Cisheteropatriarchy. Hxrstory. The language of ethnic studies, explained

Ethnic studies
A student’s ethnic studies project is on display in a classroom at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles. A proposed curriculum for the class includes a glossary of academic terms.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Early on, some accused the emerging field of ethnic studies as lacking academic rigor. Now, critics are focusing on the language that is included in the glossary of a draft curriculum proposed for California students. Critics find the terminology pedantic, obscure and sometimes ideologically one-sided.

“The jargon in it, the invented words, the language known only to a few academics makes this a model curriculum that is impenetrable for high school teachers,” said Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at the Stanford-based Hoover Institute.

Defenders say the field, much like chemistry or psychiatry, has developed words to precisely describe and define key concepts.


“We have our own academic language as our own field,” said R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, a Los Angeles teacher who co-chaired the state’s ethnic studies model curriculum advisory committee.

“Cisheteropatriarchy: a system of male, straight, conforming-to-assigned sex system of power. What’s a better term to describe that?” said Cuauhtin, who also co-wrote the book “Rethinking Ethnic Studies.”

California lawmakers are poised to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement in high schools and at Cal State universities.

Aug. 13, 2019

Here are samples from the glossary of the state’s draft model curriculum for ethnic studies.

Accompliceship — the process of building relationships grounded in trust and accountability with marginalized people and groups. Being an accomplice involves attacking colonial structures and ideas by using one’s privilege and giving up power and position in solidarity with those on the social, political, religious, and economic margins of society. This is in contrast to the contested notion of allyship which is often performative, superficial, and disconnected from the anticolonial struggle.

Androcentric — the privileging and emphasis of male or masculine interests, narratives, traits, or point of view, often in spaces where power is wielded.

Capitalism — an economic and political system in which industry and trade are based on a “free market” and largely controlled by private companies instead of the government. Within Ethnic Studies, scholars are often very critical of the system of capitalism as research has shown that Native people and people of color are disproportionately exploited within the system. In a capitalist economy, surplus value (profit) is generated from human labor and everything is commodified.


Herstory — is a term used to describe history written from a feminist or women’s perspective. Herstory is also deployed when referring to counter narratives within history. The prefix “her” instead of “his” is used to disrupt the often androcentric nature of history.

Heteropatriarchy — a system of society in which men and heterosexuals (especially heterosexual men) are privileged, dominant and hold power.

Hxrstory — pronounced the same as “herstory,” hxrstory is used to describe history written from a more gender inclusive perspective. The “x” is used to disrupt the often rigid gender binarist approach to telling history.

Master narrative — is generally described as the colonially-derived story of events emphasizing monolithic, Eurocentric, and androcentric perspectives.

Nepantlas — is a Náhuatl word that was adopted by Chicanx writers, scholars, and feminists to describe an “in-between space.” Chicana feminist, Gloria Anzaldua, was among the first to advance theorizing on the term, defining it as, a precarious space where transformation can occur. The term can be used to describe a variety of identity-related issues, including, race, gender, language, etc. Nepantla is the recognition of confusion, chaos, and messiness in one’s understanding of self and the world. Nepantla also provides room for self-reflection to better understand and work through this liminal space.

The Four “I”s of Oppression — the four “I”s of oppression are: ideological oppression (an idea, concept, or theory whose qualities advocate for or can be interpreted as causing harm or upholding the views of a dominant group at the expense of others), institutional oppression (the belief that one group is superior than another and that the more dominant group should determine when and how those on the margins are incorporated into institutions within a society), interpersonal oppression (how oppression is played out between individuals), and internalized oppression (the internalization of the belief that one group is superior to another).


Whiteness — a social construct that has served as the foundation for racialization in the United States. Whiteness is the antithesis of Blackness, and is commonly associated with those that identify as white. However, Whiteness is much more than a racial identity marker, it separates those that are privileged from those that are not. Whiteness can manifest as a social, economic, political, and cultural behavior and power. For example, the “standard” or cultural “norm” are often always based on whiteness and by extension white culture, norms, and values.

Xdisciplinary — The term signifying that Ethnic Studies variously takes the forms of being interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary, undisciplinary, and intradisciplinary, in diverse academic and everyday contexts.