Ron DeSantis is BANNING Black history as part of his strategy to win in 2024
DeSantis wants to be the GOP’s next Grand Wizard
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis graduated with honors from both Yale and then Harvard Law school. That means everything this two-time Ivy League graduate is doing is part of his coldly calculated strategy to replace Donald Trump as the GOP’s leader. And DeSantis fully understands that to lead the GOP you need to secure the support of the MAGA wing of the party—which is about 60% of the GOP base. How do you do that? Simple, appeal to their white victimhood and desire to ensure white supremacy.
That brings us to this past week when DeSantis’ Department of Education made headlines for banning an advanced placement African American studies course from being taught in Florida high schools. The College Board, which is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1900, unveiled plans to offer this AP African American studies class for the first-time last year. (The College Board is the entity principally responsible for administering advanced placement courses in various subjects at America’s public high schools and if high school students score highly enough in these AP courses, they can receive college credit.)
This African American studies course was being co-developed by acclaimed historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and was drawn from history, literature, political science, art and other subjects. But that was too much for DeSantis and his administration. They banned the proposed AP course saying it was, “contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” When pressed for answers by CNN, DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin said in a statement that the course “leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow.”
To block these course, Team DeSantis cited the “Stop WOKE Act” enacted last year as part of the GOP’s war on what they call “critical race theory.” This DeSantis championed law in essence prevents Florida schools from teaching subject matter that DeSantis has deemed “woke.” In fact, as DeSantis proclaimed just weeks ago when being sworn in his second term, “We reject this woke ideology…We will never surrender to the woke mob, adding, “Florida is where woke goes to die.”
What DeSantis should have really said is Florida is where history goes to die and whitewashing thrives.
Now you might be asking what exactly is “woke” to DeSantis? Great question. In fact, that’s the same question asked by a federal judge in December 2022 when multiple DeSantis officials appeared in court to defend the governor’s decision to suspend a local prosecutor whom DeSantis had termed a “woke ideologue.” The judge asked Ryan Newman, DeSantis’ general counsel, to define “woke.”
Newman answered that “woke” is “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.” Newman added that DeSantis does not believe systemic injustices exist in the United States. In the past, DeSantis has explicitly denied that systemic racism exists – characterizing the notion as “a bunch of horse manure.”
DeSantis knows better- he graduated from Harvard Law school with honors so he has seen data that backs up that systemic racism is very real, impacting people of color and especially Black Americans in everything from the criminal justice system to contributing to the wealth gap. But DeSantis has undoubtedly also seen polls that show nearly 75% of Republicans believe discrimination against white people has become as “big as a problem” as discrimination against people of color. If you want to win the GOP presidential nomination, you have to deny reality and say there is no such thing as systemic or institutional discrimination against people of color. In fact, you need to start talking about how white people are the biggest victims.
Getting back to the banning of the African American course, as a lawyer, I went and read the text of DeSantis’ “Stop WOKE Act.” At first blush, the law appears fair. For example, it provides that students should be taught about, “The history of African Americans” including “the development of slavery” in the United States along with “the contributions of African Americans to American society.”
But—and you knew there would be a but—the law also broadly empowers the state to ban any topics that cause an individual “to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.” In other words, if one student feels discomfort or guilt learning about how white Americana enslaved Blacks or how whites lynched Blacks Americans for simply trying to vote etc. then it must be banned. Same arguably goes for any Black achievements that make an insecure white person feel distress—it’s banned.
Does anyone believe a 3rd grader feels “anguish” or “guilt” because of the sins of white people from generations ago?! Of course not. But some of their right-wing parents do—especially if their family members helped enforce or benefitted from Jim Crow laws.
Students learning about Black achievement--as they would in the African American AP course DeSantis banned-- undoubtedly would also trigger distress to some of the right white because it undermines the myth that underpins white supremacy, which is that white people are inherently superior to people of color. That is why you hear white conservatives refer to people of color who get big jobs as “quota hires” because in their mind no racial minority could be superior to a white person.
What is the real-world impact of DeSantis anti-woke law? As a member Florida’s Classroom Teachers Association stated, “The vagueness of these laws is doing exactly what it was intended to do. It’s silencing teachers.”
Another teacher who has taught in Miami-Dade County’s public schools for 11 years told the local press: “How do you teach slavery? The slave trade? How do you teach these issues without talking about the participants and the roles they played?”
You can’t and that is the goal of the law. DeSantis wants slavery taught in a racially blind way so that teachers don’t mention that the slave owners were white and the enslaved people were Black.
The DeSantis whitewashing law has also had impact in another place in Florida educational system: Book bans. PEN America, a nonprofit group that advocates for free expression in literature, notes that Florida has the second most banned books in the nation—with Texas leading the way. Thanks to DeSantis, Florida has book bans in 21 of the state's school districts involving 566 titles. The majority of banned books contain themes or characters involving the LGBTQ community and people of color.
For example, in Duval County, Florida, the school board removed 176 books from schools for “review” in January 2022. These books feature characters representing a variety of ethnicities, religious affiliations, and gender identities—including titles such as “The Life of Rosa Parks,” “Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story,” and “The Gift of Ramadan.” These books have been kept in storage for 12 months with little indication of when they might return to classrooms. In other words, DeSantis has banned books that don’t teach a white, straight Christian version of America.
Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones, who is Black, in response to DeSantis’ ban of the African American studies course perfectly sums up the real-world impact. He stated powerfully, “This political extremism and its attack of Black History and Black people, is going to create an entire generation of Black children who won’t be able to see themselves reflected at all within their own education or in their own state.”
DeSantis wants to erase the history of Black Americans—both the achievements and the suffering--because it makes the bigots of the GOP base feel “discomfort.” What DeSantis is doing is not about education, it’s about cold, hard politics. DeSantis knows what makes the GOP base excited and he’s willing to sacrifice the education of the state’s children to win the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
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