An open letter to Superintendent Mark Johnson on white supremacy

Dear Mark,

I have some thoughts about the email you emerged from hibernation to send educators in North Carolina today. You know, the one where you publicly called for the resignation of a Black member of the State Board of Education who has dedicated his life to dismantling white supremacy?


I just mailed you a copy of White Fragility, a book which I think will help you process the strong feelings you’re experiencing and to better understand what white supremacy is. 

I even sprang for the gift wrap.

Here’s a little preview for you: 

White supremacist doesn’t always refer to individuals who are hiding a pointy white hat in their closets or openly expressing hatred for people who don’t look like them.  White supremacy refers to a system of racial domination which enables white people like you and me to control politics, business, etc. 

When people do what you did today and equate the term “white supremacist” with radical racial hate, that mis-definition–intentionally or not–obscures systems of oppression that need to be brought to light and prevents them from being addressed. 

Please don’t use school email for obscuring systems of oppression.

Now if you’re thinking to yourself “What systems of oppression?” it’s important to acknowledge that people who haven’t been victims of such systems find it harder to see them. 

That doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

The book says that naming white supremacy puts the full weight of responsibility for changing this dynamic on those who control the institutions.  At DPI that would currently be you, although I am delighted to say we will elect your replacement in 75 days, and you’ll be vaguely remembered as “that Istation guy” in the near future.

The person that takes over your job will lead a community of educators that is growing in our willingness to look at our history with the humility and honesty that you so clearly lack, to listen to others who have experienced things we have not, and to ask “What is my part and what can I do to make it better?”

Your book is scheduled to arrive on Monday.  I’m told that despite your public support for ‘in-person’ you’re working from home, so you’ll need to actually make a trip into the building to pick it up. 

Best wishes,

Justin Parmenter

3 thoughts on “An open letter to Superintendent Mark Johnson on white supremacy

  1. This response is a powerful demonstration of what it means to use your voice to dismantle racist talk, thinking, and policy. Thank you, Justin. Keep speaking!

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