Founder and director of the UCLA Center for Critical Race Studies at UCLA shares his renowned expertise in racial microaggressions.
When Daniel Solórzano delivered this year’s AERA Distinguished Lecture in Toronto earlier this month, he thanked his wife Laura, for how her perspectives as a social worker informed his own research. He also thanked his “family” of current and former students and colleagues – that have, and continue to, enhance his academic career. But the UCLA professor and researcher’s well-known congenial manner belied the serious nature of his research, which has significantly helped to further the study of critical race theory, racial microaggressions, and racial microaffirmations.
Solórzano’s talk on “My Critical Race Journey to Racial Microaggressions and Microaffirmations – 1969 to 2019” charted his trajectory from teaching in classrooms across Los Angeles, including L.A. County Central Juvenile Hall, East Los Angeles College, and the California State University and UC systems. This led to his introduction to critical race theory (CRT) in the early 1990s as a junior faculty member in UCLA’s Department of Education.
Since joining the faculty at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies in 1990, Solórzano has become one of the nation’s premier scholars of critical race theory, and expanded this field by establishing the Center for Critical Race Studies in Education at UCLA in 2015. The center highlights the work of researchers across the country who are contributing to the development of the field. As of 2018, a total of 15 research briefs have been published. They explore areas of critical race studies in education such as: cultural intuition, racial battle fatigue, racial microaggressions, critical race history methodology, community cultural wealth, internalized racism, muxerista portraiture, critical race counterspaces, Asian American Critical Race Theory, critical race educational history, critical race spatial analysis, Chicana/o student activism in Los Angeles, intersectionality, holistic critical race pedagogies, and racial microaffirmations.
These research briefs serve as a resource for educators and scholars who want to use the tools of CRT to advance their own research and practice. In the spring of 2019, the center will publish five more briefs. The center is also beginning an oral history project on Women of Color in the academy. The project highlights how the multiple identities of Women of Color shape their experiences when navigating academia as pioneers in their fields.
Solórzano stated his journey to critical race studies originated in the field of ethnic studies generally and Chicana/o Studies and African American Studies in particular. He defines critical race studies as “the work of scholars … who are developing an explanatory framework that accounts for the role of race and race in education.”
At AERA, Solórzano shared the definition of racial microaggressions asa form of systemic everyday verbal or non-verbalassaultsdirected toward People of Color. They are also layered assaults, based on a Person of Color’s marginalized identities. Finally, they are cumulative assaultsthat take a physiological, psychological, and academic toll on People of Color.In addition to life history and interview data collected over 30 years, he shared historical examples of everyday racism such Gordon Parks’ photographs of Jim Crow-era segregation in the 20thCentury American South, and the W.E.B. Du Bois’ experience of being mistaken by a white train passenger as a Pullman porter in his 1940 book, “Dusk of Dawn.” Solórzano also recommended a 2017 TED Talk by Harvard’s David R. Williams on “How Racism Makes Us Sick.”
“The micro in microaggressions does not mean “less than” said Solórzano. “The micro in microaggressions means ‘in the everyday.’ They’re very painful, if you are on the receiving end of a microaggression. You get angry, you get stressed. Or … racial battle fatigue sets in. You doubt yourself, or experience imposter syndrome. They affect your academic performance, and your health outcomes.” Solórzano also shared that “People who experience racial microaggressions also resist, push back, and challenge those assaults and characterizations of them and People of Color’s history is the best example of that resistance.”
Solórzano made the point that one response People of Color use in the face of everyday racism are racial microaffirmations. He defined them as everyday subtle verbal or non-verbal interactions (moments of shared cultural intimacy) People of Color use to acknowledge each other’s dignity, integrity and humanity, and makes them feel respected and valued. In the context of education, he underscored the importance of graduation ceremonies that recognize particular racial and social groups, such as African Americans, Latinas/os, and the formerly incarcerated, as affirming not just for the graduates but for their families and communities.
“We need to affirm the dignity and humanity of one another as a response to everyday racism,” said Solórzano. He also posed the question, “is the presence of People of Color in a space, a text, or in history a racial microaffirmation?”
Professor Solórzano teaches in the Division of Social Science and Comparative Education in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. His teaching, research and publishing interests also include critical race pedagogy and critical race spatial analysis. Solórzano has authored more than 100 research articles and book chapters on issues related to educational access and equity for underrepresented student populations in the United States, critical race theory, and racial microaggressions.
Solórzano was previously honored by AERA with the inaugural Revolutionary Mentor Award in 2017; as an AERA Fellow in 2014; and with the organization’s Social Justice in Education Award in 2012. He was the director of the University of California All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity (UC/ACCORD) from 2008 to 2015. In 2007, Solórzano received the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award, and in 2012, he was honored with the Derrick Bell Legacy Award from the Critical Race Studies in Education Association.