Just in time for African American History Month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis banned the Advanced Placement African American history course for high school students, which was nearly a decade in the making.
It is yet another example of historical iconoclasm in the U.S. and proof that we need stories from which we can all draw meaning.
America can’t get its story straight. With the mythic tale of rugged individualism and domineering narratives that minoritize and marginalize segments of the population being called into question by younger generations, many Americans struggle to tell a story large enough to include everyone.
Too often, the stories we tell about African Americans don’t do justice to their history. Unwilling to address its foundational belief in race and, consequently, a color-coded human hierarchy, Americans remain divided on how the country came to be.
“Dominant societal narratives and discourses powerfully influence what gets storied and how it gets storied,” wrote David Anderson Hooker in The Little Book of Transformative Community Conferencing. “Transformation is desired when dominant discourses are also problem stories.”
Unfortunately, this country’s meaning-making narratives present enormous challenges for identity formation, community-building and reconciliation. “The paradox of education is precisely this — that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he [sic] is being educated,” James Baldwin warned. Awareness is a natural byproduct of education.
Whether metaphorically viewing America as a “melting pot” or through the lens of discovery by Christopher Columbus, both these stories call for cultural assimilation, or you face the threat of being labeled “un-American.” From a single story to a single category as Americans, the history of the First People is completely erased.
But “when you control a man’s [sic] thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand there or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it,” Carter G. Woodson wrote in The Miseducation of the Negro. “You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”
Woodson launched Negro History Week on February 7, 1926, and it would later become African American History Month. Woodson hoped focusing on African American history and scholarship would encourage its study throughout the year.
In the eyes of many African Americans, Ron DeSantis is ensuring that the educational system in Florida controls how they think about themselves and ensures that African Americans believe that their social position in America is in the back.
Thirty-eight AP courses offered including European History, German Language and Culture, Italian Language and Culture, and Latin were not blocked. What story does this tell?
“To the woke mob, Florida is where woke goes to die,” DeSantis said to a crowd as part of his inaugural address, kicking off his second term. The etymology of woke is derived from African American Vernacular English and means for this community to be “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).”
“Stay woke” is said to encourage vigilance. In the 2010s, it received national attention due to the Black Lives Matter movement and has since been coopted and pejoratively used by politicians. The Stop W.O.K.E. Act, the acronym stands for “Wrong to our Kids and Employees,” “prohibits certain concepts related to race.”
However, taking a word meant to ensure safety and politicizing its meaning while prohibiting storytelling about the African American community does not change history; it repeats it. Passing laws does not give anyone a pass to neglect the truth about America’s history, which includes African American history.
“As presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value,” the Florida Department of Education Office of Articulation said in a letter. The letter didn’t offer any explanation of what it found to be unlawful or unfounded.
So, there is a lesson in all of this. If we don’t tell our stories, don’t expect others to. In fact, they will make it illegal to. Stay woke.