New York’s East Side Community School recently sent a letter encouraging white parents to become “white traitors” and advocate for “white abolition.”
The message, sent by principal Mark Federman, showed a graphic outlining eight stages of white identity development—from the lowest form, “white supremacist,” to the intermediate forms of “white confessional” and “white traitor,” to the highest form, “white abolitionist.” The goal of this process, according to the graphic’s creator, Northwestern University professor Barnor Hesse, is to challenge the “regime of whiteness” and eventually to “subvert white authority” and “not [allow] whiteness to reassert itself.”
In the letter to parents, Federman went on a tirade against white conservatives, arguing that “racism and hate is often the underlying cause fueling their beliefs.” He denounced former president Donald Trump as a “lying, racist, sexist, classist, hateful, science-denying bully” and described the Trump supporters who attended the president’s January 6 rally as “a crowd of white supremacists.” Federman’s latest outburst came as no surprise, said one parent of children who no longer attend the school. The parent, who requested anonymity, said that Federman had pushed a divisive “progressive line” to students and families.
The language in Federman’s letter carries disturbing historical echoes. The Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis used the term “race traitor” to describe whites who crossed the color line to work, marry, or associate with nonwhites. The letter’s use of “white abolition” is also troubling. Federman and Hesse claim to want to abolish “whiteness” as a cultural and social construct, but they also use the term to describe an immutable racial essence. As University of New Mexico professor Geoffrey Miller has observed: “Applied to any other group, this would sound like a monstrous euphemism for mass extermination and cultural annihilation.”
This isn’t the first time that Federman has embroiled his school in controversy. In 2007, a 17-year-old student at East Side punched a school police officer in the face and was subsequently arrested. According to court records, Federman told the arresting officer to take the student out the back door to avoid embarrassment. When the officer refused, Federman blocked the officer from leaving the building through the front door and then “flailed his arms and kicked his legs to avoid being handcuffed when [he was] placed under arrest.” Police charged Federman with resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental administration (the court later dismissed the case against him).
In 2014, following the death of Eric Garner in police custody, Federman sent a letter to students asking them to join him in a protest march to petition the United States Attorney to file criminal charges against one of the New York Police officers involved. The Education Department reined him in, telling Federman that the protest was “unsafe, did not have enough educational value and showed bias toward one side.” Federman reluctantly withdrew official school support for the protest, but 70 of his students left class anyway and took the subway to Brooklyn to rally against the NYPD.
After I broke the news about these “white traitor” materials on social media, Federman sent another letter to parents. “I want to make it clear that I do not believe I did anything wrong,” he wrote in a schoolwide email, as the story quickly spread to the New York Post, Daily Mail, and other outlets. Federman then instructed school families not to speak to media. “Please do not reply to anyone. We do not want to encourage or engage these people. If anyone does email you, please share it with me,” he said.
“I was appalled” by the most recent messages about white abolition, said the parent whose children formerly attended the East Side Community School. Many school families share this opinion, according to this parent, but are “afraid to come forward” out of worry that they might be denounced as racists. The parent’s advice was simple: “We need to stop indoctrinating our youth and radicalizing them.”
Given the rise of critical race theory in public schools, this is easier said than done.