When I was 9-years-old, my older brother had a basketball game against a team from the Ute Indian Reservation, located in northern Utah. Up to that point in my young life, I had never before been to the Indian Reservation. As we were driving to the game, I distinctly recall thinking about what the opposing team’s players and fans would be like, and how the reservation and school would look like. I won’t lie, I imagined that they would all be dressed in traditional Native American costumes, complete with feathers, while the cheerleaders beat on drums. Clearly, my 9-year-old view of Native American culture was in need of expansion.
In the article, “Race Ethnicity and Education”, author Tara Yosso (2005), explores the idea that race and ethnicity is not simply about the color of a person’s skin, black or white, colored or not. She speaks to the value of experience as cultural wealth. Cultural wealth is gained, in part, through the experiences that people of color have gained through their communities, home life, and interactions with others, whether good or bad. Cultural capital creates a more complete view of who that person is, and how we, as educators, can best engage them in the educational process.
Historically, communities of color have been viewed from a deficits model within education. This model views students who come from communities of color as lacking resources, or that they are disadvantaged. The author notes that this is one of the most prevalent forms of racism within our school system, in that it “takes the position that minority students and families are at fault for poor academic performance because: (a) students enter school without the normative cultural knowledge and skills; and (b) parents neither value nor support their child’s education” (p.75). When viewing race and culture through this two-dimensional lens, we limit our understanding of the experiences that make people who they are, particularly their ability “to experience, respond to, and resist racism and other forms of oppression” (p.72).
In broadening our lens, the author discussed different forms of capital that adds to the overall cultural wealth of people of color. Each form of capital is based on different experiences that people of color gain in their life, and includes, aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial and resistant capital. In the educational context, each form speaks to the experiences that students of color bring with them to their educational experience, and how their experiences have shaped who they are.
As an educator, I feel very strongly about looking at students holistically. While I will never be able to fully understand the experiences that people of color have had, it is through engaging them in their own experiences, and how those experiences create their own cultural wealth, that we are able to most effectively help students be successful in their educational pursuits.
I don’t recall anything about the basketball game, or even who won. However, my young 9-year-old view of Native American’s, was forever changed that evening. As we entered the gymnasium, I noticed something that I was not expecting. The players, fans, families, referees, coaches, scoreboard operators, ushers, and even the cheerleaders, acted and looked, just like we did, other than a different color of skin.
As a family, we discussed perceptions and misperceptions, assumptions and misassumptions. But it was my mother’s view that changed how I view others, particularly people of color. She taught me that it wasn’t about treating people the same, for in treating others the same, we miss the characteristics, qualities and HISTORY that make them unique.
Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, (8)1, 69-91.