If You're Really Fighting for Educational Justice, You Need to Check Your Privilege

Jan 29, 2020 12:00:00 AM


Earlier this week I was tagged in a tweet published by Carol Burris. It looked to be an attempt to negatively blast or shame my organization because of who funds our work—like we haven’t seen that trick before.


When I responded by basically saying I’m not entertaining Carol’s distractions from the real issues in public education, Julian Vasquez Heilig jumped in to co-sign Carol’s attacks.


First of all, I didn’t even know who Carol Burris was before she tagged me in that tweet, and I’m only vaguely familiar with Julian because he was one of the players in suppressing school choice in California when I went there to protest with parent advocates twice last year. From the minimal research I decided to do, I found that they’re both charter school haters. 

But when I get attacked by people who I’m pretty damn sure aren’t matching my level of activism and/or probably haven’t walked in my shoes, or those of the people in my community stumbling throughout this system trying to access the best education options available to them, I get aggravated—and a little petty. 

Because [pullquote]I refuse to engage in ongoing battles with mere Twitter activists about the legitimacy of my work and mission[/pullquote], I’m taking a little time to pen this open letter. While the shade wasn’t directed specifically at me and I don’t necessarily feel the need to defend myself, I’m responding because the notion that anyone would shake their Twitter finger at any organization or individual actually doing real work is offensive.


So, Dear Twitter Education “Activists,”

Do y’all know what I was doing during the last teachers’ strike in Chicago, besides going in on the union on Twitter? 


I was at a local nonprofit organization called Latanya and the Youth of Englewood, helping the students who were ousted from their classrooms practice their breast cancer awareness speeches, teaching them about notable movements in Black history and discussing their experiences and knowledge of racism. Oh, we went and played in the park, too.


And during my Christmas vacation—still exhausted from spending the latter part of 2019 running around the country to stand on the front lines of demonstrations advocating for school choice and mobilizing parents—I spent my time collecting donations for a New Year’s Eve party I was throwing for kids in underserved communities.


Now hold your applause or shame in thinking I’m bragging about my community service and advocacy record because I’m not here for either of those. Instead, I’m trying to prove the point that real advocacy and impact happens in the community, supporting and working alongside the people who have been marginalized. 

So while y’all are busy researching salaries and having wonky conversations around education policy on social media, I’m actually doing real work in these underserved neighborhoods. And as I told Julian, it doesn’t matter who writes my checks, I know who I work for and that’s my community. End of story.


Here’s something else y’all should know: Your attempts to diminish our work by naming our funders are played out—especially when the people most affected by your advocacy for a failing system don’t give a damn about who funds brightbeam and Education Post! All parents like Marilyn Muller care about is having access to a great public school—regardless of model—that won’t mistreat her child with special needs.


I don’t care whether Burris was an educator. That doesn’t give her the right to restrict options for Black and Brown families or tell them what’s best for their children. When she and others in her camp—many of whom have the privilege of accessing any school by virtue of their skin color—are unwilling to enroll their grandkids in schools like the ones in North Memphis that Sarah Carpenter has been fighting to turn around, their criticism means nothing. 

Until people like Julian Vasquez Heilig use their power and platform to uplift and build more parent advocacy groups like Memphis Lift, Oakland Reach, Nashville Propel and the National Parents Union, their rhetorical questions and judgments fall on deaf ears. 

In the meantime, Heilig could work on trying to have productive and strategic conversations with those he considers adversaries instead of blocking them on social media when they challenge him or don’t agree with him.


So because the level of energy I’ve devoted to writing y’all this letter has run out, I’ll close with this: I challenge you to consider what you’re fighting for. Because your beloved public school system is failing the communities you tweet about incessantly. Who are you really fighting for—the parents who want good schools for their kids and have expressed that by looking beyond traditional options, or your agenda, privilege or social media brand that, in your world, supersedes their needs? 


And if ultimately you come to the conclusion that your advocacy is misaligned, stop coming for those who are actually doing the real, grassroots work and start collaborating with them. Because at the end of the day, we all want educational justice, right?

Photos by Javier Sánchez Mingorance and Getty Images Pro , Canva-licensed.

Tanesha Peeples

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and advocacy of those that are often ignored. Tanesha wholeheartedly believes that education is the foundation for success. Her grand vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or ZIP code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. And that's what she works towards every day.

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