Friday, July 19, 2024

Florida teaching students that slavery benefited Black people is another effort to cover up racism

Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis delivers remarks at the 2023 Christians United for Israel summit on July 17, 2023 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Florida’s new educational standards requiring public schools to teach students that slavery benefited some Black people are a disgusting and disgraceful effort to whitewash America’s racist past. 

The 216-page standards for social studies, adopted unanimously Wednesday by the Florida Board of Education, say students must be taught that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” The standards substitute vile propaganda for education and lies for the truth about an evil institution that had absolutely no redeeming value. None.

Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black person to hold that office, traveled to Florida on Friday to attack the new standards. She said the standards “insult us in an attempt to gaslight us and we will not stand for it.”

The vice president is right. The standards are a painful insult not just to millions of Black Americans like me, whose ancestors were captured in Africa, enslaved and deprived of all human rights. The standards are an insult to every American. Florida has no right to require schools to put a pretty face on one of the ugliest episodes of our nation’s history. 

And in yet another insult, the lying standards say that when students are taught about violent white racist attacks on Black Americans — such as the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, in which as many as 300 people (almost all of them Black) were killed — the lessons must focus on “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.” 

By African Americans? This equates Black people defending themselves with the white racists attacking them. Outrageous!

What’s next? Requiring Florida schools to teach that Jewish people benefited from the Holocaust that murdered six million of them? Teaching that Native Americans benefited from being killed by U.S. troops, having their land confiscated and being confined to reservations? Teaching about the supposed benefits of slavery is just as big of a lie.

Florida’s exercise in educational malpractice and the poisoning of young minds is an outgrowth of the Stop WOKE (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) Act signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seeking his party’s presidential nomination.

The law makes it illegal to tell students and employees that anyone is oppressed or privileged because of the person’s race or skin color and bars any instruction that could make someone “feel guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress” because of his or her race color, national origin or sex.

Denying that racism exists is absurd and won’t make it go away. And of course, we all know that no white person who enslaved Black people is still alive today. No one believes the descendants of slaveholders are responsible for the sins of their ancestors. 

But it is absolutely impossible to teach the truth about slavery without upsetting anyone. 

Who, other than a racist who believes Black people are subhuman, would not be upset to learn how enslaved Blacks were treated like farm animals, how human beings could be owned by other humans and considered property, how enslaved women were routinely raped by their owners, how enslaved children could be ripped from their weeping mothers’ arms and sold, never to be seen again by their parents? How the enslaved could be murdered and no punishment be meted out to their murderers?

I understand that some issues involving Black Americans today can be debated. Does systemic racism still exist? Is race-based affirmative action good or bad? Are the descendants of enslaved people entitled to reparations?

But some things are so evil that they are beyond debate. Slavery is a prime example. So are Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South, denied Black people voting rights and made us second-class citizens in our own country for 100 years after slavery ended following the Civil War.

It’s frightening to think what educational standards DeSantis might try to impose on schools across the nation if he becomes president.

Might schools be required to teach students that enslaved Black people happily sang Negro spirituals as they joyfully picked cotton and learned how to farm, grateful for the free passage they received from what then-President Donald Trump in 2018 called “shithole countries” in Africa?

Yes, I know that sounds crazy. But what Florida has done already to distort education and lie to students is crazy. DeSantis says he is waging war on wokeness. In fact, he is waging war on the truth.

America is a wonderful country. I love our nation dearly, as do millions of Black Americans. But we all have an obligation to teach young people the truth about our country — the good, the bad and the ugly. 

Painting a fairy tale version of America for students in public schools, as Florida is attempting to do, is not an act of patriotism. It is an act of child abuse.

Donna Brazile Headshot

Donna Brazile is a veteran political strategist, Senior Advisor at Purple Strategies, New York Times bestselling author, Chair of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, and sought-after Emmy- and Peabody-award-winning media contributor to such outlets as ABC News, USA Today and TheGrio. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. Donna was the first Black American to serve as the manager of a major-party presidential campaign, running the campaign of Vice President Al Gore in 2000. She serves as an adjunct professor in the Women and Gender Studies Department at Georgetown University and served as the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University and as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. She has lectured at nearly 250 colleges and universities on diversity, equity and inclusion; women in leadership; and restoring civility in American politics.

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