Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Silencing Nature of the "Downer" Vibe

Posted by Theryn

A couple of weeks ago my graduate cohort viewed a debate between Michael Eric Dyson and Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of public instruction. Their debate aired on Anderson Cooper 360 on May 13, 2010. The Dyson/Horne debate was about why Arizona public schools should no longer continue an ethnic studies curriculum. Coming on the heels of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 anti-immigrant measure that requires law enforcement to stop and interrogate anyone they suspect of being and undocumented immigrant, House Bill 2281 prohibits schools from offering courses at any grade level that advocate ethnic solidarity, promote the overthrow of the US government, or cater to specific ethnic groups (Mother Jones, Retrieved on May 31, 2010). According to Motherjones.com, the House Bill 2281 was passed largely because Horne's personal distaste for the Tucson Unified School District's Chicano studies program, which out of 55,000 only 3 percent of the district's students actually participate. During the debate, when Horne was asked about his public responses to the elimination of ethnic studies programs, he kept repeating that ethnic studies preaches “a race obsessed philosophy, a downer philosophy” that in turn transforms otherwise peaceful students into angry militants whose rage threatens public safety and is essentially un-American. Now, for most of the students in my cohort, Horne sounded ridiculous. My colleagues were laughing, outwardly guffawing, shouting at the screen while cheering on Dyson’s rigorous interrogation of Horne’s statements. It all became quite a spectacle, albeit fun, but somewhat spectacle none the less because…

Since that time, there have been two instances were women of color have come under direct fire for sharing their truth. In the first case, I was told that the method of my truth sharing was “like getting kicked in the gut” by my professor. Then in another class a Native American woman argued with a fellow white cohort who is known for her ignorance of the complexities of racial discourse but constantly tries to debate racial issues often making highly problematic comments that go unchallenged. In each case, there were shocking silences on the part of the rest of the class. Now, while it is true that cohorts spoke to one another outside of class and show solidity for the women of color in different venues like Facebook or by phone and in the latter case, the professor did try and slow the torrent of errors from the white woman toward the Native woman, the majority of white people did not respond to the women in class the way they did to Micheal Erik Dyson’s critique of Horne on screen. Why is that?

Many of my cohorts and I have expressed feeling exhausted by the year’s worth of work and are greatly anticipating the close of the quarter, but is everyone too tired to support the subjectivities of women of color in class while supporting the distant subjectivities of the Brown people we engage with textually? My guess is that the “kicked in the gut” remark made by my professor lends a clue to what may be going on. Simply, the “downer philosophy” Horne name as the reason for his disdain for ethnic studies programs has found its way into the classroom astride the truths of women of color and becomes too much to handle and too threatening to the sense of social order. As long as the critique of colonialism, white supremacy and heteropatriarchy is made by the far away Brown male expert vs. the in-house woman of color, the “downer” consequence of marginalized people’s rage can be laughed off instead of engaged, ignored instead of interrogated as a result of in-house white supremacy.





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