Black Folk Hate White Tears and Blatant Racism More Than Charter Schools

When black people shed white tears, the black community loses.

Kindergartners at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School in New Orleans in 2007 Mario Tama/Getty Images

To the chagrin of charter advocates, on Friday the national board of the NAACP ratified an earlier resolution (pdf) that called for a moratorium on charter schools.

Given the ample sources of opposition to charter schools, as well as mixed results, we should only be surprised that it’s taken this long for a major black civil rights organization to officially rebuke the sector.

Leading up to the ratification, the charter lobby, which has felt put upon in recent weeks, dished out heaping doses of power in a thinly veiled attempt to rally the charter community. There was a letter-writing campaign (pdf) among black leaders, numerous editorials and the deployment of paid bloggers to attack the NAACP. The charter sector also got cold shoulders from the Movement for Black Lives and even presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, among others.

Charters work” was the rallying cry to stop the NAACP from ratifying the moratorium. But for many charter schools to work, they have (unnecessarily) taken away voting and other political rights, removed attendance zones, categorically fired teachers—black teachers—and turned a blind eye to harmful voucher programs that flood the market with bad private schools. Charter schools in Ohio and Michigan have pushed entire states backward.

Be clear: Charter schools have never been the problem for black communities that steamrolling black people, our organizations and our voices has been. The charter lobby’s response to the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter schools reveals what powerful white organizations will do to black people in order to get what they want. But the moratorium offered goals that black people need.

In its released statement, the NAACP listed its conditions for lifting its moratorium:

  1. Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools;
  2. Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system;
  3. Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate; and
  4. Cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest-performing children from those whose aspirations may be high, but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

The NAACP has good reason to not want charter schools, despite the long trail of white tears that says differently.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, I refer you to Very Smart Brothas’ definition:

“White tears” is a phrase to describe what happens when certain types of white people either complain about a nonexistent racial injustice or are upset by a nonwhite person’s success at the expense of a white person. It encompasses (and makes fun of) the performative struggle to acknowledge the existence of white privilege, and the reality that it ain’t always gonna go unchecked.

No national study can say that charter schools are a slam dunk for any community. Every major national study can only make the claim that charter schools are successful in particular situations. The most favorable report, CREDO’s national school study (pdf), which charter advocates wave as the strongest evidence, found modest but significant gains in reading and that charters are on par with traditional public schools. Almost every major study concludes that charter schools, on average, do as well as traditional schools, not better.

This only proves that there is more to this full-frontal push to disinvest from traditional schools than so-called education reformers would have black people believe. And when black people shed white tears, the black community loses.

The weighty and heavily financed attack on the NAACP waged by the charter lobby reminds residents of New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and other reform cities that charter advocates will try to overwhelm anyone who simply disagrees. And this is where the charter community has lost its way. Instead of charters being a source of innovation as the early rhetoric pronounced, charters have become wrecking balls to any dissent.

For the sake of charter expansion, advocates are willing to create policy hurricanes to do to the educational infrastructure in cities exactly what Katrina did to New Orleans.

Believe it or not, the black community is diverse enough to have differing opinions on something as controversial as charter schools. But our differing opinions should not set the stage for disingenuous white-shaming. However, that’s what many black reformers built in their criticisms of the NAACP.

If for nothing else, applaud the NAACP’s check of white privilege. Because the charter community did not deliver its own moratoriums in cities like Detroit, it left no choice but for a social-justice organization to do so. The barrage leveled against the black civil rights organization’s decision shows how the sector treats black leaders, districts and decisions when the charter lobby doesn’t get its way.

We’ve grown accustomed to the charter-community tactic of shaming black folk, including the shameful, defamatory posts that facilitated attempts to discredit the organization that delivered Brown v. Board and other major policy advancements.

By issuing the moratorium, the NAACP didn’t get the victory it’s looking for. That will come when the charter community meets the demands of the moratorium. In the meantime, our community should never allow white tears to drown out black voices.

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