Nice White Moderates

For five Wednesday nights in January/February 2021, the Ann Arbor Public School Board read aloud letters from Ann Arbor parents about whether to open schools or remain virtual. Despite the fact that Ann Arbor public school teachers were then-unvaccinated, many parents berated the school board for virtual schooling. They dismissed teachers’ countless hours transforming curriculum to engage students virtually, telling them that virtual schooling wasn’t “real,” that teachers didn’t care, and that teachers should quit if they didn’t want to really “teach.” They touted their PhDs, referred to public school teachers as “public servants,” suggested that their tax payments gave them the right to force teachers into classrooms, sought to undermine the unions and questioned their authority, insisted that their own children had the right to make choices about school policy, and threatened to enroll their kids in private school. This rhetoric had devastating effects on teacher morale and on the larger community.

This situation is not specific to Ann Arbor. In the midst of the third wave of the COVID pandemic, so-called “liberals” around the country, who had claimed to support unions and community over individuals, betrayed these values by asserting that teachers must return to teaching, despite teachers’ and unions’ objections.

In Nice White Moderates’ series of eight videos, a Donald Trump impersonator reads letters written by parents to the Ann Arbor Public School Board. The emotionally manipulative rhetoric and bullying language comes from “liberals” but passes through the mouthpiece of Trump. In video 1, Trump introduces the parents. In videos 2 through 7, he reads compilations of the statements, and in video 8, he affirms his support for their legalistic and self-interested tactics.

The term “nice white moderates” is a construction from Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” describing “white moderates” as the “great stumbling block” in attaining freedom, and from Chana Joffe-Walt’s podcast “Nice White Parents,” which examines how white parents, who thought they were well-meaning, actually obstructed integration of schools. The title “Nice White Moderates” speaks to this history of asserting ownership, entitlement, and privilege that is historically associated with whiteness.

This work is not a statement about whether schools should remain virtual or open during the pandemic. It is not an inquiry into the motivations of these parents. It only considers the role of language and power.