Roland Martin pretends to be a journalist. But what does a guy do when the one percent won't pay for an informed public? Roland is a hustla for hire, and he's found a dependable set of clients. Roland is all about blackening up and selling us the destruction and privatization of public schools, which is what both elite Democrats and Republicans want. Journalists tell the truth without fear or favor. Hustlas do what they're paid to do, and the charter school sugar daddies pay well.
Despite what his web site says, Roland Martin is no journalist. His daily news show doesn’t break any new stories. Roland traffics in celebrity interviews. He jokes with Tom Joyner on the radio. He chats with black Trump supporters and white supremacists, and the same Democratic politicians everybody else talks to. And Roland consistently makes the shallow case for privatizing education on behalf of his sponsors, with corny tweets, videos and a series of so-called “town hall meetings”, though he’s plenty smart enough never to say the p word.
A journalist’s job is to research, to dig deep and to oppose official lies with facts. Journalists uncover, they publish and they popularize among ordinary people important truths that the wealthy and powerful would rather keep hidden. By that standard Ida B. Wells and Lu Palmer were serious black journalists. Roland Martin ain’t that. Roland is a competent and reasonably successful hustler, with a keen eye for what sponsors will pay him to write and to say. Right now, the big money is in turning over public education to private operators of all kinds. Those operators and investors, whom we at Black Agenda Report call the charter school sugar daddies need public relations talent, and Roland the hustler is all over it.
As my colleague Glen Ford has documented over the years, privatizing education has been a pet objective of parts of the US ruling elite since at least the 1980s. For more than a generation now there have been been deep right wing pockets willing to fund the careers of black educators, black preachers, business leaders willing to speak up for privatizing schools, whether they called their advocacy vouchers or charter schools or school choice, and to bankroll fake grassroots organizations pretending to a “movement” for the same.
One of the first wave of these fake black grassroots outfits, and it’s still around today, is BAEO, the Black Alliance for Educational Options. BAEO was originally created by a million dollar grant from the Bradley Foundation, which has spent more than $100 million on the creation of a “charter school movement.” BAEO got early supplemental funding from the Walton Family Foundation (the Wal-Mart heirs) and others, and sponsored the early career of Cory Booker. Now BAEO is prominently featured in the credits of Roland Martin’s YouTube videos in which Martin echoes Arne Duncan’s vicious old claim that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to public education in New Orleans.
For the record, after Katrina, the state of Louisiana closed more than a hundred New Orleans public schools and fired all their teachers and staff, seizing upon the disaster to create the nation’s first all-charter big city school system under what was called the New Orleans Recovery School District. Charter operators and contractors made fortunes, but New Orleans children didn’t do so well. In the ten years of the all charter Recover School District not a single RSD school rose to “A” level, despite the state’s continual lowering of standards to accommodate the failure of the all-charter system to deliver better results.
But a good hustler never lets mere facts get in the way. Real hustlers use whatever the means at hand to get the job done. So Roland’s job now is to blacken up his masters’ “movement” for charter schools. Toward that end, he’s heading up a supposed nationwide series of town hall meetings on the theme “School Choice Is the Black Choice.” So far, he's held meetings in DC and Atlanta, stacked with pro-charter and pro-privatization figures, citing bogus surveys and with few inputs on the part of actual advocates of public education. His Atlanta meeting was held at Ebeneezer Baptist, the pastorate of Daddy King, the father of Dr. Martin Luther King, which makes one wonder how much of the black church has signed on to the corporate agenda of school privatization.
Roland Martin claims he’d like to see real discussion and debate on how to get the best educational outcomes for black children. He likes to say he’s for whatever works. But like his sponsors, Roland just doesn’t believe public education works. Roland does not, in his interviews, articles, tweets and meetings, lead debates and discussions about what works in the field of education and what doesn’t. He simply tweets and repeats the same trite messaging, blackened up a little for his BET audience, that deceptive advocates of privatization always do, that “school choice” empowers parents, who can if we de-fund the public schools, “choose” the best alternative. He bleats and tweets his sponsors’ narrative that public schools in black areas are “failing” and must urgently be replaced with something – anything but publicly funded, publicly accountable schools.
Roland is no innocent fool. One cannot do PR for an industry and be ignorant of how it works. Roland knows perfectly well that public schools have been deliberately underfunded and under-resourced for two decades to create a demand for charter schools. Roland knows that school “choice” is a cruel hoax because charter schools get to choose their students and parents, not necessarily the other way around, that charter schools routinely reject or expel children with disabilities or low test scores, can can reject children for any reason they choose. He knows that charter schools can often hire underqualified teachers and contractors, and have few if any safeguards against fraud and profiteering, and he knows his sponsors are working hard to prevent any meaningful oversight of their new hustle.
The Obama years were good for Roland and his sponsors. They had the first black president firmly in their corner. Obama hired his basketball buddy Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. As CEO of the Chicago Public Schools Duncan fired thousands of black teachers without cause and privatized dozens of schools. President Obama handed Duncan $4 billion in one-time stimulus money which the administration used to coerce school districts around the country to close and privatize thousands of public schools and fire tens or hundreds of thousands of teachers. Obama’s second Secretary of Education John King had never attended or served in a public school either, and was an outspoken advocate of charter schools over public ones, but at least he had actually run a charter school or two.
The Trump years are shaping up good for Roland as well. Obama and Trump pretty much agree on replacing public schools with charters, as did Obama and McCain and Obama and Romney. But Trump’s naked racism means his policies will need blackening up by able stooges like Roland Martin. On the issue of education there seems very little daylight between Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Education and Roland. Here’s what Roland’s BAEO sponsors said on yesterday’s selection of Betsey DeVos as Trump’s Secretary of Education:
"BAEO congratulates Betsy DeVos on becoming our next Secretary of Education. She is a very gifted and well-respected education leader with a proven track record of advancing excellence and equity for students. She has been a strong champion for parental choice, ensuring that all children, regardless of race or economic status, have access to excellent schools.
"DeVos has spent much of her life working on behalf of low-income and working-class Black families who just want access to better educational options for their children. She will be a strong supporter of parental choice policies and education reform initiatives that we believe will help close the academic achievement gap.
That’s the side Roland is hustling for. The side of the charter school sugar daddies. The side of crooked black celebrity charter operators. The side of vulture capital, the privatizers and the one percent.
Roland is no journalist. He doesn't investigate or break news. He’s carries no empowering message to the masses. He’s not explaining to ordinary people how the system works. He’s not revealing truths the rich and powerful would rather stay hidden. Instead he speaks to us on their behalf. Roland is working for the one percent, under this president and the last one, blackening up and selling us policies that destroy communities and stunt the future of our children. Roland Martin IS that hustla ova there.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and serves as co-chair of the GA Green Party. He can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.