Friday, June 21, 2024

Ron DeSantis isn’t just erasing Black history, he’s erasing progress

Ron DeSantis, erasing Black history,
(Adobe Stock 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.

When many people think of violence against civil rights, they rarely think of the classroom. However, because of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, that’s starting to change. While the textbook Disney villain recently announced his presidential bid, it comes on the heels of his blatant attacks on our civil rights. One of the clearest examples is his attempt to weaken the public education system by banning books, attacking diversity, equity and inclusion programs and rejecting AP African-American studies courses. Over the last few years, DeSantis has led a crusade to ban books centered around Black history — fundamentally placing roadblocks on what students can learn and blatantly whitewashing Black history. 

Banning books about Black history doesn’t just erase past Black leaders, it erases the possibility of a future with progress, equity and racial justice — a future we are actively advocating for now. DeSantis’ obsession with dismantling equitable learning is absolutely rooted in white supremacy, and we must combat it as such. Through his attacks on Black history in the classrooms and critical race theory at the collegiate level, he’s attempting to cripple our progress at the expense of bright, young minds. That’s exactly why this fight will require us, as a collective, to make real change.

My upbringing was shaped by the support of dynamic Black women, teachers and historical figures who inspired and guided me. I couldn’t imagine a world where my daughter and other Black children won’t have those opportunities, but if DeSantis has his way, it’ll be a reality. It’s another injustice that Black parents now have to think about when it comes to the future of education. 

When Toni Morrison debuted “The Bluest Eye,” it was one of the earliest examples of Black storytelling for many that introduced a more nuanced view of Black womanhood. Now, it’s among a litany of Black texts that have been banned in Florida. While the ban on that book has been lifted, it’s worth noting that it shouldn’t have been banned in the first place. DeSantis is using this crusade against Black books and authors as a Trojan horse to accomplish what he really wants — a crusade against Black history and equitable learning overall. His recent signing of a bill that would defund DEI programs at Florida public colleges is a clear indicator of that. Other states, like Texas, have followed suit to erase any examples of Black joy, resistance and liberation that live within textbooks. That’s why we stand in solidarity with Black authors like George M. Johnson, a former recipient of the Color of Change’s Black History Now Award, whose book centered around the Black queer experience was banned. These bans on books by Black and queer authors will be detrimental to the public school system as we know it.

Florida travel advisory, Ron DeSantis, erasing Black history,
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis arrives at the Foreign Office to visit Britain’s Foreign Secretary in London, Friday, April 28, 2023. Des Moines. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, File)

In April, the Florida State Board of Education (FLBOE) made a decision to broaden the scope of the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. This expansion now includes a prohibition on discussing topics related to gender and sexuality in K-12 classrooms throughout the state. Color of Change recently called on GEICO, a partner of FLBOE, to sever its ties and stand up for LGBTQ+ rights. Through these actions, DeSantis is creating a conservative playbook on what it means to harm our most vulnerable communities under the guise of respectability. Coincidentally enough, the same courses rooted in gender and sexuality that DeSantis is attempting to destroy are the very courses needed to facilitate healthy childhood development. When children are exposed to communities that may differ from their own, it teaches them kindness, compassion and empathy.

As DeSantis continues to poison the public education system through his racially charged logic, it illuminates something else. His attempt to whitewash Black history is the erasure of a right that even he was afforded. His rise through the political sphere was marked by stints at Ivy League institutions where he surely learned about Black historical greats. He likely learned about them in his formative years as well. Why is it that all students will be made to suffer without the very knowledge he’s used to propel his political pursuits?

For someone who intends to lead the “Great American Comeback,” DeSantis is making it hard, and soon, illegal, for teachers to teach important parts of history. This purposeful denial of Black history will result in the crippling of the school system as children and teachers will be forced to reduce their capacities to learn and teach. Should he become successful in these disgusting attempts, some children could grow up with biases and then become powerful decision-makers, and all children will be unable to academically excel at their best.

Thankfully, voices like Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw and Danielle Atkinson have been highlighting the repercussions of dismantling critical race theory and DEI courses. Color of Change collaborated with Dr. Crenshaw for our #BlackHistoryNow series, discussing the importance of intersectionality experienced by Black women daily. Oppression based on race and gender intensifies when other intersecting identities shape our perspectives. It’s crucial because conservatives exploit our lack of awareness, gaining power while persecuting us. Real change requires recognizing the obstacles. DeSantis and his supporters are actively perpetuating racial disparities in education, which is evident in his bill defunding DEI programs in Florida universities. 

This impedes meaningful discussions on race at the college level and sets the precedent for future injustices in academia. Learning should not be legislated. It’s worth noting that Illinois recently became the first state to prohibit such censorship, illuminating light on this dark era, but there’s so much more that needs to be done.

We are advocating for our education system because the consequences will be grave. Advocating for our education system requires taking a direct stand against DeSantis and his political platform, which has been emboldened by white supremacy and racist rhetoric. Black history is American history, and we must defend it and ensure that all students have equitable learning.

Jade Magnus Ogunnaike is the vice president of corporate power at Color of Change. 

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