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“It’s really disheartening.” Milwaukee teacher says anti-CRT ad aired during Packer game used her video without permission

Screen capture from Mrs. Harris's TikTok video.

A Milwaukee Public School teacher is considering legal action after an anti-critical-race-theory political ad used a portion of a social media video she posted without her permission.

The ad asserts there are “two theories on race in America,” and features nearly one minute of a viral video posted in 2021 by conservative internet personality Kory Yeshua, who asserts that critical race theory (CRT) “wants to end” racial equality. The ad does not describe or define CRT, which is a set of ideas holding that racial bias is inherent in many parts of western society, usually applied as a theoretical framework in advanced educational and research settings.

The video says another theory on race “seeks to divide us by race,” and then shows a few seconds of a teacher identified as Mrs. Harris leading a pledge of allegiance “to the flag of the Afro-American people.” 

Harris, who is identified in the ad as a teacher at Martin Luther King, Junior School in Milwaukee, posted on Twitter Monday that she did not give permission for the advertiser to reproduce her video or use her likeness in the ad.

She told Madison365 in an interview Wednesday that she is consulting attorneys and considering legal action against the company Be Good to Kids, which ran the ad.

The ad ran during the Green Bay Packers game versus the Chicago Bears on Sunday on at least four Wisconsin television stations, Federal Communications Commission records show. Be Good to Kids spent at least $176,000 to air the ad once, and records indicate it will continue to run in the future, though it’s not clear when or for how long. 

It does not appear that the ad has run in neighboring states.

Radio station WORT reported Monday that Be Good to Kids was registered as an LLC in Ohio by David Langdon of Langdon Law. Langdon was exposed in 2015 by Politico as a conduit for so-called “dark money” fueling many far-right causes. Ohio Secretary of State records indicate he has registered more than 70 limited liability companies and corporations just this year with names like Cincinnati Tea Party Association, Parents Against Stupid Stuff, Center for Christian Virtue and Ohioans for Christian Virtue.

Federal Communications Commission records, however, indicate that Be Good to Kids is headquartered in Vancouver, Washington. Public filings related to the ad list Tom Pahlke as the group’s treasurer.

Attempts to reach either Langdon or Pahlke were unsuccessful.

Yeshua did not respond to questions as to whether he gave permission to use his video in the ad.

Generally speaking, it can be legally permissible under “fair use doctrine” to reproduce a portion of a creative work like a video for purposes of education, commentary, criticism or parody. However, it is often deemed illegal to appropriate someone’s likeness without permission for financial gain, as in an advertisement.

University of Wisconsin law professor and media law expert Anuj Desai said Harris would have a difficult case, because the reproduced clip is used in the ad for purposes of criticism, which is permissible under fair use. Further, the ad does not imply that she endorses a product or position.

Yeshua, on the other hand, could have a copyright claim if he did not give permission for Be Good to Kids to use his video, as the ad clearly implies that he endorses the Be Good to Kids position.

In any case, Harris said the short clip was taken out of context. The school where she teaches has been an African American immersion school for nearly 30 years. That doesn’t mean its student body is exclusively Black, though it is located in a predominantly Black neighborhood and about 95 percent of the students are Black, according to Department of Public Instruction records. Rather, it means the curriculum is immersed in Black culture and African history.

The full video is below:

@thespicyteachermke The pan-African flag pledge with Room 203! #AfricanCentered #Pledge #TeachersofTikTok #TeachersofInsta #FirstGrade ♬ original sound – TheSpicyTeacher

“The scholars that are there are immersed in African culture,” Harris said. “It is in the language that we use with our students. We call the morning meeting Mbongi. We use call and response greetings that are in African languages. It is immersed in our curriculum.”

The video in question was recorded during the Mbongi, the morning meeting. (Mbongi is a Kikongo word meaning “learning place” that often refers to a community gathering.) 

“We do the Pledge of Allegiance, they do the African American pledge, and then it’s followed by a few other things, and then we kind of talk about our day,” she said. “This is something that you would see routinely in our school in all of our classrooms. It’s not just something that is that only I do.”

Harris said she posted the video in hopes of amplifying the Black teaching experience.

“I think it’s so important to draw attention to my school,” she said. “(MLK Jr School) is one of the only public African American immersion schools in the United States of America …  I think that it’s so important to show other educators ways that you can affirm Black children in the classroom space.”

This isn’t the first time Harris’s video has gone viral; the far-right internet personality Chaya Raichik reposted the video using her Libs of TikTok account, and Harris said other conservative media figures, including Tucker Carlson and Glenn Beck, used the video as fodder for their audiences. Harris said her personal information was made public and she received harassment and death threats, and her school was inundated with demands to fire her.

For this reason, Madison365 has not shared anything of her identity that’s not already identified in the video.

“It’s really disheartening, as a teacher, with all of the things that I have to deal with just being a teacher every single day, to now have to defend myself against attacks that I’m indoctrinating children, and I’m teaching critical race theory, and I’m a racist,” she said. “And all of this vitriolic response that’s coming my way, because somebody took not even five seconds of a video that I made to just show a brief glimpse of what it’s like to be a teacher at an African American immersion school. It’s just very sad.”