The Florida Board of Education approved Wednesday a new set of standards for the teaching of African American history, one that promotes a blatant distortion of the past and is the latest in the state’s ongoing effort to gloss over the brutal facts of history to accommodate the feelings of white people desperate to remain in denial.
The Florida Board of Education approved a set of standards for African American history that gloss over the brutal facts of history to accommodate the feelings of white people desperate to remain in denial.
For example, according to the state’s new guidelines, instructors will be expected to teach students that enslaved Black people “developed skills” that “could be applied for their personal benefit.” Instructors are also expected to discuss “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans” when teaching students about mob violence.
Under the leadership of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a presidential candidate who characterizes himself as being on a nationwide crusade against “wokeness,” Florida has been at the center of an ongoing effort to erase the perspectives of Black people in the classroom — and whitewash American history. In January, the Florida Department of Education rejected a first version of the African American Studies AP course after claiming that it lacked educational value.
Rather than offer its students courses that provide a full and honest accounting of the past, Florida is choosing to dishonestly keep its students ignorant of this country’s (and that state’s) history.
The apologist framing of slavery as providing some “personal benefit” to those who were enslaved is appalling and deeply offensive. Slavery was a violent and dehumanizing institution that attempted to strip Black people of personhood. It was a brutal and exploitative economic and labor system, which for 250 years relegated Black people to nothing more than property.
These are the facts. And they should be taught to students in Florida schools, and in schools across the nation, without sugarcoating and without censorship.
In a statement, NAACP president Derrick Johnson called Florida’s latest move “an attempt to bring our country back to a 19th century America where Black life was not valued, nor our rights protected.” He declared it “imperative that we understand that the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow were a violation of human rights and represent the darkest period in American history.”
To his point about the long aftermath of slavery, Florida’s new standards also promote a false equivalency between white supremacist violence and Black militant resistance. By claiming that instruction should include “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans,” the Florida Board of Education is complicit in upholding racism and white supremacy.
The 1921 Tulsa massacre, one of the historical developments highlighted in the new standards, underscores the dangers of conflating white people launching attacks against Black communities with Black people protecting themselves from white people attacking them. The “against and by” language in the new guidelines implies that the 1921 Tulsa massacre was the result of African American violence, but the historical record reveals that it was one of many examples of white supremacist mob violence.
The “against and by” language in the new guidelines implies that the 1921 Tulsa massacre was the result of African American violence.
On May 31, 1921, Dick Rowland, a Black teenager, was falsely accused of having assaulted Sarah Page, a young white woman. White Tulsa residents, with support from law enforcement, unleashed violence and destruction in the Greenwood district, known as “Black Wall Street.” White mobs burned down more than 1,200 homes, businesses and Black-owned institutions, including churches and schools, representing millions of dollars in hard-earned Black wealth. The destruction displaced thousands of Black residents, who were forced to relocate to nearby states.
Under Florida’s new guidelines, it is unlikely that students will be taught these details. Instructors will be expected to attempt a both-sides framework that highlights “violence” on the part of African Americans in Tulsa. In truth, any acts of so-called violence by African Americans during the Tulsa massacre represented a concerted effort to defend their lives and property — and resist subjugation and domination.
The same holds true for so-called “race riots” in Florida, where, in 1920, white people slaughtered at least 30 Black people in Ocoee for attempting to vote and where, in 1923, white people burned down the Black town of Rosewood.
Full knowledge of this history is necessary if we hope to build an equitable and just society for future generations.
What the 1920 Ocoee massacre, the 1921 Tulsa massacre and the 1923 Rosewood massacre reveal is how white supremacist violence and terrorism have shaped the history of Florida — and United States history in general. The Florida Board of Education and DeSantis would prefer to shield students from this fact.
But as Johnson, the NAACP president, said, we must teach the full, unadulterated truth of the horrors of slavery and the violence of white supremacy, even if it makes some Americans feel uncomfortable. Full knowledge of this history is necessary if we hope to build an equitable and just society for future generations. Students in Florida and across the nation deserve history classes that teach them the facts and don’t avoid the truth to appease those who don’t like how the truth makes them feel.