In the Fascist State of Florida, Gov. Ron Desantis is trying to erase Black American history in his pursuit of White Christian Nationalism. Dean Obeidallah writes, Polls reveal the real reason Ron DeSantis is fighting the teaching of Black history (excerpt):
The backlash is rightfully growing to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blocking a proposed Advanced Placement course on African American studies from being taught in Florida high schools. Black leaders held a rally in Florida denouncing DeSantis; prominent lawyer Ben Crump threatened to sue DeSantis and his administration on behalf of Black students; and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, called out DeSantis as an “extremist.”
If you think this backlash will cause DeSantis to back down, then you don’t understand what’s at play. Despite his claim that he wants to ensure that Florida’s students are not “indoctrinated,” that’s not what his opposition is about. It is solely about DeSantis making himself more popular with the GOP base in order to win the 2024 presidential nomination. That’s why parsing through his stated objections to this AP course is a waste of time. In DeSantis’ view, banning a Black history course will make him more popular. This is what toxic white identity politics looks like.
After all, the legal basis for the ban on this AP African American studies course is the “Stop WOKE” Act DeSantis championed and signed into law in 2022. Portions of the Florida law that deal with employers and public colleges have been put on hold in two separate federal court decisions. In the November ruling addressing public universities and colleges, the judge slammed the law by quoting the first sentence of 1984, George Orwell’s famous novel about life under a totalitarian government: “‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,’ and the powers in charge of Florida’s public university system have declared the State has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of ‘freedom.’” The judge added, “This is positively dystopian.”
The “Stop WOKE” law was part of the national GOP’s war on what they dubbed “critical race theory” (“CRT”) designed to curtail, and even ban, discussions on race in schools. Florida is one of 18 GOP-controlled states that enacted such law between 2021 and 2022. So-called CRT bans are supported by supported by 80% of Republicans nationwide, which the ambitious DeSantis fully grasps.
In Arizona, HB2458 (2023), sponsored by Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, would prevent schools from teaching that any racial or ethnic group is inherently superior, that individuals are racist because of their race, and other related concepts. The bill passed out of the education and Rules Committees on party-line votes. Similar restrictions were included in a state budget bill passed in June 2021, although the Arizona Supreme Court found these restrictions unconstitutional in November, citing a provision in the state’s constitution requiring bills to only address one subject. The state department of education has said that the 2021 law is unenforceable. Hence the renewed effort in 2023.
Republican voters’ hostility to teaching Black history in school did not happen overnight but has been building over the past two decades. As Michael Tesler, a political science professor at the University of California at Irvine noted in a 2018 analysis for The Washington Post, in 2000, the percentage of Americans who thought too much Black history was being taught in public schools was in the single digits for Democrats and in the single digits for Republicans. Tesler noted that “Democrats haven’t changed in the past two decades. Republicans, however, are now 30 points more likely to say schools should teach less black history.”
For that analysis, Tesler also cited a February 2018 poll which found that a third of people who’d voted for Donald Trump in 2016 believed “American children should solely be taught about Western civilization and European / US History.”
Why do so many white Republicans oppose teaching about Black history and racism? Recent polls that find white Republicans are increasingly describing themselves as being equally subject to discrimination as people of color.
In 2015, only 38% of white Republicans responded that white people face a lot of discrimination. That’s the year that Trump lauched a presidential campaign that was also a white grievance campaign. More recent polls suggest a massive change. Last year, CNN referred to the work of Emily Ekins of The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. She found that 73% of those who voted for Trump in 2020 believe “today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”
This rise of perceived white victimhood in the GOP helps explain why DeSantis is publicly defending the ban on the AP African American studies course, claiming that somehow the course “is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids.” Don’t be surprised if we soon learn of Republicans pushing to ban all Black history from being taught in schools. In fact, the next logical step is for politicians such as DeSantis to push for courses that teach how white people have suffered unjustly in American because of their race!
But this is not limited to Gov. Desantis’ effort to erase Black history. He also seeks to erase the LGBTQ community from American society in his pursuit of White Christian Nationalism. Remember his “Don’t Say Gay” bill?
Arizona Republicans are following his lead on this as well. The Arizona Mirror reports, Critics say Arizona book ban bill could marginalize trans kids:
Senate Bill 1700 would ban books that are sexual, promote gender fluidity or gender pronouns or “groom children into normalizing pedophilia.” The end result may be banning well-known and beloved books.
Under the bill’s provisions, the Arizona Department of Education is required to create rules and procedures for establishing and maintaining a list of books that public schools in Arizona may not use or make available to students, along with procedures for parents to submit books to be included on the list.
“The bill could put a ban on some of the most beloved and iconic pieces of literature in our public schools. Books such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ ‘The Color Purple,’ ‘The Great Gatsby,’ ‘Of Mice and Men’ — all of these books contain themes that could be deemed as lewd or sexual but give incredible insight to the human experience,” said Watson.
I have read all of these books. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books.
Sen. Justine Wadsack, the Tucson Republican [QAnon] who introduced the bill, argued before the Senate Education Committee that the bill “is not about a disagreement as to whether the book is likable or not, it’s about if it’s describing sexual acts, masturbation or private parts.”
You mean like the Bible? There’s all kinds of sex going on in there.
Some steps toward book prohibition in Arizona schools have already been implemented.
This includes a 2022 law to ban books that reference or use sexually explicit material without consent from parents that went into effect on Sept. 24, 2022.
Anastasia Tsakis, a real estate agent who’s running for the Vail School District governing board, argued that “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” should be taken out of the curriculum because it contains descriptions or references to masturbation.
Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, a Tucson Democrat and a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribal nation, responded to Tsakis’ comment explaining that she reads the book to her grandchildren. The book was written by Sherman Alexie, an accomplished Native American writer and Gonzalez said “there’s nothing wrong with children reading that book.”
This bill passed through the Republican-controlled committee by a vote of 4-3, along party lines. It heads next to the full Senate for consideration.
Jason Stanley writes at The Guardian, Banning ideas and authors is not a ‘culture war’ – it’s fascism:
A wave of Republican enthusiasm for banning concepts, authors and books is sweeping across the United States. Forty-four states have proposed bans on the teaching of “divisive concepts”, and 18 states have passed them.
Florida’s Stop Woke Act bans the teaching of eight categories of concepts, including concepts that suggest that “a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex”. Many of the laws also target Nikole Hannah-Jones’s influential 1619 Project.
These laws have already started to take effect. Administrators and teachers have been forced out of their positions on the suspicion of violating these laws, and what has started as a trickle may soon become a flood.
In January, Florida’s board of education banned AP African American studies, on the grounds that it included concepts forbidden by Governor Ron DeSantis’s law, including critical race theory and intersectionality, as well as authors such as Kimberlé Crenshaw, bell hooks, Roderick Ferguson, Angela Davis and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The College Board chose to remove these authors and subjects from its curriculum, claiming, as it turns out dubiously, that it did so independently of Florida’s pressure.
These laws have been represented by many as a “culture war”. This framing is a dangerous falsification of reality. A culture war is a conflict of values between different groups. In a diverse, pluralistic democracy, one should expect frequent conflicts. Yet laws criminalizing educators’ speech are no such thing – unlike a culture war, the GOP’s recent turn has no place in a democracy. To understand why, consider their consequences.
The concepts these laws centrally target include addressing structural racism, intersectionality and critical race theory.
Structural racism is the view that certain persisting structures and practices have resulted in unjust racial outcomes, for example the American racial wealth gap, where Black Americans have 10% of the wealth of white Americans.
In a celebrated essay for The Atlantic, Coates – one of the banned authors – investigated banking and mortgage practices of redlining and lending that left Black Americans for generations unable to acquire wealth through purchasing homes.
Intersectionality, introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw in widely cited and impactful work, is the concept that certain groups are at the intersection of multiple oppressions – for example, Black women face discrimination not just for their race but also for their gender (and that such discrimination takes its own unique form).
Finally, critical race theory is, in essence, the study of these concepts: the ways practices in various domains – in housing, schooling, banking, policing, and the criminal legal system – entrench persisting racial disparities and inequalities (such as the racial wealth gap, or segregated schools), even when there is no individual racist intent.
The laws are manifestly incoherent. The failure to teach about structural racism will make Black children born into poverty feel that their parents and grandparents are responsible for their own impoverished position relative to white children, and so will make Black children feel “anguish or other forms of psychological distress” because of “actions … committed in the past by other members of the same race”. The “anguish” and “psychological distress” these laws forbid are only anguish felt by the dominant racial group, white Americans.
In other national contexts, everyone would clearly recognize the problematic nature of laws of this sort. Germany’s teaching of its Nazi past creates clear anguish and guilt in German children (and perhaps for this reason, Germany is the world’s most stable liberal democracy). If the German far right passed laws forbidding schools from teaching about the sins of Nazism, on the grounds that such teaching does in fact quite obviously cause anguish and guilt in German children, the world would not stand for it for one moment. Even Israel’s far-right government strenuously objected when Poland drafted a law that would make it illegal to suggest that Poland had any responsibility for Nazi atrocities on its soil. Why isn’t there greater outcry when such laws are passed to protect the innocence of white Americans?
It is frequently claimed by proponents of such laws that banning discussion of structural racism and intersectionality is freeing schools of indoctrination. And yet indoctrination rarely takes place by allowing the free flow of ideas. Indoctrination instead rather takes places by banning ideas. Celebrating the banning of authors and concepts as “freedom from indoctrination” is as Orwellian as politics gets.
So what is the ultimate goal of these bans? In the first instance, these laws are there to protect white innocence – that is why they are so popular with many white parents, who carry their own burdens of guilt (similar laws would be popular with many Germans, for the same reason). But there are deeper and more problematic aims of these laws.
Democracy involves informed decision-making about policy. These laws are intended to render such deliberation impossible when it comes to minority groups. The United States suffers from immense racial disparities, which result in periodic outbreaks of political protest. Without an understanding of the structural factors that keep schools and cities segregated, and certain populations impoverished, Americans will not be able to react to these outbreaks with understanding – they will find them befuddling. These laws eliminate the knowledge and understanding required to react democratically to Black political protest to structural injustice.
The authors targeted by these laws do not just theorize about problematic structures – their work is also essential for understanding solutions. For example, Roderick Ferguson writes about social movements for liberation, including student movements. These laws make it illegal to teach students about the history and strategy of social movements targeting structural injustice. More generally, these laws make it illegal to teach students about how to form social movements to challenge dominant interests and structures.
Most frighteningly, these laws are meant to intimidate educators, to punish them for speaking freely by threatening their jobs, their teaching licenses, and more. The passing of these laws signals the dawn of a new authoritarian age in the United States, where the state uses laws restricting speech to intimidate, bully and punish educators, forcing them to submit to the ideology of the dominant majority or lose their livelihoods, and even their freedom.
Mistrust of schools and demonization of teachers has become a central tenet of conservative politics, via @glorihuh https://t.co/MJ45WeFSWA
— Arizona Mirror (@ArizonaMirror) February 15, 2023
It is clear that the chief agenda of the GOP is to advance a set of speech laws that criminalize discussion in schools of anything but the white heterosexual majority’s perspective. The media’s portrayal of these laws as moves in the “culture wars” is an unconscionable misrepresentation of fascism.
According to a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, most Republicans surveyed view themselves as either Christian nationalist sympathizers (33%) or adherents (21%). While most Democrats lean toward rejecting Christian nationalism, with 36% of them indicating they are skeptics of the ideology and 47% saying they reject it.
Only 10% of Americans surveyed in total view themselves as adherents of Christian nationalism and around 19% said they sympathize with these views, according to the PRRI and Brookings study. That’s a stark difference from the 21% of Republicans who say they are adherents and 33% who say they are sympathizers.
Researchers found that half of Christian nationalism adherents and nearly 4 in 10 sympathizers said they support the idea of an authoritarian leader in order to keep Christian values in American society.
Those who identify with Christian nationalism also believe that being Christian is an important part of being “truly American.”
So, unsurprisingly, researchers found that supporters of Christian nationalist views often hold anti-Black, anti-immigrant, antisemitic, anti-Muslim and patriarchal views as well.