What would you think if I sent you a black candidate for an education project whose background included experience as a public school principal in two urban districts, a past position serving as the deputy chancellor of special education for the DC Public Schools; a member of several prestigious boards; a B.A in Sociology from Emory; a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction, an administrator’s certification; and a Ph.d in Educational Policy, Planning, and Administration from University of Maryland?

In Black America, we would call that a success, right?

What if on top of that background of achievement I also told you that you would never meet a sweeter person than this candidate?

Well, you’ve just met Richard Nyankori and having encountered him in networking circles the best I can describe him is to say he is a brilliant caramel coated man with a beefy frame, kind eyes, an easy smile, and a gentleman’s presence that can instantly set anyone at ease.

Richard Nyankori, founder of SpedX

These details are important because the man you would see if you met him in person is an entirely Richard than the crass cartoon you’ll meet when he is described by Mercedes Schneider, a blogging teacher who routinely takes aim at those she considers to be enemies of public education.

In her view, Richard is one such enemy.

She wrote a blog post (no, I won’t link to her hot garbage of a blog) about Richard that flogs him as a greedy TFA-alum looking to make a fast buck off of K-12 education (Richard owns a start-up company that helps states and school districts understand their special education data).

In two separate blog posts, she calls into question his integrity as a person, his legitimacy as a former educator, and says his educational background is “sketchy.”

To a #BasicBloggingBecky, one who teaches in southern public schools, the successful black man we see is nothing but a suspicious character.

That reminds me of the Malcolm X quote from years ago:

Q: “What do they call a black man with a Ph.D.?”

A: “Nigger.”

Nyankori’s vignette is just one story. He lost a contract because of Schneider’s public hate campaign, but he survived and doesn’t need me to defend him.

But he’s not alone.

I could stop writing this now and call the first ten black men in my phone who have anything to do with education and I’d collect a series of stories in which they are targets for white women who harness their social privilege and positional power to make their opinions material.

I’ve had my own experience with it, which caused job losses twice.

Yet, there is so much public talk about getting more black males into the space. There is less talk about the #Becky problem.

Maybe you read this from today’s headline: “Possible key to black boys’ academic success: Hire black men as elementary school teachers.”

The key stat from the story (the one you’ve probably heard before) is:

“Nationwide, 2 percent of public school teachers are African-American males and 2 percent are Hispanic males, while students of color make up about half the nation’s public school enrollment from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, according to the U.S. Department of Education.”

Those numbers are terrible. We should do something.

Cue the insincere surprise from education people, the symbolic concern of our “allies,” and the countless grant proposals that will be accepted with smiles but rejected for funding.

Don’t let me make light of the problem. Yes, there are too few black men seen, heard, and leading not just in education, but in every area where society determines the quality of life for our children.

Maybe a contributor to the problem is that for many of us being present and participating in rooms we don’t define (and ones that often define us improperly) can be “extra.”

I can’t speak for every other black man, but speaking for myself I can tell you one barrier to sustained interaction is the culture of the spaces I enter is made for someone else. I don’t like wearing other people’s shoes, especially when they have no interest in walking in mine.

The average American teacher is a middle-aged, middle-class, college-educated white woman, and while she may see herself as a passive victim to an over-domineering top-down education system, the truth is, she is a powerful figure that creates the culture that black males – students and teachers – learn and work in.

If you talk to an education journalist who tells the stories – our stories – you’re probably talking to a white woman, and we are at their mercy. Their whims and views become the public discussion.

My friend Tom Rademacher, a white male teacher, says:

There is a culture of White women in schools, a dominant culture that is invisible, almost aggressively invisible, to many because of its dominance. Whiteness is so dominant that it is too often viewed as the neutral norm, and conversations around race in schools focus on the experiences of people of color and not on what it means that there are so many White people.

White women own education and it’s something that is uncomfortable to talk about. It’s ok to admit that teaching is very white and feminized, but talking about how that shapes the environment, especially for the black male, is socially risky.

Are you a racist? Sexist? Are you saying that white women can’t teach black kids?

How dare you?

Yes, I dare. Let go of the pearls. Find a mirror. Be silent. Seek to understand. Then return to the debate.

Here’s what I’m saying: to be black and male in spaces that are very white and female is complicated, annoying and sometimes dangerous. Addressing that reality has to be part of any effort to increase our numbers in education.

And, when I say “in education,” I mean in advocacyactivism, and organizing in addition to school leadership and teaching.

Black elected officials, school leaders, and policy people find themselves smeared like Richard whenever they dare think a thought that hasn’t been approved by the Sisters of the Blessed Badass Teachers. That’s wrong.

Do you want peers, or do you want slaves? We can help with the former; if it’s the latter we’ll have to introduce you to our ancestors.

Everyone should be open to fair criticism, but don’t think you can shred our resumes and disregard our history and lived-experience (while ignoring your unearned privilege and positional power).

If that’s the best you can do, expect educated black men to say “no thank you.”

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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