White Folk Don’t Have a Patent on Racism

by Latina Fatale on 01/15/2011 · 5 comments

in Racism

There’s been something that I have been obsessing over since yesterday, an incident that has been looping over and over in my head all night long last night and all day long today. Here it is:

Yesterday I presented to a group of elementary and middle school principals about the high school dropout crisis. I also discussed a report that was recently released about immigrant students and students who were born here but speak a language other than English, the findings of which have implications for dropout prevention. The report “Reparable Harm”, released by the advocacy organization Californian’s Together found that out of 200,000 students who speak a language other than English almost 60% of them have been in U.S. schools since kindergarten and have yet to achieve high levels of academic achievement.

I mentioned to the school leaders that the report also found a variety of institutional and systemic factors within the public education system that causes language learners to be what the report calls “long-term English learners”. It’s no secret that the state and federal government frequently visit school districts for compliance purposes and they find districts to be out of compliance with state and federal law as it pertains to the implementation of English as a second language services, classes and programs for students who are learning English. So it should be pretty obvious that is a huge factor as to why students aren’t sometimes making appropriate progress in learning English.

I had the principals put their heads together to discuss their thoughts as to why students might continue to be what they label as “long-term English learners”. I was hoping that the principals would reflect that the majority of their schools do not even offer ESL services, or that the programs and curriculum that they use are outdated and inappropriate for teaching language learners. I also was hoping that they might discuss the preponderance of underprepared or new teachers that are often placed in urban areas with large populations of English learners. Or maybe I was hoping that they would talk about the pervasive low expectations that many people have about students of color.

However, apparently I have too high expectations for many of our school leaders who run schools that have huge numbers of language learners and latino students. One white principal raised his hand and said, “They aren’t learning English because their parents don’t speak English. They don’t practice English at home”. He also made a few other deficit statements about which he had some serious misconceptions. So apparently this white dude has never been around the large majority of Spanish speaking high school students, who lack proficiency in Spanish and tend to be English dominant because many of them were born here or came as very small children. I mentioned this fact to him, which of course he wouldn’t know because most of the people who teach these kids zip in and out of the neighborhoods where these kids live and don’t know a damn thing about our communities.

I explained what the research says about immigrant students and/or students who speak another language-it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that high levels of proficiency in a student’s primary language will help students learn a second language more quickly. But the research is also clear that many of these students don’t even speak Spanish anymore, or tend to speak Spanish on a very limited basis. So there is something else going on here that has more to do than what language their parents might be speaking at home.

But the white principal’s misconceptions didn’t really bother me that much. I figured that he was ignorant about the student population at his school. I also figured that myths and misconceptions about people of color are pervasive in society, and many people who don’t have a lot of exposure to communities of color need to have such myths debunked for them.

Then the shit hit the fan.

An African American principal raised her hand and said, “It’s because Mexican men hate women. They want to keep them deaf, dumb and stupid so they make them stay at home and don’t allow them to learn English. And when you don’t speak English, you can’t take care of your kids very well. These people either need to learn English or they need to go back to where they came from”.

Mind you, I’m a latina standing up there, and there were a number of latina/os sitting in the audience. I just saw a flash of red in front of my eyes and I tried to calm myself down. It was so hard looking another person of color in the face, who probably has been a victim of racism in her life, to tell her calmly that she was a big racist asshole.

I said, “That’s a pretty big generalization”. And then she went on and on, pissing me off even more. I then said, “How would you feel if someone said something like that about African Americans? What if someone in here told you that black men hate women, which I am sure is a pretty pervasive stereotype, and that black women are to blame for the low academic achievement of their children because so many of them don’t speak “standard academic English”?”

She got really mad, and said, “Because that’s not true. Black students are failing because the system is failing them”. And then she went on to name all of the institutional factors that are contributing to the underachievement of the students. But then she went back to blaming the latino and immigrant students for their underachievement.

I finally lost my temper and said, “It’s unfortunate that you don’t see any problem with making 120,000 dollars a year off of these kids, just to turn around and blame them and tell them that they should go back to where they came from-although most of them were born here”. And she got really mad and stomped off.

I was so pissed. It’s one thing when some upper middle class White man from Idaho who never saw a latino a day in his life until he moved to California as an adult makes an ignorant statement that needs debunking. It’s an entirely other thing when a person of color sits there with the same type of racist assumptions. And thinking back upon the whole thing I wonder how many of the latina/os sitting in the room are uppity snobs who probably think the same thing about latina/o students who are living in poverty.

It’s been bothering me for almost 24 hours, hurting my soul. I feel that I have a strong connection to the African American community and our shared experiences, so it really bothers me to hear another person of color having deficit assumptions about other people of color. I can only help but wonder how many latina/os sitting in the room had the same type of racist assumptions about African Americans.

It just reminds me of a quote that my white business partner always says: It’s not about the color of your skin, but the color of your ideology that matters”.

Ain’t that true.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

feministified January 16, 2011 at 6:06 am

Wow, I don’t even know what to say!

Granted, we know there is racism within minority groups, that’s nothing new. But still, this was a little above and beyond.

I find it unfortunate that as ethnic minorities, we not only find racism within, but some still find the time to argue over who has it worse. You were obviously there trying to pull resources to better all the kids of the community, and she (and probably others) were too full of themselves to try and create solutions, so instead pointed the finger to a place where the core of the problem did not lie in her polished hands.


Chantilly Patiño March 4, 2011 at 3:15 pm

I’m so with you! It’s especially disappointing because you would assume that people who have been victims themselves would understand the problems of stereotyping and blaming, but instead of supporting each other, some of us choose to tear others down. How can we dismantle racism and other injustices if so many people are actually working against each other?

It’s definitely a multi-faceted problem…as you stated, there is racism between races and within races. To get beyond this we have got to have each other’s back…plain and simple! Thanks so much for talking about this issue. Your words speak to me on a deeper level. <3


Latina Fatale March 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm

@chantilly thank you, we are glad that you enjoyed it! You are right-if we are to conquer racism, we can’t divide among ourselves! It is really counter-productive!


Me and the Mexican March 5, 2011 at 3:38 am

I’m at a loss of words…….
This was such an important post and I’m glad you took the time to write about it. It surprises me the misconceptions of whites and blacks when it comes to latinos. Sadly, i use to be one of them until I married my husband who is hispanic.

This needed to be shared! Thanks for standing up to her and hopefully opening her mind some………


Latina Fatale March 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Thanks for the comment! I’m curious about what your perceptions were before you met your husband. It’s so great to hear that people change their perceptions!


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