Monday, September 28, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 30

Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on June 24th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 17 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 17

Ethnic studies increase understanding, perspective on race in our country


There is obviously a stubborn, if not malignant, perspective about race and ethnicity in our nation today. This perspective is intensified by the perverse arithmetic of the Trump administration’s rhetoric, and by the signs and narratives that we’ve seen in the media these past weeks.

As the administration has proven it is uninterested in healing race relations in our country, and while our ability to vote it out this November is not certain, what we can do to keep some control is to process those media signs and narratives in an smart way.

Most of the media narratives of racist acts that we have witnessed are severe and beyond dispute, while some are slightly portrayed out of context. Many visual signs of racism and bigotry are compelling, though some are manipulated for effect.

As righteous protests and level-headed demands for change are called for, more radical reactions like rioting and looting, or pushing for unilateral defunding of our police, are not. The small, pixeled screens of our smartphones just can’t frame the entirety of what’s going on.

What can frame it? What can develop our perspective, help us understand and contextualize the intensity of recent weeks, and fortify our ability to process narratives and signs? One of the best ways is to educate ourselves in the history, culture, and reality of oppressed people through ethnic studies courses and programs that our local schools offer.

Ethnic studies programs and courses don’t just provide enlightenment, they create empathy while permeating our all too often stubborn racial or ethnic perspectives, and they slow (if outright cure) its malignancy.

Ethnic studies programs and courses do not make people “hate America,” as is often said by hard-right conservatives. Nor do they point blame or set one group against another.

What they give us is a more cultivated racial-ethnic consciousness and an ability to sensibly confront issues of race, history, and culture. They disseminate an understanding and a respect for heritage, and it’s through this developed consciousness and respectful understanding that we readily define our shared place in society, as well as our reactions to people of diverse ethnicities.

With regards to the current social unrest and its media portrayals, knowing a race’s or culture’s history and experience gives us a needed contextual sensibility. As while it’s not always clear who are the innocent victims, the heroic leaders, the agitators, and oppressors, as well as who are the exemplars, martyrs, the radicals, or racists, and where true role models and the neighborhoods in need are, we gain an ability to ascertain them through explorations that such programs and courses offer.

In short, ethnic studies works some pretty powerful medicine.

I therefore believe that looking at our country today through the scope of race, ethnicity, class, and gender is the best way to see the bigger picture. It’s the best way of getting the fuller story of how we have become this nation—helping us to get through the genuine challenges that we obviously and heartbreakingly still face. 

Dr. Marc García-Martínez is the originator of Allan Hancock College’s new degree program in Latina/o studies. Send comments to the editor at, or submit a letter for publication to

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