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Lindsay Pérez Huber: New Book Examines Harmful Effects of Racist Rhetoric in Education

By Joanie Harmon

UCLA alumna is an associate professor in the Social and Cultural Analysis of Education program at CSU Long Beach.

In the foreword to Lindsay Pérez Huber’s recent book, “Why They Hate Us: How Racist Rhetoric Impacts Education,” (with co-editor Susana M. Muñoz, 2021, Teachers College Press), UCLA Professor of Education Daniel G. Solórzano, writes that the collection of essays,  “… place immigrant and undocumented students and communities at the center of the story. These nine essays are excellent examples of anti-racist-nativist research and testimonios to the strength and power of the undocumented community and provide a roadmap toward truth, resistance, and triumph.”

As an associate professor in the Social and Cultural Analysis of Education master’s program at California State University, Long Beach, Pérez Huber (’10, Ph.D., Social Sciences and Comparative Education, Ethnic Studies Specialization) draws upon her research through interdisciplinary perspectives to analyze racial inequities in education, the structural causes of those inequities, and how they mediate educational trajectories and outcomes of students of color.

Pérez Huber is the co-author of “Racial Microaggressions: Using Critical Race Theory to Respond to Everyday Racism,” with Solórzano, her mentor and former professor. She is also a visiting scholar at the UCLA Center for Critical Race Studies.

The Latest had a conversation with Pérez Huber on the political and social forces that shaped her book.

What are some of the main impacts behind racist rhetoric in schools?

Lindsay Pérez Huber: The idea for this book started back in 2015, with hearing the racist rhetoric that was coming out of the Trump campaign in ways that were different, I think, than we had heard in other recent historical moments. This started with the targeting of undocumented Mexican immigrants as criminals, really racist, nasty things, in his presidential bid about Mexican immigrants in particular. Then, hearing about how this was playing out in schools and in higher education. This rhetoric has led to very violent acts that had been committed both [against] undocumented Latino communities, but also U.S.-born Latinos who were racialized as immigrants.

Before the book was even really started, I noticed things happening in higher ed. As a faculty member, I would hear what students were experiencing in terms of comments that were being made [against them], reading newspaper articles about walls being built out of cardboard at different college campuses across the U.S. And in schools, students were also experiencing that racist rhetoric, in their classrooms and on their campuses. So, when I thought about what I wanted this book to be, I wanted it to be a book that would cut across both sectors of K-12 and higher ed, because I knew that students were experiencing the consequences of this rhetoric across the pipeline.

I’ve co-edited the book with Susana Muñoz, a faculty member at Colorado State University at Fort Collins. We invited contributors that would speak to their research at both levels of education. One of our contributors, Dr. John Rogers, is a UCLA Education faculty member in Urban Schooling, who contributed a chapter with Michael Ishimoto (’18, Ph.D., Education), on the racist rhetoric in high schools from the perspective of principals and high school teachers. Another contributor, Silvia Rodriguez Vega, talks about the impact of racist rhetoric on younger elementary students in fifth and sixth grade. And then, contributor Tanya Gaxiola-Serrano, also a UCLA Education Ph.D., discusses the impact upon students who live right across the border in Tijuana and come across to attend community college in San Diego.

We have a chapter on how Black Muslim students experienced the negative consequences of racist rhetoric as well, and so I feel like we we really were able to capture how this is impacting a range of students, both in K-12 schools and in higher education.

How does the historical sweep of the book illustrate far reaching issues that predate the Trump presidency?

Pérez Huber: That’s exactly what what I do in the introductory chapter. It’s called, “Racist Rhetoric in the U.S. -  A Brief History from the Southern Strategy to Make America Great Again.” In that chapter, I argue how racist ideologies have created articulatory practices of racist nativism, discourses that are shaped by racist nativist perceptions that have historically targeted immigrants of color, and how those discourses have directly impacted and influenced behaviors that lead towards anti-immigrant sentiment.

We’ve seen that throughout history, and what it does is it opens the discursive doors of public discourse to engage in more overt and violent practices of racism against communities of color. In that chapter, I quote comedian Dave Chappelle who I saw doing an interview with CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour. They were talking about being a comedian in the Trump era. Christiane had asked Dave… if being a comedian in the Trump era was a “good” thing because of all the material Trump gives them, and [Chapelle’s] response was that he wouldn’t even name the era after [Trump] because it gave him too much credit. In other words, Trump didn’t make the wave of racism – he was surfing it. 

I start there and then I talk about the history of U.S. presidential candidates and other politicians, for example, our former governor in California, Pete Wilson, who used racism and ideologies of White supremacy to gain voter support. I discuss George Bush, with his famous Willie Horton ad. Barry Goldwater and George Wallace both did this in their 1964 campaigns, scapegoating African Americans to gain White voter support. 

I talked about how important it is to understand how this racist rhetoric is really more than just words: it leads to action and makes White supremacy and racism more comfortably performed, and in turn, communities of color are targeted.

We’re seeing racist rhetoric now, even with Trump gone. That does not go away when he leaves office. It remains and people remember that it was [considered] okay to treat immigrants and people of color in that way. 

How do you hope that educators and administrators will benefit from this book?

Pérez Huber: Susana and I wrote the last chapter and we called it, “The Racism Pandemic,” thinking about how the COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted racial inequities, with disproportionate impacts of hospitalization and death in communities of color, particularly Black and Brown communities. The most disenfranchised communities are really struggling to get access to the vaccinations. And then, we have the racism pandemic. In summer of 2020 the  Black Lives Matter movement demanded national attention to the racism pandemic and the murders of unarmed African Americans by White perpetrators. 

We used that concept of the racism pandemic as a framework to call upon educators, administrators, and educational leaders in K-12 and higher education to recognize and understand the historical legacies of racism that persist in this county, and especially how it has persisted within immigration discourses and policies. In education, we don’t talk much about how racism shows up in our history of immigration and how it impacts immigrant communities and students.  

An understanding of those histories and also an understanding of how the sociopolitical contexts matter for our students directly shapes the experiences and structural inequities faced by immigrant students, undocumented students, Black students, and other students of color. So, that is a really important call we make at the end of the book, for educators to really understand where these experiences are coming from so that we can begin to engage in discussions about how to disrupt it.

How will this improve the racial climate for students?

Pérez Huber: Students are actually one of the audiences we had in mind when we were writing this book and thinking about what we wanted this book to do. Our goal would be for students to know that they are not alone in having these experiences, that this racist rhetoric is targeting them and is being perpetrated upon many students across the United States. It’s not only happening to them - they're not crazy to think these things are happening. They're very real, they're very hurtful, and they're traumatic.

One thing that did not surprise me among the contributions to this book was that we heard very similar experiences of racism across racial groups and different levels of education. I think often that educators think that children are not up for these conversations; that they're too young, particularly when we get to these very triggering discussions about racism and what Trump was saying about their communities at the time. [Children] were talking about this in their households, they were seeing it on TV, and they had a very grounded understanding of what was going on. I think it's important to understand that we should be having these conversations with our young people and our youth early on.

I hope what this book does is really resonate and affirm students who read it, students who have been through experiences like these, as a result of of racist rhetoric in their schools and universities.

Photo by Brenda Lopez