history. From a historians perspective, it’s kinda hard to cut anything because anything you cut is knowledge and understanding lost. But if we have to decide, some of the different battles of the different wars don’t do much to combat notions of white privilege.

  9. Joe

    Mom, sorry I missed your questions. I do not discriminate against folks here who ask questions, but I do not have time to read so many comments that we now get. But if you want to repeat your questions, I will try to comment on them.

  10. José Cobas Author

    No1KState: I don’t understand the questions you pose about “something not being racist” and “no one challenging the post. ”
    The rest of you: I enjoyed reading your exchanges.

  11. @ Jose – There have been heated discussion prompted by commenters question the existence of institutional and systemic racism. One guy even question one study finding the white vocational students had better outcomes because their teacher used his network to get them jobs on the basis that the researcher probably had not controlled for IQ. But here, silence. Considering all the commenters, including the drive-by’s, it’s just interesting that no one is denying the racism of this attempt to whitewash history

  12. Mom - N01KState

    Mom@ No1KState-That would be nice what blog do you have..Thanks Mom:)

    @Joe-I stumbled over this site by accident, however, it has been a “eye opening” experience..I need to catch up on some your writings, so that I would be able to ask direct questions about your work…Thanks, Mom:)

  13. @ siss – :sigh: I think the best way to incorporate all the different viewpoints of history is to tell each time period or social issue through the perspective of one group. Two if necessary. The way I envision this is, for example:
    1402 – 1500 – European perspective
    1500 – 1600 – Amerindians perspective
    1600 – 1700 – [ethnic group here] perspective
    . . . and so on and so forth. With each “chapter,” we’d also need to be sure we discuss women and women’s history in a way that incorporates women’s experiences without “othering” them. I feel like we should also include the different socioeconomic perspectives, but let’s just hold on to that idea for now.
    I feel like if we treated history in this way, we would:
    1 – End the white-washing of history.
    2 – Challenge the notion that the “white” perspective is the right/normal/default perspective.
    3 – Teach children to be not only open-minded, but also more aware of the ways that the same event can elicit different responses from different groups. Taking this with #2, they learn that different groups may have different reactions; in addition, they understand that the reactions of non-whites are valid, and sometimes, more accurate.
    4 – We still cover the important points of history without subjegating or privileging any one group’s experience over the other. Which is to say we still discuss the Revolutionary War, the Constitution Convention(s), the Gilded Age, etc and so on, we just discuss them from one perspective then another.
    The way I see it, there’s just too, too much in history to teach everyone’s history from beginning to end. But it’s unnecessary to then decide that for “consistency” you just tell history from the perspective of one group. As a historian, what’s most important is that the timeline remains consistent. As an activist for racial justice, what’s most important is that students learn not every one experienced history the same, which is to say that even if we don’t cover the 1800s from the perspective of Asian Americans, students are aware that Asian Americans may have had a different view.
    The only “controvery” I foresee would be the fear white Americans would have that they would be demonized. But that fear just isn’t valid from a purely historical perspective. What happened happened. From what I can gather from *jwbe*, Germany tells the truth of its anti-semitism, and it isn’t the cause of racial clashes. So from a social perspective, that fear has no validity.
    That’s just my idea. Others may have had the same, but just in case – I do have “rights” to my comments, right? 😐

  14. jwbe

    >The only “controvery” I foresee would be the fear white Americans would have that they would be demonized. But that fear just isn’t valid from a purely historical perspective. What happened happened. From what I can gather from *jwbe*, Germany tells the truth of its anti-semitism, and it isn’t the cause of racial clashes. So from a social perspective, that fear has no validity.
    those affected know the truth nonetheless.
    I can be wrong but I think that young people can easier walk in somebody else shoes. When we read ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ at school for example, we all ‘sided with’ Anne Frank, we learned to realize this time of German history through her lense, as far as this is possible. Is it possible to feel what the alleged other would feel? Yes. You also learn that the perspective of other people is valid, that your own experience is not the only reality.
    Did the knowledge about German history impact my life back then? Yes, it did. Also because we learned at school about democratic rights and duties and how quickly democracy can be destroyed. Based on this you also get another perspective when it comes to certain issues like police brutality, discrimination, politics that creates ghettos etc.

  15. jwbe

    >I hope one day we can recreate your school experience in the US.
    It probably needs political pressure from outside as well as from within. Also because of pressure from outside after WWII there grew up a German youth rebelling against the values etc. of their parent’s and grand parent’s generation.
    This is somehow the generation I grew up with, being tired of the lies they tried to tell us (average Germans *we did not know*) when we could see the tragedy they have created.
    Germany nonetheless has a lot to do to combat racism and Islamophobia


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