The standards in Florida for teaching middle schoolers about African American history require that they learn “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefits.” High schoolers are to be taught about the “violence perpetrated against and by African Americans” during the race riots of the early twentieth century, as in the case of Tulsa.
For those who are not fluent in the language of white supremacy, allow me to translate what middle schoolers are being taught: “Slavery wasn’t all that bad. It was beneficial for these primitive savages from the Dark continent. Thanks to the benevolence of whites, they were able to develop civilizing skills which provided personal benefits as they moved up the evolutionary scale toward more human qualities.”
As to the translation for what high schoolers will be taught: “There are good people on both sides. Not only were Blacks killed during these riots, but so were whites. This is a tragedy where both sides suffered.”
The person most responsible for this racist revision of history is Gov. Ron DeSantis, who fancies himself to be the Martin Luther King, Jr. of white people – striving to overcome their oppression at the hands of the “Black communism” of critical race theory and “cultural Marxism.” “Florida,” DeSantis crowed during his 2022 reelection victory speech, “is where woke goes to die.” Florida is also where truth and education go to die.
During an earlier 2021 rally to unveil his Stop WOKE Act, he equated diversity training with “creat[ing] a hostile work environment” for whites. Unlike King, Jr., who sought unity under the ideology of equality for all, DeSantis instead strokes resentment against Black Lives Matter – what he calls a “radical organization.” “Just understand,” the governor explained, “that when you hear ‘equity’ used, that is just an ability for people to smuggle in their ideology. . . no taxpayer dollars should be used to teach our kids to hate our country or hate each other.”
But it is never enough to simply silence those who advocate wokeness – awareness of how social structures contribute to racism and ethnic discrimination (as well as sexism, heterosexism, and classism). DeSantis’ crusade against wokeness is – in the final analysis – white supremist propaganda. Rewriting history is an attempt to limit awareness of social structures’ complicity in denying personhood to those who are of color. But it is never enough to simply repress bodies; minds must also be controlled.
The Martinique post- colonialist thinker – Frantz Fanon – probably said it best: “Perhaps we have not sufficiently demonstrated that colonialism is not simply content to impose its rule upon the present and the future of a dominated country. Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it.”
Minds become colonized when one begins to see oneself through the eyes of the dominant culture and interpret one’s history and reality primarily by those who have power to determine what is the official story. When euroamericans become the sole interpreters of history and reality, everyone else is condemned.
Why? Because eurochristian intellectual concepts maintain and sustain white supremacy, which operates as legislated technologies of discipline. What better way to advance the discipline of ignorance than to transform the classroom into a space of indoctrination, a space which reinforces white supremacy?
Controlling what those relegated to the underside of U.S. history are taught is the surest way to control their minds. We are reminded of the insight voiced by Carter G. Woodson back in 1933.
Son of African slaves and among the first to study Black history, Woodson stated: “If you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think, you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it for himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door, he will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.”
If knowledge indeed is power, then marginalization can be perpetuated by censuring truth and fabricating history. DeSantis’ standards are the back door to education by which people of color are expected to enter with a grin on their faces.
Students forced to sit in classes where history is literally whitewashed are exposed to abuse, undergoing a form of corrective therapy. The imposition of a denial of the history and reality of minoritized communities is conducted so that all can instead conform to what euroamericans deem to be nonthreatening to them.
Regardless of the gaslighting accusations of the dominant culture, which is busy banning books in classrooms and libraries, communities of color have no desire to “cancel” Kant, Kierkegaard, or Krause. Instead, what is sought is a refusal to accept eurocentric thought as universal for all of humanity.
Although foundational for eurochristian thought – bless their hearts – they remain problematic for U.S. minoritized communities. And while they may very well make important contributions to Eurochristianity, they remain damning to nonwhites because they fundamentally seek to cancel the thinking of those on their margins by colonizing the minds of communities falling short of whiteness, teaching them to see and define themselves through the gaze of the colonizers.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.