Critical Race Theory is for the Children

By Alicia Vargas

The people of Los Ángeles have spoken— they expect three city council resignations. One down…

When former L.A. City council member and president Nury Martínez had the audacity to believe stepping down from her role as city council President would provide sufficient absolution from her racist wrongdoings, the people of Los Ángeles got louder. And most of these Angelenos that are now standing in the city council chambers demanding the three city council members that partook in this racist, divisive conversation all resign immediately represent the very same Black and Indigenous people denigrated in this leaked conversation that in one awful display of racism downplayed the importance of Blacks’ votes while ridiculing a Black child and indigenous Angelenos. The public outcry was so loud, it was heard all the way to the White House.

Even President Joe Biden echoed the call issuing a statement calling for their resignations declaring “these racist attacks should not be tolerated.”

Thank you for moving swiftly and taking a clear stand on this issue President Joe Biden, but once more it’s a band-aid solution to a deeply seated issue that requires more than public shaming. How about reassessing your national stance on critical race theory instead, President Biden? After all, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis continues to push for the purging of critical race theory in a cleverly disguised argument that is predicated on white fragility.

Taking a brief pause from the disappointment and anger at these racist remarks by politicians of color who are expected to know better, I ask that you take a moment to imagine what critical race theory could have done for collegiate Nury Martínez? Maybe then when she looked in the mirror and saw her indigenous features in the reflection, the self-hatred would have been caught early enough in her life before it took over. Perhaps former Los Angeles Councilmember Nury Martinez would have learned about the vastly rich culture of Oaxacans and Indigenous Mexicans and Central Americans instead of othering indigeneity and walking the trite path of assimilationists.

Maybe critical race theory would have opened L.A.Councilmember Kevin De León’s eyes to the fact that the majority of Black people that fight and have fought for real social justice in this country will never need to employ a wizard of oz effect because they understand that their power lies in collective unity. “All power to the people” carries a different significance when you understand it like the Black Panthers did Kevin. But that tends to be the blinding effect of unchecked privilege, because as Latino and bilingual he is, his daily experience is the privileged experience of a white-passing cis male in politics, an industry dominated by white cis males.

Ron Herrera, former President of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor certainly understood what time it was when he submitted his resignation along with an apology almost immediately after the leaked audio resounded in Los Angeles rippling into the national and global conversation.

L.A. Councilmember Gil Cedillo is a supposedly progressive politician who once identified as Chicano early on in his career; his participation in all this is disheartening to this Xicana with Oaxacan roots who once marched alongside him as a youth organizer.

Ron Herrera and Gil Cedillo for me embody the career politician and labor leader that stayed in their roles long enough to live in a world that evolved all around them and beyond them.

I have been in the room with what I jokingly refer to as dinosaurs of 1960’s Chicano movement, usually cis men in their age range that grew up in a time when they were misled to believe that separatist politics were it. I get it your generation lived through school walkouts, the farm labor movement and retribution from Whites for speaking Spanish. But there were Brown Berets that combined forces with the Black Panthers and understood the importance of coalition building with the Puerto Rican Young Lords. I learned that in my critical race course.

But it is 2022 and the beautiful struggle and empowerment that comes with cultivating genuine rainbow coalitions among the Black Indigenous and Latino social justice movements is something their limited perspective unequivocally missed.

It is a travesty when political leaders from one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, fail their constituents and themselves in this way. It may be entirely too late for this batch of politicians to embody what is learned in critical race theory, but it doesn’t have to be for the generations coming behind them. Can we go beyond relying on cultural sensitivity training or one another to check our racist comments in all spaces? And instead, can critical race theory be for the children?


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