I for one will have your backs. Black members of Teach For America (TFA) know the real reasons conservatives and progressives alike attack them. Black folk aren’t supposed to seek justice on our own terms. Black teachers, especially from Teach For America, aren’t supposed to protest in the streets of Ferguson, Baltimore or McKinney, Texas. But whether in school or in the streets that surround them, black corps members of TFA are teaching the rest of us where a great education and the pursuit of justice should take you. Let’s be clear. Black people are certainly feared. But being young, gifted and black and committed to social justice makes you a threat. The latest person to target their fear of black uprightness is conservative columnist Michelle Malkin who all but brands Teach For America as an incubator for terrorists because the teacher organization had the audacity to back some of their own who see a need for justice beyond a classroom. In a New York Post column, Malkin
Teach For America has transformed itself into a recruiting center for militants bent on occupying themselves with anything other than imparting knowledge and academic excellence to children in the classroom.
While this is the first time I’ve seen a connection between Teach For America and militancy, it’s not the first time I’ve seen young, black people attacked for using their smartness to bring justice for others (and themselves). To support her claim that TFA is a splinter cell, Malkin aims at Brittany Packnett, executive director of TFA-St. Louis, who’s credited with widely amplifying the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, which became an effective social justice movement. Packnett’s radicalism can easily be seen by her passing out newsletters at protests and making hashtags. Malkin also targets former TFA teacher DeRay Mckesson who through social media has been narrating and facilitating on-the-ground activism in Ferguson, Baltimore, McKinney, Texas, and other places where civil liberties don’t seem to apply for black folk. Malkin slyly quoted one of “[Mckesson’s] fellow peace-loving instigators” as saying, “[W]e’re setting the stage for a terrorist attack in this country, and the group is not going to be ISIS.” Malkin makes no real connection between Mckesson and the “fellow peace-loving instigators,” but she’ll rest on black fear to make TFA into an incubator of social upheaval. Packnett and Mckesson have grown accustomed to attacks; black and brown TFA Corps members are criticized from all sides. Progressives regularly accuse them of naively providing black faces for a white agenda. Now they are charged with being the source for race riots in America. At least Malkin credits blacks for being the masterminds of something. Black and brown corps members in TFA know too well that deficit thinking—the practice of making decisions based on negative assumptions about particular socioeconomic, racial and ethnic groups—usually casts them as sellouts, militants and/or pawns to someone else’s master plan. Like I said in a
“While exceptions certainly exist, the sons and daughters of Du Bois, Washington, Hammer, Chavez and Kochiyama, certainly understand how to place education in a social justice framework even within white organizations. Moreover, it’s the openness of TFA to learn from black, Latino and Asian American leadership that is promising.”
Now that TFA is browner—more than 50 percent of new members are people of color—will the money and prestige still pour to TFA? Will the organization and students still be considered smart? Certainly, people like Malkin will attack. But, I will never give up on young people of color wherever they are. Will you? I have your back.