If one looks and listens closely, black reform advocates and charter leaders are responding to the mythology that black people don’t want charter schools or reform in general.
For most black folk, however, not liking reform equates to not liking institutional racism, which impacts our communities no matter how many black and brown people an organization hires. When black people say they don’t like education reform, they mean the trade-offs of institutionalized oppression are patently unacceptable.
Some may call it an untruth that black people and charter critics resist positive change; I call it a lie. Black folk have never been in a position to accept the status quo, and most black people applaud black people in our communities who teach, open charter schools or lead district-run schools. In addition, black educators have always excelled in spite of systems. We are never surprised and are always encouraged by black educators who make systems work—including those in charters. Therefore, any idea that not liking reform is somehow a refutation of black educators in charter schools is a terrible interpretation in the face of history.
When black people say, “I don’t like education reform,” they don’t mean individual black charter leaders are bad. They aren’t saying change isn’t needed. For many people, not liking education reform is really not liking the perfunctory rolling out of black educators who speak on behalf of white organizations. Instead of intentionally dismantling systemic and institutional oppression, black faces are placed at the helm of a crooked ship to convince us it's smooth sailing.
The weight must be distributed effectively and equitably. White charter proponents must carry the burden of disenfranchised voters, fired teachers, supplanted black businesses and expelled students. Black educators cannot best serve their communities by doubling as shields for white organizations and institutionalized racism.
Hillary Clinton’s silence on K-12 education seemingly corresponds with a new chorus of criticisms. News21 recently put out a report on how school takeovers disproportionately affect poor, black communities. The NAACP called for a moratorium on charter schools, and the Black Lives Matter Collective issued its own rebuke. All of which echoes concerns within black communities, and rightfully so.
Black folk know too well that no matter how well-meaning white establishments are, they are not black ones. The hiring of black leaders, as well as black representation in charter schools, doesn’t make the charter crusade a black movement or mitigate the impact of institutionalized racism on black and brown communities.
Takeover districts that facilitate charter expansion are not part of anyone’s black agenda. And black people should not be placed in positions to defend this political-power-wrecking strategy. The organizations and funders directly responsible for engineering certain biased policies need to make the case directly to black and brown people.
The Boston Globe recently published the article, “Donors Behind Charter Push Keep to the Shadows.” The report found: “A new $2.3 million ad boosting the expansion of charter schools in Massachusetts lists the campaign’s top five donors on-screen, in accordance with state law. But the singularly bland names, including Strong Economy for Growth and Education Reform Now Advocacy, give no hint of who is writing the checks.”
The shrouded financing of this campaign reflects the white invisibility in the education reform wars. With few exceptions, donors and chiefs of white-led organizations seldom face black and brown communities to defend policies that have caused demonstrable harm. White leaders who make or fund controversial decisions will give the overwrought responses we’ve come to expect in racial matters: “I can’t say that because I’m white.”
Well, black folk shouldn’t have to say it, either.
Black people have no choice but to demand accountability for black communities among traditional and charter schools. We have no choice but to make connections between criminal justice, housing, health care and education. If there are organizations that are to be funded, black educators must demand that the existing assets in black communities receive financial patronage.
So, black reformers should not get in the way of those who demand what black people, including reformers, need.
A blanket defense of charter schools and reforms by black people is a cover for institutional racism. When black people say, “I don’t like education reform,” they mean that black education actors should no longer play the role of magical Negro, “saving black people from themselves even as white people are served and saved by those very same black people.”
Black educators cannot be the janitors for racist policies while hundreds of millions of dollars are poured into building up white institutions for us to clean up.