Opinion | Florida and DeSantis are offering an advanced lesson against blackness

Commentary

There’s a saying that goes, “White privilege is when your history is the core curriculum and mine is an elective.” Well, for Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis (R), black history isn’t even worth that bare minimum.

Last week, it was revealed that the Florida Department of Education had sent a letter to the College Board, saying it would not adopt the board’s new Advanced Placement African-American studies course for its public schools. The course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law,” the letter said, “and significantly lacks educational value.”

Meanwhile, AP courses in European history, American history, world history, US government and politics, and other subjects, in multiple languages, remain intact.

For the uninitiated: The College Board has offered AP courses and exams in a variety of subjects for high school students for decades. The course material is supposed to be more intensive and mimics what would be offered at the college level. For high school students who do well on their AP exams, many colleges and universities offer freshman course credit.

Today, there should be no question that African-American studies deserve AP treatment. It is crucial that all students have access to this history and this knowledge and that scholars in the field have the opportunity to reach out to the younger generations.

Opinion: By blocking an AP Black course of studies, DeSantis tells us who he is

The availability of this course would also be very significant for black students. Study after study has shown that black students are likely to engage more and perform better in school when their identities and histories are asserted, and in ways that go beyond fetishizing black trauma. I was an AP student myself, scoring well enough on European and American history tests for college credit. But I’ll never forget how humiliating it was to ask my teacher why we weren’t learning about Africa and black people when the histories of so many other groups were considered essential.

The AP African American Studies course isn’t even formalized yet; It is in a pilot phase. For a decade, a group of African-American academics has been working to develop the program. Only 60 schools nationwide are testing it for the 2022-2023 academic year, though the College Board hopes to roll it out nationwide by the 2024-2025 school year.

DeSantis’s move, therefore, can be seen as a preemptive strike, in the continuation of all his recent attempts to cut off efforts to teach tomorrow’s adults about African-Americans and their place in history.

This would be a slap in the face at any time. But DeSantis’ latest escalation comes during the same month as the 100th anniversary of the infamous Rosewood massacre, when white residents destroyed the all-black town of Rosewood, Florida. It’s more like stabbing black Floridians’ backs with a hot knife.

And surely Florida is a testing ground. It will most likely only be a matter of time before conservative groups in other states use their institutional power to attack AP Black Studies as well.

The history of the African American experience in the United States can never be erased. But the bastions of white power in this country are doing everything they can to eradicate it. In 2020, the whole world saw a white police officer eradicate George Floyd on camera. Diversity and inclusion programs are being eradicated from schools and corporations. Now, one state is using its power to eradicate the (elective!) inclusion of the African-American experience in education.

First, more colleges and universities should come together to say they will recognize AP African American Studies and give freshmen credit for the AP exam. With those incentives, it stands to reason that more students and educators would want to see the course offered in high schools.

Second, universities must continue to expand their offerings of African American history and African American studies, including majors, minors, and graduate degrees.

There are also legal challenges in the works. Janai S. Nelson, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told my colleague Jennifer Rubin, “AP courses are college-level courses that, by extension, are protected by the First Amendment, and the specific guidance of African American studies is evidence of unlawful racial discrimination.”

But let me walk away. I would be remiss not to point out that this should be a teachable moment for all of us, especially white people, about the failure to rein in the post-Black Lives Matter normalization of anti-blackness.

As soon as the panic over the “awakening” in schools and the alleged teaching of critical race theory hit the mainstream, many black journalists could smell what was coming. Laws against critical race theory and legislation such as Florida’s Stop Woke Law (another DeSantis special that has faced legal challenges) were always anti-black.

I have tried to drive home this point over and over again in my writings and in conversations with well-meaning people who wanted to understand why the right cared. I heard people insist that if we just explained what critical race theory was, we could win by embarrassing conservatives who were banning non-existent critical race theory courses. Those people were wrong.

Instead, by pointing to AP African American studies, Florida shows us what the end game was always about: making institutional anti-Blackness legal again.

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