Race is often a topic people are afraid to mention in day-to-day conversation. Apprehension of offending someone and lack of knowledge hinders normal conversation. Race has become harder to define as United States families are ever changing. Critical race theory brings an understanding of race, necessary to bridge the gap of inequality. Race can be best defined as social structure and culture, (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995) but this definition can fall short when judgements are based on appearance.
The values of our society are passed down from generation to generation with small alterations with each transference. As we learn history, oppression continues in minute ways, such as stories being rationalized to maintain privilege. Critical race theorists provide an outlet to accurately describe stories from the perspective of people of color. (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995) Without these realities, slavery may instead be seen as a privilege and not an offense. In this current state in society, the middle-class, heterosexual, white man is seen as superior to all others. (Sanchez & Romero, 2010) Critical race theorists attempt to point out the inequities and discrimination, so as to eliminate the white privilege aspect of society. Property ownership has been passed down as a sense of worth with the only person eligible to partake as the middle-class, heterosexual, white male. While slavery is non-existent in our society today, discrimination is still apparent through micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions. (Sanchez & Romero, 2010) It is the hope of critical race theorists to eliminate these discriminations, beginning in law.
Racial inequality can be found in all areas of education, beginning with administration. Each school district has the opportunity to create a level playing field by providing all students with equal opportunities. Schools tend to avoid this playing field by providing suburban white neighborhoods the ability to receive additional coursework and extracurricular activities. These students are inspired as worthwhile individuals in society, while African American and Latino students are being shown that society is oppressive. (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995) Students are placed in classrooms with children that may look like them or have the same academic level. This ethnic and academic tracking places the teachers in the oppressive state of mind, causing teachers to label the “bad” kid(s) and fail them.
Expulsion rates for African American and Latino males are high, which further supports the need for critical race theorists to examine race in law enforcement. As children leave educational settings with the attitude of disappointment, they feel they can only live up to the expectation teachers have placed on them at an early age. Working with low-income families, I have witnessed families that believe they will amount to no more than the expectations placed on them by society. Comments such as, “I have tried to go back and get my GED, but I can’t” or “I am a teen Mom, I can’t go to college” have reinforced this mindset. These families have had the societal expectations given to them and don’t understand that they can be successful.
As a child, I was always unsure of where I belonged because I always had a light complexion. I would consider myself Mexican American but I did not know Spanish or the traditions of Mexico. My brother was darker than me and was discriminated against countless times. One summer, we went to a dollar store adjacent to my Dad’s job. The cashier used a walkie talkie to call someone from the back to “follow the delinquents.” My brother was agitated, but decided it was best to leave the store. The effects this had on my brother were long lasting, during instable adolescence.
As I got older, I took Spanish classes so I could understand some of my Mother’s family’s conversations. I learned enough to understand Spanish, but still was uncomfortable speaking it. While eating with my family at a restaurant one evening, the hostess started talking about my family and me in Spanish. When I confronted her, she went to the back and the general manager apologized profusely. This discrimination was based on my appearance, which happens quite frequently.
My Maternal Grandmother and Grandfather were both from Mexico. My Grandfather is unsure of the events leading to his coming to America because he was adopted at a young age. My Grandmother came a few months after her 18th birthday with her four brothers and one sister. She worked and met my Grandfather shortly after her arrival. My Grandfather served in the Navy and upon his return from World War II, they married and started a family. They had 10 children, working at the local drive in movie theater, post office, and picked cotton.
When my grandfather passed in 2004, my grandmother lost her citizenship, due to the fact that her green card did not have an expiration date. She had been in the United States for 53 years and was told she would have to take the citizenship test. It was devastating to the family to think she may have to go back to Mexico, where she didn’t know anyone. This is a reality for many undocumented immigrants today. My Grandmother opted out of the citizenship test and chose to live illegally in the United States until she passed in 2015. Our family was impacted in many ways, including hiring immigration lawyers and the fear associated with losing our family’s matriarch.
As society evolves, it is imperative the understanding and acceptance of race evolves alongside. Critical race theory is necessary to bridge the gaps created by inequality. This is inclusive of judgements made based on appearance. Social structure and culture discussions will assist in the understanding of races.