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Race Ethnicity and Education
ISSN: 1361-3324 (Print) 1470-109X (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cree20
Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory
discussion of community cultural wealth
Tara J. Yosso
To cite this article: Tara J. Yosso (2005) Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory
discussion of community cultural wealth, Race Ethnicity and Education, 8:1, 69-91, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/1361332052000341006
Published online: 23 Aug 2006.
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Race Ethnicity and Education
Vol. 8, No. 1, March 2005, pp. 69–91
ISSN 1361-3324 (print)/ISSN 1470-109X (online)/05/010069–23
© 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1361332052000341006
Whose culture has capital? A critical
race theory discussion of community
cultural wealth
Tara J. Yosso*
University of California, USA
Taylor and Francis Ltd CREE080105.sgm 10.1080/1361332052000341006 Race Ethnicity and Education 1361-3324 (print)/1470-109X (online) Original Article 2005 Taylor & Francis Group Ltd 81000000March 2005 TaraYosso [email protected]
This article conceptualizes community cultural wealth as a critical race theory (CRT) challenge to
traditional interpretations of cultural capital. CRT shifts the research lens away from a deficit view
of Communities of Color as places full of cultural poverty disadvantages, and instead focuses on and
learns from the array of cultural knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed by socially
marginalized groups that often go unrecognized and unacknowledged. Various forms of capital
nurtured through cultural wealth include aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial and
resistant capital. These forms of capital draw on the knowledges Students of Color bring with them
from their homes and communities into the classroom. This CRT approach to education involves
a commitment to develop schools that acknowledge the multiple strengths of Communities of Color
in order to serve a larger purpose of struggle toward social and racial justice.
Theory, then, is a set of knowledges. Some of these knowledges have been kept from us—
entry into some professions and academia denied us. Because we are not allowed to enter
discourse, because we are often disqualified and excluded from it, because what passes for
theory these days is forbidden territory for us, it is vital that we occupy theorizing space,
that we not allow white men and women solely to occupy it. By bringing in our own
approaches and methodologies, we transform that theorizing space. (Anzaldúa, 1990,
p. xxv, emphasis in original)
In the epigraph above, Gloria Anzaldúa (1990) calls on People of Color to transform the process of theorizing. This call is about epistemology—the study of
sources of knowledge. Scholars such as Gloria Ladson-Billings (2000) and Dolores
Delgado Bernal (1998, 2002) have asked: whose knowledge counts and whose
knowledge is discounted? Throughout US history, race and racism have shaped this
*Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa
Barbara, CA 93106, USA. Email: [email protected]
70 T. J. Yosso
epistemological debate (Scheurich & Young, 1997; Lopez & Parker, 2003). Indeed,
it has been over a century since DuBois (1903, 1989) predicted that racism would
continue to emerge as one of the United States’ key social problems. Racism
overtly shaped US social institutions at the beginning of the twentieth century and
continues, although more subtly, to impact US institutions of socialization in the
beginning of the twenty-first century. Researchers, practitioners and students are
still searching for the necessary tools to effectively analyze and challenge the impact
of race and racism in US society.
In addressing the debate over knowledge within the context of social inequality,
Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) argued that the knowledges of the
upper and middle classes are considered capital valuable to a hierarchical society. If
one is not born into a family whose knowledge is already deemed valuable, one could
then access the knowledges of the middle and upper class and the potential for social
mobility through formal schooling. Bourdieu’s theoretical insight about how a hierarchical society reproduces itself has often been interpreted as a way to explain why
the academic and social outcomes of People of Color are significantly lower than the
outcomes of Whites. The assumption follows that People of Color ‘lack’ the social
and cultural capital required for social mobility. As a result, schools most often work
from this assumption in structuring ways to help ‘disadvantaged’ students whose race
and class background has left them lacking necessary knowledge, social skills, abilities
and cultural capital (see Valenzuela, 1999).
This interpretation demonstrates Anzaldúa’s point: ‘If we have been gagged and
disempowered by theories, we can also be loosened and empowered by theories’
(Anzaldúa, 1990, p. xxvi). Indeed, if some knowledges have been used to silence,
marginalize and render People of Color invisible, then ‘Outsider’ knowledges (Hill
Collins, 1986), mestiza knowledges (Anzaldúa, 1987) and transgressive knowledges
(hooks, 1994) can value the presence and voices of People of Color, and can reenvision the margins as places empowered by transformative resistance (hooks,
1990; Delgado Bernal, 1997; Solórzano & Delgado Bernal, 2001). Critical race
theory (CRT) listens to DuBois’ racial insight and offers a response to Anzaldúa’s
theoretical challenge. CRT is a framework that can be used to theorize, examine
and challenge the ways race and racism implicitly and explicitly impact on social
structures, practices and discourses.
Below, I discuss the ways CRT centers Outsider, mestiza, transgressive knowledges. After outlining the theoretical framework of CRT, I critique the assumption
that Students of Color come to the classroom with cultural deficiencies. Utilizing
a CRT lens, I challenge traditional interpretations of Bourdieuean cultural capital
theory (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) and introduce an alternative concept called
community cultural wealth. Then, I outline at least six forms of capital that
comprise community cultural wealth and most often go unacknowledged or unrecognized. In examining some of the under-utilized assets Students of Color bring
with them from their homes and communities into the classroom, this article
notes the potential of community cultural wealth to transform the process of
Cultural capital and critical race theory 71
Critical race theory in education
CRT draws from and extends a broad literature base of critical theory in law, sociology, history, ethnic studies and women’s studies. Kimberlé Crenshaw (2002)
explains that in the late 1980s, various legal scholars felt limited by work that
separated critical theory from conversations about race and racism. Alongside other
‘Outsider’ scholars (Hill Collins, 1986) Crenshaw (2002) was ‘looking for both a critical space in which race was foregrounded and a race space where critical themes were
central’ (p. 19). Mari Matsuda (1991) defined that CRT space as:
… the work of progressive legal scholars of color who are attempting to develop a jurisprudence that accounts for the role of racism in American law and that work toward the elimination of racism as part of a larger goal of eliminating all forms of subordination. (p. 1331)
In previous work, I describe a genealogy of CRT that links the themes and patterns
of legal scholarship with the social science literature (Solórzano & Yosso, 2001).
Figure 1 addresses some of this intellectual history.1
Figure 1. An intellectual genealogy of critical race theory In its post-1987 form, CRT emerged from criticisms of the Critical Legal Studies
(CLS) movement. CLS scholars questioned the role of the traditional legal system in
legitimizing oppressive social structures. With this insightful analysis, CLS scholarship emphasized critique of the liberal legal tradition as opposed to offering strategies
for change. Scholars such as Derrick Bell and Alan Freeman asserted that one reason
why the CLS critique of the law could not offer strategies for social transformation
was because it failed to incorporate race and racism into the analysis (Delgado,
1995a; Ladson-Billings, 1998). Not listening to the lived experiences and histories of
those oppressed by institutionalized racism limited CLS scholarship. This argument
had also been taking place in social science and history circles, specifically in ethnic
and women’s studies scholarship.
Figure 1. An intellectual genealogy of critical race theory
72 T. J. Yosso
Critical race theorists began to pull away from CLS because the critical legal
framework restricted their ability to analyze racial injustice (Delgado, 1988;
Crenshaw et al., 1995; Delgado & Stefancic, 2001; Crenshaw, 2002). Initially, CRT
scholarship focused its critique on the slow pace and unrealized promise of Civil
Rights legislation. As a result, many of the critiques launched were articulated in
Black vs White terms. Women and People of Color who felt their gendered, classed,
sexual, immigrant and language experiences and histories were being silenced, challenged this tendency toward a Black/White binary. They stressed that oppression in
the law and society could not be fully understood in terms of only Black and White.
Certainly, African Americans have experienced a unique and horrendous history of
racism and other forms of subordination in the US. Other People of Color have
their own histories that likewise have been shaped by racism and the intersecting
forms of subordination (Espinoza & Harris, 1998). By offering a two-dimensional
discourse, the Black/White binary limits understandings of the multiple ways in
which African Americans, Native Americans, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Chicanas/os,
and Latinas/os continue to experience, respond to, and resist racism and other
forms of oppression.
For example, Latina/o critical race (LatCrit) theory extends critical race discussions to address the layers of racialized subordination that comprise Chicana/o,
Latina/o experiences (Arriola, 1997, 1998; Stefancic, 1998). LatCrit scholars assert
that racism, sexism and classism are experienced amidst other layers of subordination
based on immigration status, sexuality, culture, language, phenotype, accent and
surname (Montoya, 1994; Johnson, 1999). Indeed, the traditional paradigm for
understanding US race relations is often a Black/White binary, which limits discussions about race and racism to terms of African American and White experiences
(Valdes, 1997, 1998). Like Manning Marable (1992), who defines racism as ‘a
system of ignorance, exploitation and power used to oppress African Americans,
Latinos, Asians, Pacific Americans, American Indians, and other people on the basis
of ethnicity, culture, mannerisms, and color’ (p. 5), CRT scholarship has benefited
from scholarship addressing racism at its intersections with other forms of subordination (Crenshaw, 1989, 1993).
Over the years, the CRT family tree has expanded to incorporate the racialized
experiences of women, Latinas/os, Native Americans and Asian Americans (see
Figure 1). For example, LatCrit, TribalCrit and AsianCrit are branches of CRT,
evidencing Chicana/o, Latina/o, Native American and Asian American communities’
ongoing search for a framework that addresses racism and its accompanying oppressions beyond the Black/White binary (Ikemoto, 1992; Chang, 1993, 1998; Chon,
1996; Delgado, 1997; Williams, 1997; Brayboy, 2001, 2002). Women of Color have
also challenged CRT to address feminist critiques of racism and classism through
FemCrit theory (Caldwell, 1995; Wing, 1997, 2000). In addition, White scholars
have expanded CRT with WhiteCrit, by ‘looking behind the mirror’ to expose White
privilege and challenge racism (Delgado & Stefancic, 1997).
CRT’s branches are not mutually exclusive or in contention with one another.
Naming, theorizing and mobilizing from the intersections of racism, need not initiate
Cultural capital and critical race theory 73
some sort of oppression sweepstakes—a competition to measure one form of oppression against another. As Cherrie Moraga (1983) writes,
The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the
specificity of the oppression. The danger lies in attempting to deal with oppression purely
from a theoretical base. Without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our
own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, non-hierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place. (pp. 52–53)
Indeed, racism and its intersections with other forms of subordination shape the
experiences of People of Color very differently than Whites (Bell, 1986; 1998; Essed,
1991; Baca Zinn, 1989). Still, the popular discourse in the US, as well as the
academic discourse, continues to be limited by the Black/White binary. CRT adds to
efforts to continue to expand this dialogue to recognize the ways in which our struggles for social justice are limited by discourses that omit and thereby silence the multiple experiences of People of Color (Ellison, 1990).
As a student of Chicana/o Studies, the theoretical models informing my work
included the Internal Colonial model (Bonilla & Girling, 1973; Blauner, 2001),
Marxism (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Barrera, 1979), Chicana and Black feminisms
(Anzaldúa, 1987; hooks, 1990; Zavella, 1991; Hurtado, 1996; Hill Collins, 1998,
2000; Saldivar-Hull, 2000) and cultural nationalism (Asante, 1987). Even with all of
their strengths, each of these frameworks had certain blindspots that limited my ability to examine racism. Now, as a professor of Chicana/o Studies, my work is informed
by the hindsight of CRT and its genealogical branches. To document and analyze the
educational access, persistence and graduation of underrepresented students, I draw
on my interdisciplinary training and those theoretical models whose popularity may
have waned since the 1960s and 1970s, but whose commitment to speaking truth to
power continues to address contemporary social realities.
For the field of education, Daniel Solórzano (1997, 1998) identified five tenets of
CRT that can and should inform theory, research, pedagogy, curriculum and policy:2
(1) the intercentricity of race and racism; (2) the challenge to dominant ideology; (3)
the commitment to social justice; (4) the centrality of experiential knowledge; and (5)
the utilization of interdisciplinary approaches.
1. The intercentricity of race and racism with other forms of subordination. CRT starts
from the premise that race and racism are central, endemic, permanent and a
fundamental part of defining and explaining how US society functions (Bell,
1992; Russell, 1992). CRT acknowledges the inextricable layers of racialized
subordination based on gender, class, immigration status, surname, phenotype,
accent and sexuality (Crenshaw, 1989, 1993; Valdes et al., 2002).
2. The challenge to dominant ideology. CRT challenges White privilege and refutes the
claims that educational institutions make toward objectivity, meritocracy, colorblindness, race neutrality and equal opportunity. CRT challenges notions of
‘neutral’ research or ‘objective’ researchers and exposes deficit-informed research
that silences, ignores and distorts epistemologies of People of Color (Delgado
Bernal, 1998; Ladson-Billings, 2000). CRT argues that these traditional claims
74 T. J. Yosso
act as a camouflage for the self-interest, power, and privilege of dominant groups
in US society (Bell, 1987; Calmore, 1992; Solórzano, 1997).
3. The commitment to social justice. CRT is committed to social justice and offers a
liberatory or transformative response to racial, gender and class oppression
(Matsuda, 1991). Such a social justice research agenda exposes the ‘interestconvergence’ (Bell, 1987) of civil rights ‘gains’ in education and works toward the
elimination of racism, sexism and poverty, as well as the empowerment of People
of Color and other subordinated groups (Freire, 1970, 1973; Solórzano &
Delgado Bernal, 2001).
4. The centrality of experiential knowledge. CRT recognizes that the experiential
knowledge of People of Color is legitimate, appropriate, and critical to understanding, analyzing and teaching about racial subordination (Delgado Bernal,
2002). CRT draws explicitly on the lived experiences of People of Color by
including such methods as storytelling, family histories, biographies, scenarios,
parables, cuentos, testimonios, chronicles and narratives (Bell, 1987, 1992, 1996;
Delgado, 1989, 1993, 1995a, b, 1996; Espinoza, 1990; Olivas, 1990; Montoya,
1994; Carrasco, 1996; Solórzano & Yosso, 2000, 2001, 2002a; Solórzano &
Delgado Bernal, 2001; Delgado Bernal & Villalpando, 2002; Villalpando, 2003).
5. The transdisciplinary perspective. CRT goes beyond disciplinary boundaries to
analyze race and racism within both historical and contemporary contexts, drawing on scholarship from ethnic studies, women’s studies, sociology, history, law,
psychology, film, theatre and other fields (Delgado, 1984, 1992; Olivas, 1990;
Gotanda, 1991; Harris, 1994; Garcia, 1995; Gutiérrez-Jones, 2001).
These five themes are not new in and of themselves, but collectively they represent
a challenge to the existing modes of scholarship. Informed by scholars who continue
to expand the literature and scope of discussions of race and racism, I define CRT in
education as a theoretical and analytical framework that challenges the ways race and
racism impact educational structures, practices, and discourses. CRT is conceived as
a social justice project that works toward the liberatory potential of schooling (hooks,
1994; Freire, 1970, 1973). This acknowledges the contradictory nature of education,
wherein schools most often oppress and marginalize while they maintain the potential
to emancipate and empower. Indeed, CRT in education refutes dominant ideology
and White privilege while validating and centering the experiences of People of Color.
CRT utilizes transdisciplinary approaches to link theory with practice, scholarship
with teaching, and the academy with the community (see LatCrit Primer, 1999;
Solórzano & Yosso, 2001).
Many in the academy and in community organizing, activism, and service who look
to challenge social inequality will most likely recognize the tenets of CRT as part of
what, why and how they do the work they do. CRT addresses the social construct of
race by examining the ideology of racism. CRT finds that racism is often well
disguised in the rhetoric of shared ‘normative’ values and ‘neutral’ social scientific
principles and practices (Matsuda et al., 1993). However, when the ideology of
racism is examined and racist injuries are named, victims of racism can often find
Cultural capital and critical race theory 75
their voice. Those injured by racism and other forms of oppression discover that they
are not alone and moreover are part of a legacy of resistance to racism and the layers
of racialized oppression. They become empowered participants, hearing their own
stories and the stories of others, listening to how the arguments against them are
framed and learning to make the arguments to defend themselves.
Challenging racism, revealing cultural wealth
CRT’s five tenets provide a helpful guiding lens that can inform research in Communities of Color. Looking through a CRT lens means critiquing deficit theorizing and
data that may be limited by its omission of the voices of People of Color. Such deficitinformed research often ‘sees’ deprivation in Communities of Color. Indeed, one of
the most prevalent forms of contemporary racism in US schools is deficit thinking.
Deficit thinking takes the position that minority students and families are at fault for
poor academic performance because: (a) students enter school without the normative
cultural knowledge and skills; and (b) parents neither value nor support their child’s
education. These racialized assumptions about Communities of Color most often
leads schools to default to the banking method of education critiqued by Paulo Freire
(1973). As a result, schooling efforts usually aim to fill up supposedly passive students
with forms of cultural knowledge deemed valuable by dominant society. Scholars
Shernaz García and Patricia Guerra (2004) find that such deficit approaches to
schooling begin with overgeneralizations about family background and are exacerbated by a limited framework to interpret how individual views about educational
success are shaped by personal ‘sociocultural and linguistic experiences and assumptions about appropriate cultural outcomes’ (p. 163). Educators most often assume
that schools work and that students, parents and community need to change to
conform to this already effective and equitable system.
Indeed, García and Guerra’s (2004) research acknowledges that deficit thinking
permeates US society, and both schools and those who work in schools mirror these
beliefs. They argue that this reality necessitates a challenge of personal and individual
race, gender and class prejudices expressed by educators, as well as a ‘critical examination of systemic factors that perpetuate deficit thinking and reproduce educational
inequities for students from nondominant sociocultural and linguistic backgrounds’
(p. 155). I believe CRT can offer such an approach by identifying, analyzing and challenging distorted notions of People of Color.
As part of the challenge to deficit thinking in education, it should be noted that race
is often coded as ‘cultural difference’ in schools. Indeed, culture influences how society
is organized, how school curriculum is developed and how pedagogy and policy are
implemented. In social science, the concept of culture for Students of Color has taken
on many divergent meanings. Some research has equated culture with race and ethnicity, while other work clearly has viewed culture through a much broader lens of characteristics and forms of social histories and identities. For my purposes here, culture
refers to behaviors and values that are learned, shared, and exhibited by a group of
people. Culture is also evidenced in material and nonmaterial productions of a people.
76 T. J. Yosso
Culture as a set of characteristics is neither fixed nor static (Gómez-Quiñones, 1977).
For example, with Students of Color, culture is frequently represented symbolically
through language and can encompass identities around immigration status, gender,
phenotype, sexuality and region, as well as race and ethnicity.
Looking through a CRT lens, the cultures of Students of Color can nurture and
empower them (Delgado-Gaitan, 2001; Delgado Bernal, 2002). Focusing on
research with Latina/o families, Luis C Moll, Cathy Amanti, Deborah Neff and
Norma Gonzalez (1992), Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez and James Greenberg (1992) and
Irma Olmedo (1997) assert that culture can form and draw from communal funds of
knowledge (Gonzalez et al., 1995; Gonzalez & Moll, 2002). Likewise, Douglas Foley
(1997) notes research revealing the ‘virtues and solidarity in African American
community and family traditions’ as well as the ‘deeply spiritual values passed from
generation to generation in most African American communities’ (p. 123).
Taken together, the CRT challenge to deficit thinking and understanding of the
empowering potential of the cultures of Communities of Color, leads me to the
following description of cultural wealth. I begin with a critique of the ways Bourdieu’s
(Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977) work has been used to discuss social and racial inequity.
In education, Bourdieu’s work has often been called upon to explain why Students of
Color do not succeed at the same rate as Whites. According to Bourdieu, cultural
capital refers to an accumulation of cultural knowledge, skills and abilities possessed
and inherited by privileged groups in society. Bourdieu asserts that cultural capital
(i.e., education, language), social capital (i.e., social networks, connections) and
economic capital (i.e., money and other material possessions) can be acquired two
ways, from one’s family and/or through formal schooling. The dominant groups
within society are able to maintain power because access is limited to acquiring and
learning strategies to use these forms of capital for social mobility.
Therefore, while Bourdieu’s work sought to provide a structural critique of social
and cultural reproduction, his theory of cultural capital has been used to assert that
some communities are culturally wealthy while others are culturally poor. This
interpretation of Bourdieu exposes White, middle class culture as the standard, and
therefore all other forms and expressions of ‘culture’ are judged in comparison to this
‘norm’. In other words, cultural capital is not just inherited or possessed by the
middle class, but rather it refers to an accumulation of specific forms of knowledge,
skills and abilities that are valued by privileged groups in society. For example, middle
or upper class students may have access to a computer at home and therefore can
learn numerous computer-related vocabulary and technological skills before arriving
at school. These students have acquired cultural capital because computer-related
vocabulary and technological skills are valued in the school setting. On the other
hand, a working class Chicana/o student whose mother works in the garment industry
may bring a different vocabulary, perhaps in two languages (English and Spanish) to
school, along with techniques of conducting errands on the city bus and translating
mail, phone calls and coupons for her/his mother (see Faulstich Orellana, 2003). This
cultural knowledge is very valuable to the student and her/his family, but is not necessarily considered to carry any capital in the school context. So, are there forms of
Cultural capital and critical race theory 77
cultural capital that marginalized groups bring to the table that traditional cultural
capital theory does not recognize or value? CRT answers, yes.
CRT shifts the center of focus from notions of White, middle class culture to the
cultures of Communities of Color. In doing so, I also draw on the work of sociologists
Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro (1995) to better understand how cultural capital
is actually only one form of many different aspects that might be considered valuable.
Oliver and Shapiro (1995) propose a model to explain how the narrowing of the
income or earnings gap between Blacks and Whites is a misleading way to examine
inequality. They argue that one’s income over a typical fiscal year focuses on a single
form of capital and that the income gap between Blacks and Whites is narrowing over
time. On the other hand, they examine separately the concept of wealth and define it
as the total extent of an individual’s accumulated assets and resources (i.e., ownership
of stocks, money in bank, real estate, business ownership, etc). They then argue that
while the income of Blacks may indeed be climbing and the Black/White income gap
narrowing, their overall wealth, compared to Whites, is declining and the gap is
diverging (see also Shapiro, 2004).
Traditional Bourdieuean cultural capital theory has parallel comparisons to Oliver
and Shapiro’s (1995) description of income. Both place value on a very narrow range
of assets and characteristics. A traditional view of cultural capital is narrowly defined
by White, middle class values, and is more limited than wealth—one’s accumulated
assets and resources. CRT expands this view. Centering the research lens on the
experiences of People of Color in critical historical context reveals accumulated assets
and resources in the histories and lives of Communities of Color.
Figure 2 demonstrates that community cultural wealth is an array of knowledge,
skills, abilities and contacts possessed and utilized by Communities of Color to
survive and resist macro and micro-forms of oppression.3
Figure 2. A model of community cultural wealth. Adapted from: Oliver & Shapiro, 1995 Indeed, a CRT lens can ‘see’ that Communities of Color nurture cultural wealth
through at least 6 forms of capital such as aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic,
familial, and resistant capital (see Delgado Bernal, 1997, 2001; Auerbach, 2001;
Stanton-Salazar, 2001; Solórzano & Delgado Bernal, 2001; Faulstich Orellana,
2003).These various forms of capital are not mutually exclusive or static, but rather
are dynamic processes that build on one another as part of community cultural
wealth. For example, as noted above, aspirational capital is the ability to hold onto
hope in the face of structured inequality and often without the means to make such
dreams a reality. Yet, aspirations are developed within social and familial contexts,
often through linguistic storytelling and advice (consejos) that offer specific navigational goals to challenge (resist) oppressive conditions. Therefore, aspirational capital
overlaps with each of the other forms of capital, social, familial, navigational, linguistic and resistant. As Anzaldúa asserts, ‘In our mestizaje theories we create new categories for those of us left out of or pushed out of existing ones’ (Anzaldúa, 1990,
p. xxvi, emphasis in original).
1. Aspirational capital refers to the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the
future, even in the face of real and perceived barriers. This resiliency is evidenced
78 T. J. Yosso
in those who allow themselves and their children to dream of possibilities beyond
their present circumstances, often without the objective means to attain those
goals. This form of cultural wealth draws on the work of Patricia Gándara (1982,
1995) and others who have shown that Chicanas/os experience the lowest educational outcomes compared to every other group in the US, but maintain consistently high aspirations for their children’s future (Delgado-Gaitan, 1992, 1994;
Solórzano, 1992; Auerbach, 2001). These stories nurture a culture of possibility
as they represent ‘the creation of a history that would break the links between
parents’ current occupational status and their children’s future academic attainment’ (Gándara, 1995, p. 55).
2. Linguistic capital includes the intellectual and social skills attained through
communication experiences in more than one language and/or style (see Faulstich
Orellana, 2003).4 This aspect of cultural wealth learns from over 35 years of
research about the value of bilingual education and emphasizes the connections
between racialized cultural history and language (Cummins, 1986; Anzaldúa,
1987; Darder, 1991; García & Baker, 1995; Gutierrez et al., 1995; Macedo &
Bartolomé, 1999; Gutierrez, 2002). Linguistic capital reflects the idea that
Students of Color arrive at school with multiple language and communication
skills. In addition, these children most often have been engaged participants in a
storytelling tradition, that may include listening to and recounting oral histories,
Figure 2. A model of community cultural wealth. Adapted from: Oliver & Shapiro, 1995
Cultural capital and critical race theory 79
parables, stories (cuentos) and proverbs (dichos). This repertoire of storytelling
skills may include memorization, attention to detail, dramatic pauses, comedic
timing, facial affect, vocal tone, volume, rhythm and rhyme. Linguistic capital also
refers to the ability to communicate via visual art, music or poetry.5 Just as
students may utilize different vocal registers to whisper, whistle or sing, they must
often develop and draw on various language registers, or styles, to communicate
with different audiences. For example, Marjorie Faulstich Orellana (2003) examines bilingual children who are often called upon to translate for their parents or
other adults and finds that these youth gain multiple social tools of ‘vocabulary,
audience awareness, cross-cultural awareness, “real-world” literacy skills, math
skills, metalinguistic awareness, teaching and tutoring skills, civic and familial
responsibility, [and] social maturity’ (p. 6).
3. Familial capital refers to those cultural knowledges nurtured among familia (kin)
that carry a sense of community history, memory and cultural intuition (see
Delgado Bernal, 1998, 2002). This form of cultural wealth engages a commitment to community well being and expands the concept of family to include a
more broad understanding of kinship. Acknowledging the racialized, classed and
heterosexualized inferences that comprise traditional understandings of ‘family’,
familial capital is nurtured by our ‘extended family’, which may include immediate family (living or long passed on) as well as aunts, uncles, grandparents and
friends who we might consider part of our familia. From these kinship ties, we
learn the importance of maintaining a healthy connection to our community and
its resources. Our kin also model lessons of caring, coping and providing
(educación),6 which inform our emotional, moral, educational and occupational
consciousness (Reese, 1992; Auerbach, 2001, 2004; Elenes et al., 2001; Lopez,
2003). This consciousness can be fostered within and between families, as well
as through sports, school, religious gatherings and other social community
settings. Isolation is minimized as families ‘become connected with others around
common issues’ and realize they are ‘not alone in dealing with their problems’
(Delgado-Gaitan, 2001, p. 54). Familial capital is informed by the work of scholars who have addressed the communal bonds within African American communities (Foley, 1997; Morris, 1999), the funds of knowledge within Mexican American
communities (Moll et al., 1992; Vélez-Ibáñez & Greenberg, 1992; Gonzalez
et al., 1995; Olmedo, 1997; Rueda et al., 2004) and pedagogies of the home that
Students of Color bring with them to the classroom setting (Delgado Bernal,
4. Social capital can be understood as networks of people and community resources.
These peer and other social contacts can provide both instrumental and
emotional support to navigate through society’s institutions (see Gilbert, 1982;
Stanton-Salazar, 2001). For example, drawing on social contacts and community
resources may help a student identify and attain a college scholarship. These
networks may help a student in preparing the scholarship application itself, while
also reassuring the student emotionally that she/he is not alone in the process of
pursuing higher education. Scholars note that historically, People of Color have
80 T. J. Yosso
utilized their social capital to attain education, legal justice, employment and
health care. In turn, these Communities of Color gave the information and
resources they gained through these institutions back to their social networks.
Mutualistas or mutual aid societies are an example of how historically, immigrants
to the US and indeed, African Americans even while enslaved, created and maintained social networks (Gómez-Quiñones, 1973, 1994; Gutman, 1976; Sanchez,
1993; Stevenson, 1996). This tradition of ‘lifting as we climb’ has remained the
motto of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs since their organization in 1896 (see Gurnier, Fine & Balin, 1997, p. 167). Concha DelgadoGaitan’s (2001) ethnographic research with the Mexican immigrant community
of Carpinteria, California further confirms that ‘Families transcend the adversity
in their daily lives by uniting with supportive social networks’ (p. 105).
5. Navigational capital refers to skills of maneuvering through social institutions.
Historically, this infers the ability to maneuver through institutions not created
with Communities of Color in mind. For example, strategies to navigate
through racially-hostile university campuses draw on the concept of academic
invulnerability, or students’ ability to ‘sustain high levels of achievement, despite
the presence of stressful events and conditions that place them at risk of doing
poorly at school and, ultimately, dropping out of school’ (Alva, 1991, p. 19; see
also Allen & Solórzano, 2000; Solórzano et al., 2000; Auerbach, 2001). Scholars
have examined individual, family and community factors that support Mexican
American students’ academic invulnerability—their successful navigation
through the educational system (Arrellano & Padilla, 1996). In addition, resilience has been recognized as ‘a set of inner resources, social competencies and
cultural strategies that permit individuals to not only survive, recover, or even
thrive after stressful events, but also to draw from the experience to enhance
subsequent functioning’ (Stanton-Salazar & Spina, 2000, p. 229). Indeed,
People of Color draw on various social and psychological ‘critical navigational
skills’ (Solórzano & Villalpando, 1998) to maneuver through structures of
inequality permeated by racism (see Pierce, 1974, 1989, 1995). Navigational
capital thus acknowledges individual agency within institutional constraints, but
it also connects to social networks that facilitate community navigation through
places and spaces including schools, the job market and the health care and judicial systems (Williams, 1997).
6. Resistant capital refers those knowledges and skills fostered through oppositional
behavior that challenges inequality (Freire, 1970, 1973; Giroux, 1983;
McLaren, 1994; Delgado Bernal, 1997; Solórzano & Delgado Bernal, 2001).
This form of cultural wealth is grounded in the legacy of resistance to subordination exhibited by Communities of Color (Deloria, 1969). Furthermore,
maintaining and passing on the multiple dimensions of community cultural
wealth is also part of the knowledge base of resistant capital. For example, even
from within internment camps, Japanese communities resisted racism by maintaining and nurturing various forms of cultural wealth (Wakatsuki Houston &
Houston, 1973).7 Extending on this history, Tracy Robinson and Janie Ward’s
Cultural capital and critical race theory 81
(1991) research shows a group of African American mothers who consciously
raise their daughters as ‘resistors’. Through verbal and nonverbal lessons, these
Black mothers teach their daughters to assert themselves as intelligent, beautiful, strong and worthy of respect to resist the barrage of societal messages
devaluing Blackness and belittling Black women (Ward, 1996). Similarly, Sofia
Villenas and Melissa Moreno (2001) discuss the contradictions Latina mothers
face as they try to teach their daughters to valerse por si misma (value themselves
and be self-reliant) within structures of inequality such as racism, capitalism
and patriarchy. In each of these research studies, Parents of Color are
consciously instructing their children to engage in behaviours and maintain attitudes that challenge the status quo. These young women are learning to be
oppositional with their bodies, minds and spirits in the face of race, gender and
class inequality. In analyzing students’ historical and contemporary efforts to
transform unequal conditions in urban high schools, Daniel Solórzano and
Dolores Delgado Bernal (2001) reveal that resistance may include different
forms of oppositional behavior, such as self-defeating or conformist strategies
that feed back into the system of subordination. However, when informed by a
Freirean critical consciousness (1970), or recognition of the structural nature of
oppression and the motivation to work toward social and racial justice, resistance takes on a transformative form (see Solórzano & Yosso, 2002b). Therefore, transformative resistant capital includes cultural knowledge of the
structures of racism and motivation to transform such oppressive structures
(Pizarro, 1998; Villenas & Deyhle, 1999).
Recently, The Journal of African American History dedicated an entire issue to
‘Cultural capital and African American education’ (see Franklin, 2002). In this issue,
Franklin (2002) defines cultural capital as ‘the sense of group consciousness and
collective identity’ that serves as a resource ‘aimed at the advancement of an entire
group’ (p. 177). Franklin (2002) goes on to explain that various forms of cultural
capital ‘became a major resource historically for the funding of African American
schools and other educational institutions and programs’ (pp. 177–178). This
research indicates that ‘African Americans were willing to contribute their time, energies, and financial and material resources to support these educational institutions
because they knew they were important to the advancement of African Americans as
a group (Franklin, 2002, pp. 177–178).
Furthermore, in discussing implications of his ethnographic work with two African
American school communities in the US urban south and midwest, Jerome Morris
(2004) explains, ‘Black people shared their cultural capital with one another and
developed their social capital (Black social capital) for survival and success in a segregated world bounded by the omnipresent forces of racism and discrimination’
(p. 102). This scholarship documenting community mobilization efforts to create
access and equity for African Americans in education, bolsters the examples of
82 T. J. Yosso
cultural wealth offered above. Such work also demonstrates that the forms of capital
comprising community cultural wealth are engendered from within the context of a
legacy of racism and are thus tied to a larger social and racial justice project (Perea
et al., 2000). Morris (2004) asserts, ‘it is important that social capital theory also
consider the agency and sustenance that are characteristic of African American
people, culture and institutions—apart from and in response to oppressive forces’
(p. 102). Indeed, the main goals of identifying and documenting cultural wealth are
to transform education and empower People of Color to utilize assets already abundant in their communities.
As demonstrated through the concept of cultural wealth, CRT research begins with
the perspective that Communities of Color are places with multiple strengths. In
contrast, deficit scholars bemoan a lack of cultural capital or what Hirsch (1988,
1996) terms ‘cultural literacy’ in low income Communities of Color. Such research
utilizes a deficit analytical lens and places value judgments on communities that often
do not have access to White, middle or upper class resources. In contrast, CRT shifts
the research lens away from a deficit view of Communities of Color as places full of
cultural poverty or disadvantages, and instead focuses on and learns from these
communities’ cultural assets and wealth (Solórzano & Solórzano, 1995; Valencia &
Solórzano, 1997; Villalpando & Solórzano, 2005).
CRT centers the research, pedagogy, and policy lens on Communities of Color
and calls into question White middle class communities as the standard by which
all others are judged. This shifting of the research lens allows critical race scholars
to ‘see’ multiple forms of cultural wealth within Communities of Color. CRT
identifies various indicators of capital that have rarely been acknowledged as
cultural and social assets in Communities of Color (i.e., aspirational, social, navigational, linguistic, resistant and familial capital). These forms of capital draw on
the knowledges Students of Color bring with them from their homes and communities into the classroom. They are not conceptualized for the purpose of finding
new ways to co-opt or exploit the strengths of Communities of Color.8 Instead,
community cultural wealth involves a commitment to conduct research, teach and
develop schools that serve a larger purpose of struggling toward social and racial
In the opening epigraph of this essay, Anzaldúa urges the generation of theories
based on those whose knowledges are traditionally excluded from and silenced by
academic research. She further asserts that beyond creating theories, ‘we need to find
practical application for those theories. We need to de-academize theory and to
connect the community to the academy’ (Anzaldúa, 1990, p. xxvi). Anzaldúa (2002)
also notes that ‘Change requires more than words on a page—it takes perseverance,
creative ingenuity and acts of love’ (p. 574). CRT offers a response to Anzaldúa’s
challenge in listening to the experiences of those ‘faces at the bottom of society’s well’
(Bell, 1992, p. v). These experiences expose the racism underlying cultural deficit
theorizing and reveal the need to restructure US social institutions around those
knowledges, skills, abilities and networks—the community cultural wealth—
possessed and utilized by People of Color.
Cultural capital and critical race theory 83
1. Although not exhaustive, the following resources are some examples of the different frameworks cited: ethnic studies (see Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies); feminist studies (see
Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies); cultural nationalist paradigms (see Asante, 1987);
critical legal studies (see Kelman, 1989); Marxist and neo-Marxist frameworks (see Bowles
& Gintis, 1976; Barrera, 1979); internal colonial models (see Bonilla & Girling, 1973);
LatCrit (see Arriola, 1998; Valdes, 1997, 1998); WhiteCrit (see Delgado & Sefancic, 1997);
FemCrit (see Wing, 1997); AsianCrit (see Chang, 1993).
2. Solórzano and Yosso (2001) note that while each individual tenet of CRT is not ‘new’, synthesizing these tenets into a CRT framework in education is relatively recent. For instance,
William Tate’s 1994 autobiographical article in the journal Urban Education—titled ‘From
inner city to ivory tower: does my voice matter in the academy’—represents (to my knowledge)
the first use of CRT principles in education. A year later, in 1995, Gloria Ladson-Billings and
William Tate wrote a paper titled, ‘Toward a critical race theory of education’ in the Teachers
College Record. Two years later, Daniel Solórzano’s 1997 essay on ‘Images and words that
wound: critical race theory, racial stereotyping and teacher education’ in Teacher Education
Quarterly applied CRT to a specific subfield of teacher education. Also in 1997, William Tate’s
‘Critical race theory and education: history, theory and implications’ in the Review of Research
in Education furthered our understanding of the history of CRT in education. The field was
expanded significantly with the 1998 ‘Special issue on critical race theory in education’ in the
International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. The 1999 edited book on Race is—race
isn’t: critical race theory and qualitative studies in education (Parker et al., 1999) was followed by
individual scholars presenting on panels at professional conferences across the country and
publishing their work in various journals. In 2002, the journals Qualitative Inquiry and Equity
and Excellence in Education dedicated a special issue to CRT in education. In 2004, the
American Education Research Association conference symposium ‘And we are still not saved:
critical race theory in education ten years later’ acknowledged the ten year anniversary of Tate’s
1994 article introducing CRT officially to education.
3. As is consistent with the concept of community cultural wealth, this working definition demonstrates an accumulation of collaborative work. Thank you to Daniel G Solórzano who originally
conceptualized cultural wealth. He shared with me a model in progress and later a collaboratively written piece (with Octavio Villalpando), and asked me to ‘run with it’. Since that time,
cultural wealth has taken on multiple dimensions. I also acknowledge those personal and
professional experiences, community histories and students’ research projects that have
informed this work. I look forward to the ways that cultural wealth will take on new dimensions
as others also ‘run with it’.
4. Thanks to Rebeca Burciaga, whose identification of linguistic and familial capital added important dimensions to cultural wealth.
5. Thanks to UCSB undergraduate students, Pablo Gallegos, Moises Garcia, Noel Gomez and
Ray Hernandez, whose research conceptualizing graffiti and hip hop poetry as unacknowledged
sources of community cultural wealth expanded my thinking about linguistic capital.
6. Chicana scholars note for example that in Spanish, educación holds dual meanings (DelgadoGaitan, 1992, 1994, 2001; Elenes et al., 2001). A person can be formally educated with
multiple advanced degrees, but may still be rude, ignorant, disrespectful or unethical
(immoral)—mal educada. On the other hand, a person with only a second grade formal education may be una persona bien educada or a well-mannered, kind, fair-minded, respectful (moral)
7. The book Farewell to Manzanar (Wakatsuki Houston & Houston, 1973) offers a first-hand
account of some of the ways Japanese internees held onto hope, fostered caring, coping and
responsibility, maintained skills of language, poetry, music, social networks and critical navigational skills, and challenged social and racial inequality.
84 T. J. Yosso
8. I recognize that the notion of capital may be associated with capitalism, which is a system that
is exploitative and has historically been an oppressive force against Communities of Color. The
concept of schooling itself can be contradictory, given that schools have historically oppressed
Students of Color, while still having the potential to be transformative places of empowerment.
Similarly, as viewed through mainstream media, hip-hop’s contradictory nature offers an
example of how historically some aspects of community cultural wealth are co-opted and
utilized for exploitative purposes (see Spike Lee’s film Baboozled, 2000). Still, hip-hop maintains amazing potential to be a revolutionary art form and transformative cultural expression
that can inspire and inform social movement. I believe community cultural wealth and forms
of capital nurtured in the histories of People of Color holds the same potential.
Note on contributor
Tara J. Yosso is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano
Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research and teaching
focuses on educational equity utilizing the frameworks of critical race theory,
LatCrit theory and critical media literacy.
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