Critical race theory focuses on many of the controversial issues involved in the pursuit of equality, issues related to race and ethnicity--equality for all. How does this theory relate to how poverty affects Hispanics and families with respect to the inequalities of educational attainment?
Critical race theory does not tell us how poverty affects Hispanic families. It is not centrally concerned with the way in which poverty affects people. Instead, it is more concerned with why and how society tends to disadvantage members of minority races. In other words, it is more interested in asking why and how Hispanic families come to be poor and to have lower levels of educational attainment than in asking how poverty affects them.
Critical race theory examines the ways in which racism is institutionalized in American society. Many people tend to think that racism consists of individual racists acting consciously in racist ways. They think that minorities can only be harmed by racism when racist individuals act against them. Critical race theory rejects this idea. It argues that a variety of American institutions are set up in ways that disadvantage minorities. In this view, minorities are not hurt by racist acts of individuals as much as they are hurt by institutions that have racially imbalanced impacts.
The question, then, is what institutions or power structures help bring about poverty and lower educational attainment among Hispanics. There are a number of institutions or power structures that we can identify as potential culprits. One of these is the fact that our society tends to demand that Hispanics assimilate immediately. We can see this in the lack of support for bilingual education from people who argue that Hispanic immigrants need to “speak English because this is America.” This prevailing attitude makes it harder for Hispanics who do not already speak English to learn well and, eventually, to become prosperous.
Another institution that harms Hispanics is our system of local funding and control of public schools. Because our schools are funded by the communities in which they are located, schools that are located in poorer areas tend to be funded poorly. We claim that we are giving everyone an equal opportunity, but many Hispanics attend schools that are poorly funded, making it harder for them to get a good education. This is not an overtly racist system, but it is one that acts to harm poor members of minority groups.
Another institution that harms Hispanics is our lack of financial aid to poor students. Again, this is not overtly racist. However, when we cut aid to needy students, we make it harder for poor students, many of whom are Hispanic, to go to college. In this way, an institution that is meant to cut government spending actually ends up hurting Hispanics.
Perhaps the most important institution that harms Hispanics is our belief that our country is a meritocracy. Critical race theory argues that the idea of meritocracy obscures the reality of institutional racism. We believe that people succeed or fail based on their merits when their chances are actually affected by many other factors, one of which is race. When we see Hispanics who are poor and who have lower educational achievement, we say that they have failed because they lack ability and/or determination. In doing so, we do not recognize that they have been held back by institutions such as the ones mentioned above.