by Kathleen Bustamante
According to critical race theorists, white people of European descent are inherent oppressors while people of color are inherently oppressed. As a mother who is raising two mixed race children, I am grappling with what percentage of my biracial kids’ DNA is oppressive and what percent is oppressed.
In February, Fox News reported that third graders at a California public school were told in a math class to “check themselves off ‘ victimization categories’ to see whether they were ‘oppressors or oppressed.’” Documents from that class explained to these eight- and nine-year-old students that they “live in a ‘dominant culture’ of ‘white, middle class, cisgender, educated, able-bodied, Christian[s]’ who ‘created and maintained’ this culture in order ‘to hold power and stay in power.’”
And in another article, students at a Nevada charter school instructed students to “identify by race, sex and sexual orientation” and then labeled some of them as ‘oppressors’ in classes.
My family lives in the Portland suburb of Beaverton, Oregon. My husband and I pay taxes to the Beaverton school district, one of many districts around the state that have recently integrated critical race theory into classes as young as kindergarten. Beaverton superintendent, Dan Grotting, suggested in a January 28, 2021 Zoom equity committee meeting that if teachers disagree with the “anti-racism movement” inspired by critical race theory, they should look for work elsewhere. Therefore, children in our district will, no doubt, be learning a lot about oppressor versus oppressed populations.
I am a white woman of western European descent from both my mother’s side and my father’s side. As a Caucasian woman, I am told it is impossible that I or my Irish grandparents have ever experienced discrimination by other races based upon our ethnicity. I recall my college sociology professor explaining to me that it is also impossible for white people in the Unites States to ever have experienced discrimination based upon their ethnicity because Americans of European descent are the only people guilty of enacting oppression. I found my professor’s definition of oppression puzzling considering a period described by my grandfather who emigrated to New York City from Ireland during the Great Depression, and who was confronted by signs in store windows stating, “neither dogs nor Irish need apply.” But clearly, as white people, neither my grandfather nor I understand the intricacies of oppression in America.
Seventeen years ago, I married a handsome Latino man of Mexican, Spanish, and Native American descent. We have two beautiful mixed-race school-aged children. So, we are curious what these children should expect to learn from their teachers regarding their oppressor/oppressive DNA.
Our daughter is blue-eyed and fair-skinned with light brown hair like mine. Our son has nearly black hair, milk chocolate eyes and skin a couple shades tanner than his fair-skinned sister like his dad’s. So, based upon appearances, according to critical race theorists, our daughter must automatically possess oppressor characteristics while our son possesses oppressed traits. However, things prove tricky if one were to dissect my husband’s minority genes.
My father-in-law’s ancestors hail from Mexico. According to a DNA test submitted by one of his siblings, he possesses traits of an indigenous group in Mexico, resulting in dark hair, dark skin and dark eyes—the genes of the oppressed. My mother-in-law’s ancestors, on the other hand, moved from Spain many generations ago to present-day New Mexico. Proponents of critical race theory assert that descendants of Spain are inherently oppressive because of their European descent. Therefore, my mother-in-law passed down oppressor genes to her grandkids.
Based upon my children’s genetic traits, I pose the following questions to educators who would categorize them as oppressor versus oppressed. According to these educators, equity supersedes equality. Thus, because my daughter is fairer than my darker-skinned son, this puzzled parent would like to know the most suitable course of action to ensure equity is enacted. Perhaps my daughter should pen a letter of apology to her younger, more oppressed brother? Should she hand over her weekly allowance to him in reparations because of his oppressed characteristics? How frequently and to what extent should she self-flagellate to apologize for her oppressive traits? Although she and her brother share the same DNA, she possesses oppressor physical characteristics, thus how should she proceed when completing victimization categories assigned by her teachers? One-quarter oppressor and three-quarters oppressed?
As you can see, the criteria linked to critical race theory may be too complicated for my husband’s and my feeble minds to grasp. One thing we do know is this: history tells us that treating people in a way commensurate with the pigment of their skin or the race of their ancestors does not end well for humanity. So, instead of assigning oppressor versus oppressed status to either of our kids, we have decided the best course of action is to continue teaching each child to recognize the qualities inherent to the human race. And rather than teaching our mixed race children to think in terms of oppressor versus oppressed, we find it more reasonable to teach our children that every human has worth and deserves equal respect regardless of DNA or skin color.