Florida has justly earned its recent reputation as the most dysfunctional, surreal, and outlandish state in the nation.
The so-called Sunshine State continues to promote high-profile lunacy. Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the new, updated framework for how Black history will be taught in K-12 schools, including guidelines that slavery was beneficial to enslaved people.
Yes, you read that last sentence correctly.
William Allen and Frances Presley Rice, both members of the working group that developed the new guidelines, said in a statement the new language describing how slaves learned specialized skills was meant to show that they were not merely victims.
A statement from Allen, a political scientist, and Presley Rice, an author who co founded a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about the roles African Americans have played in the nation’s history, asserted that “Florida students deserve to learn how slaves took advantage of whatever circumstances they were in to benefit themselves and the community of African descendants.”
Needless to say, many have made it clear they are not going to allow such bull to go unchallenged. Vice President Kamala Harris commented on the guidelines during a speech in Jacksonville: “It is not only misleading, but also false and pushing propaganda, pushing propaganda on our children.”
Harris further criticized Florida’s new standards for requiring high schools to teach that Black Americans were perpetrators in some racially motivated massacres. She described these lessons as efforts by “extremists” to replace “history with lies.” The vice president stated that such an assertion was “not only insulting but absurd,” pointing to how slavery entailed torture, separated families, and reinforced the belief that some people are less than human.
“How is it that anyone could suggest in the midst of these atrocities that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?” Harris said.
Her comments were applauded and supported by NAACP President Derrick Johnson “for prioritizing the preservation and accurate teaching” of our country’s history.
“Let’s be clear—these hate-inspired policies are a cancer that, if not stopped, will spread throughout this nation, destroying hard-won victories and setting us back decades, if not centuries,” Johnson said.
Even some Black conservatives weighed in on the controversy. Former Texas Rep. Will Hurd, who announced last month he was running to capture the Republican presidential nomination, blasted the idea that enslaved people were able to use slavery as some kind of training program.
“Slavery wasn’t a jobs program that taught beneficial skills,” Hurd, the son of a Black father and a white mother, tweeted: “It was literally dehumanizing and subjugated people as property because they lacked any rights or freedoms.”
To be sure, DeSantis is not the only conservative who has ridiculously and obscenely downplayed the horrors of slavery. The ample, rambling level of commentary in support of slavery on conservative websites is astounding. The alarming fact is that many of these posters are very likely genuine in their misguided viewpoints.
One can only wonder what would make any rational, decent human being suggest slavery – or at least parts of it – was a good thing. The fact is slavery was violent and responsible for the deaths of millions of people. It destroyed families, economically decimated entire populations of people, and robbed individuals of their religion and cultural heritage. The results still linger with us today. There was nothing “positive” about it. This is particularly true of the millions who were lashed down by its cruel and rapacious spirit.
Denying such hard truths will not bring us closer to any sort of racial reconciliation. Acknowledging that such injustices occurred, and then making a committed effort to acknowledging and tackling the issue is the only viable solution for addressing such past abuse.
Perhaps Wwhite people like DeSantis, the individuals who were instrumental in crafting such odious guidelines, and others who feel the need to make perverse justifications for slavery by arguing that it was a “supposedly benign” institution should allow themselves to be bound in chains, taken to an unknown land, sold to the highest bidder, and then let things play out from there.
Better yet, they should take a long, deep, hard look in the mirror of their souls (assuming they have one) and ask themselves: “Am I defending what I would want for myself?”
I think we all can pretty much anticipate what the answer would be.
Copyright 2023 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.