Now he has become an outright white supremacist and is banning the College Board’s Advanced Placement for African American studies course from Florida schools.
In what is certainly one of its most explicitly racist actions, the DeSantis administration has determined (on what basis?) to the College Board.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre spoke out about the move (while clarifying that the White House does not dictate the curriculum). Jean-Pierre stated that it’s “unfortunately not new from what we’re seeing, especially from Florida.” She pointed out that state officials “did not block AP European History. … They didn’t block our art history. But the state decides to block a course designed for high-achieving high school students to learn about their art and cultural history.” She called the decision “incomprehensible.”
I hate to point out – for fear of putting a target on its back – that the University of Florida has an esteemed African American Studies program (as does pretty much every other highly regarded university). “The African American Studies program is one of the fastest growing majors at UF,” explains the college’s website. “The degree program provides students with a variety of innovative courses by applying creative cultural teaching methods as they explore the African American experience.”
The university then provides essential historical context for the program: “Before 1958, a state law in Florida prohibited black participation in public universities in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. Between 1945 and 1958, 85 black students applied for admission to all levels of UF, and all were rejected.” The University of Florida, like many institutions in the South, was the site of “mass resistance” thereafter. Brown v. Board of Education mandatory desegregation:
In 1949, Virgil Hawkins was the public relations director of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach when he applied to law school at the University of Florida. Five other blacks applied to Hawkins for UF graduate and law programs, but all were denied. They sued the Florida Supreme Court for an order requiring UF to admit them. The state of Florida offered to send them out of the state. The Board of Control also approved the establishment of a separate law school [Florida A&M University]. …
The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Florida to register immediately [Hawkins] in 1957, but the Florida Supreme Court concluded that federal law may in some cases be superseded by state law (the now-discredited “interposition” doctrine). After appearing three times before the Florida Supreme Court and twice before the U.S. Supreme Court, Hawkins entered into a consent decree (agreed upon judgment) and agreed to drop his lawsuit in exchange for the integration of UF’s graduate and professional schools. Mr. Hawkins finally received his JD 27 years after he first applied to the University of Florida.
That sad chapter in Florida’s history gets to the heart of the problem. This is fact-based history, and Florida failed to explain how the AP course supposedly violated state law. When it refers to last year’s Stop WOKE law, which blocks the teaching of material that could make students feel guilty or responsible for historical racism, one has to wonder if something as simple and straightforward as the state’s own history of segregated education can be studied. .
The actions of the DeSantis administration belied the idea that the attack on “critical race theory” was aimed at “socialist ideas” or educationally suspect pedagogy. This is about rewriting history to erase a crucial part of our American experience, to deny the injustices done to millions of Americans and to release institutions from the obligation to look hard at righting wrongs from the past.
It will be interesting to see if former Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), the incoming president of the University of Florida, has anything to say about this decision. It offers an early test of whether he is a serious educator or a political hacker.
In any case, DeSantis can expect more lawsuits over this latest move to appease the right-wing base. Janai S. Nelson, president and council member of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told me, “If the new Advanced Placement Course on African American Studies violates Florida laws, as alleged by the Florida Department of Education, it only proves but the unconstitutionality of the laws of the state.” Her group’s lawsuit challenging the Stop WOKE Act received a temporary injunction, barring it from taking effect at colleges and universities based on the First Amendment.
Historically, an important aspect of white supremacy has been the denial of blacks’ own suffering, their historical experience, and their current scholarship. It is the ultimate expression of contempt for certain Americans as unworthy and peripheral to the narrative of “real” – read “white” – America. The goal here is undeniable: eradication of the African American historical experience.
“AP courses are college-level courses that are, by extension, protected by the First Amendment, and the specific targeting of African-American studies is evidence of unlawful racial discrimination,” Nelson said. “There is no question that the Florida Department of Education’s ban on AP African American Studies courses will also be challenged.”
The College Board is to be commended for developing an AP course in African American Studies. The long effort to exclude an entire history of America has sadly left millions of Americans ignorant.
I recently visited the magnificent “Great Wall of Los Angeles,” a half-mile mural painted in 1974 that tells the story of the city and its state from prehistoric times to modern times, including a series of notable African Americans, Latinos , immigrant, LGBTQ, and Native American figures and milestones in the civil rights struggle. I was shocked by the number of historically notable figures I had never heard of in school, including Mifflin W. Gibbs, Mary Ellen Pleasant, William A. Leidesdorff, Biddy Mason, Jeannette Rankin, and Charles Drew. (And while I’d heard about the Zoot Suit riots and the 1871 Chinese massacre in Los Angeles, they weren’t part of the K-12 curriculum, for example.)
DeSantis and those playing the white complaint may prefer that students never hear about such figures and incidents. But given the damage already done to undereducated Americans, perhaps African American studies (and a full study of the diverse American experience) should be included in each K-12 curriculum for each pupil.
Ron DeSantis should remind us that if we want a fully conscious, educated population capable of functioning as competent citizens in a diverse democracy, the rest of us must resist nefarious attempts to erase history.