It was an early weekday morning. As usual, I woke up late and I was in a rush to work. Thoughts of my agenda for the day crossed my mind. Loving my job, I was cruising with a smile on my face. Adding to my happiness was my experiences and learning throughout my Ph. D. program. Specifically, the growth in my Critical Race Theory class and my application of those concepts. This made my everyday a joy. I was successful at work and I felt I had a good grasp on CRT and how I personally was developing and growing both as a student and as a contributing member of the social justice movement. I was consistently applying theory and concepts to my everyday experiences such as checking my male privilege in class and throughout my daily life. In addition, I was reacting and viewing everyday common events and occurrences in a different and critical light. My conversations with my wife on race and social injustice changed. I was “on a roll,” or so I thought.
In my car, having not had breakfast, I pulled into a Mexican Fast Food Drive Thru on the west side of Tucson. I ordered one of the breakfast burritos. A native fluent female English voice from the speaker took my order and told me to pull up to the window. I pulled up to the window and the person the voice appeared. I was immediate at odds and tension with myself. I found myself in slight shock due to the person I viewed at the window. To my left, through my window and into the drive thru window appeared a short, darker skinned Hispanic/native looking young woman. When I use the word Native looking, I am referring to Indigenous from Latin America.
My initial reaction was one of shock and awe. The person I viewed was not what I expected. After the initial voice from the drive thru, imagined a light skinned, possibly Latina looking person. I paid for my breakfast burrito and went to work. That day I will never forget. As I drove to work and throughout the day, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions. I felt guilt, remorse and above all ashamed. Why did I associate a fluent English voice to a lighter skinned Latina? Therein lies my inner turmoil. That day at the drive thru, I had functioned as a product of a Eurocentric ontology. Latin American people with lighter skin only speak fluent English. All Hispanics of darker pigmentation should have an accent. I had done something completely against what I was learning and preaching. I had associated an English accent with race. I stratified who should be speaking fluent English. In other words if you’re white, or an Hispanic of lighter skin, then speaking native English is accepted, however, if you are Latino of a darker complexion then you should have an accent. I am not saying I interpret said criteria as black and white and are solely exclusive. Yet, this premise did influence my judgement.
This brings up the concept of pigmentation and race under the guise of CRT. Bonilla Silva (1997) implies that in all racialized social systems the placement of people in racial categories involves some form of hierarchy that produces definite social relations between races. I pondered throughout that day if my profiling thought means that I interpret myself as part of that hierarchy. Is it because I am tall, light skinned, educated and near native fluent in English? Is the fact that my experience living in the United States and having had the K – 12 experience as a student, makes my ontology that of white supremacy even though I am Mexican? Have I simply just created a caste system within my own race because of my upbringing in our Eurocentric epistemology? How much impact has the color of my skin and my western influenced childhood, create the foundation for my interpretation of voice and race?
Carbado (2011) quotes Kimberly Crenshaw:
“Our dissatisfaction with Critical Legal Studies (CLS) stemmed from the failure to come to terms with the particularity of race, and with the specifically racial character of social interests in the racialized state.”
Carbado via Crenshaw uses this interpretation as a reason why CLS has failed. As a comparison, did I, through my judgement, fail to come to terms with the particularity of race when I made my misaligned interpretation?
Our country, the USA, is transforming from bi-racial, black and white binary order to a tri-racial, Latin American type of order categorized into three loosely areas which are white, honorary white and collective black along with a pigmentation logic (Bonilla-Silva, 2004) Within this framework I more than likely functioned as an honorary white Latino. As an opposing view to operating under the guise of a western epistemology and ontology, I more than likely used my Mexican ontology as a foundation to my interpretation of race and language. Bonilla-Silva (2004) summarizes the increase of races with darker skin having a similar impact in the United States as it did in Latin America. He argues the higher socio economic white population realize they are becoming a darker complex such as Latin America feared becoming more black or Indian and thus, they will in turn create more policy to whiten their population and maintain power. Although I find some fault with Bonilla-Silva’s argument as policy in the US to maintain white supremacy is much more complex than pigmentation, his argument serves as an explanation for my experience with race and language.
Growing in up in a Mexican family on the border, my roots and culture threaded every inch of my daily life. Our beliefs and culture were deeply rooted in Mexican ideologies. I grew up referring to darker skin people as being inferior. We referred to each other as “Indio” as a derogatory term. We prided ourselves in being lighter skinned. We often used the term “Criollos” to refer to us as a race. The irony of this is that “Criollos” refers to full blooded Spaniards being born in Mexico and approximately ninety percent of Mexicans are a mix of Spanish and Indigenous blood. This epistemology intersecting with a western epistemology “screwed” me over.
I am a student in a Ph. D. program founded on social injustice in a Critical Race Theory class. The shame and embarrassment due to this experience continues. Initially, I lost some sleep. Since then, I have used this experience to understand further, who I really am. I have given meaning to CRT and social justice in a deeper light. How has my upbringing influenced who I am and how I act, react and think provides agency to my being. I have grown tremendously since then and continue to re-shape my own epistemology and ontology for the better of self and others around me. I have been humbled, and I hope that posting this blog will benefit all who read it.
As a student and more importantly as a human, I need to, constantly be aware of how I perceive and how I react to everyday happenings. Bell (p. 533, 1980) summed up his article stating, “Criticism, as we in the movement of minority rights have every reason to learn is a synonym for neither cowardice nor capitulation. It may instead being awareness, always the first step toward overcoming still another barrier in the struggle of racial equality.”
I will argue that it is more than criticism but self-criticism. We all need to help ourselves inside before or during our pursuit of social justice and racial equality. Without looking in the mirror, we may miss an opportunity to change where needed and better serve our world.
Francisco Javier Fuentes