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critical race counterstories

For every 100 Chicana/o children who enter elementary school in the United States, only 26 enroll in college and only 7 of those graduate—this according to U.S. census data, which also shows that some other groups go to college and graduate at significantly higher rates. On Friday, September 21, Dr. Tara Yosso spoke about this issue at the City College of San Francisco, and about what the college might do to improve the success of all its students.

Growing up in San Jose, CA, Yosso saw first hand the difference educational opportunity and access can make when her parents moved into a different neighborhood so she could attend a “good” school; many of her friends attended other, “not-so-good” schools. The differences were obvious: she was preparing for college, while her friends were on the vocational track—college was not an option; she was taking honors and advanced placement classes; her friends were in special education.

Her work today is inspired by the inequities and injustices she saw there, but its theoretical foundation is Critical Race Theory, which, according to Yosso, has four major tenets:

• Centrality, permanence, and pervasiveness of race and racism in the U.S.
• Challenge to dominant ideology, which centers on and generalizes the experience of white males.
• Commitment to social justice.
• Emphasis on experiential knowledge.

Using this theory, Yosso discussed “majoriatarian” stories versus “counterstories.” Majoritarian stories “recount the experiences and perspectives of those with racial and social privilege” (e.g. “All students enjoy access to same educational opportunities and conditions from elementary through postsecondary school.”). Counterstories “recount the experiences and perspectives of racially and socially marginalized people” (e.g. “Chicanas/os experience severely inadequate schooling conditions and restricted academic enrichment opportunities.”).

Race often informs majoritarian stories, which make “Whiteness, academic English, and middle class ‘values’” the standard by which all are measured. This leads to “cultural deficit thinking.” In the context of the work that Yosso does with the Chicana/o community, cultural deficit thinking

asserts that Chicana/o students lack appropriate cultural and linguistic attributes necessary for school success, blames Chicana/o parents for socializing children with inadequate skills and knowledge, and assumes Chicana/o families do not prioritize (value) school and do not instill high aspirations in their children.

But because a student doesn’t speak academic English does not mean she doesn’t have language skills; in fact, she may be bilingual and may be translating for her parents or grandparents every day. Because parents don’t come to PTA meetings, does not mean those parents devalue education; on the contrary, parents are often working a second job—which prevents participation at school events—so that their children are fed and housed. Such parents frequently exhort their children to excel in school so that they do not have to work as hard as their parents.

Yosso calls cultural deficit thinking “the most profound and persistent form of racism in schools” today. To combat this pervasive ideology, she calls attention to the “array of knowledge, skills, abilities and networks possessed and utilized by Communities of Color to survive and resist racism and other forms of oppression.” Calling this array “community cultural wealth,” she breaks it down into “aspirational capital, familial capital, social capital, linguistic capital, navigational capital, and resistant capital.” Yosso asks two important questions:

• How can community colleges cultivate the aspirational and navigational capital of Chicana/o students?
• What does it mean for colleges to foster a positive campus racial climate?

Yosso believes that by acknowledging the cultural wealth of our students and by creating space for that wealth in our classrooms and offices we can make a difference. Community colleges can play a crucial role in increasing the success of all students in the educational pipeline.

Yosso is Associate Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her book, Critical Race Counterstories Along the Chicana/Chicano Educational Pipeline (Routledge 2006), analyzes Chicana/o experiences navigating through structures, practices, and discourses of racism from elementary through graduate school. Yosso’s current research projects address racial and gender microaggressions, community cultural wealth, campus racial climate, and entertainment media portrayals of Latina/o students.

The chart below is taken from Yosso’s book. Statistical sources are the U.S. Census and the National Center for Education Statistics.

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2 Comments

  1. jd2718 says:

    It is so hard to get someone schooled in those “majoritarian stories” to even acknowledge that the counterstories exist…

    Thanks for the nice summary.

    Jonathan

  2. catherine says:

    Thanks for this story because I grew up in San Jose, but am not a Latina. My mom worked at a high school and worked hard to help the non-white kids because she wanted everyone to have/be the same especially in education.

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