A number of scholars are changing the conversation on race and, in so doing, challenging the hegemony. These scholars are eloquently pointing out how biases among dominant groups in academia have led to limiting the conversation on race and, consequently, limiting understandings of racial inequality and injustices. With powerful and thought-provoking rhetoric coupled with well-documented research, these scholars are shaking up the academic enterprise.
In the first chapter of White logic, White methods: Racism and methodology, Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2008) examine the dangerous effects that bias and misconceptions of race prevalent among white researchers can have on the research questions they ask, the methods they employ, the results they obtain, and even their interpretation of their results. As Zuberi notes:
Data do not tell us a story. We use data to craft a story that comports with our understanding of the world. If we begin with a racially biased view of the world, then we will end with a racially biased view of what the data have to say. (p. 7)
Zuberi also observes that many researchers erroneously attempt to study the “effect of race” (p. 8) as if race was a causal factor for various outcomes; this is erroneous because, as Zuberi explains, race in and of itself does not cause anything. Rather, the true causes of differential experiences and societal disparities are the various forms of racism and bias.
Critical race theorists also provide compelling arguments against the dangers of only considering society through the lens of hegemonic norms. Tara J. Yosso (2005) describes how privileging only one dominant (white) form of cultural capital has led to a deficit framing of the experience of non-dominant groups. Yasso then names six forms of cultural wealth common in communities of color: aspirational capital, familial capital, social capital, navigational capital, resistant capital, and linguistic capital.
As a Latino scholar who is committed to social justice and to utilizing research and education to advance social justice, I am excited about and grateful for the bold work being done to change the conversation and challenge the hegemony. Too often, students of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are viewed as being disadvantaged because they don’t have the forms of cultural capital that those in power deem valuable and necessary. Rather than view these students as “less than”, we should celebrate, value, and tap into their unique forms of cultural wealth.
I’m particularly encouraged to see scholars such as Yosso, Zuberi, and Bonilla-Silva advocating for dominant-identity researchers to critically reflect on their personal biases and to question how their perspectives influence their research. Too often, only those with oppressed identities are made to justify their work or explain the impact of their identities on their practice. As Bonilla-Silva demonstrated, researchers of color are interrogated about the identities of their data coders. Similarly, female Supreme Court Justices such as Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayor had to field questions about how their gender affects their decision-making on the bench; such questions are never posed to males. LGBTQ scholars sometimes need to defend their very existence. Imagine heterosexual people being expected to complete the Heterosexual Questionnaire on a regular basis.
With the excellent consciousness-raising work being done by scholars such as Yosso, Zuberi, and Bonilla-Silva, I am hopeful that, in time, we will see profound changes in research on and understandings of race and social justice.
Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community and cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 1(8), 69-91.
Zuberi, T. & Bonilla-Silva, E. (2008). White logic, White methods: Racism and methodology. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.