Recently Florida Government Ron DeSantis announced a slavery curriculum for the state’s public education.
Let’s read the news and find out why this curriculum is dangerous.
Why Ron DeSantis’s Florida slavery curriculum is so dangerous
During the mid-20th century, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which consisted of female descendants of Confederate soldiers, aimed to restore the reputation of slavery a generation after the Civil War.
Their main focus was to reinstate the country’s social structure to its previous racial hierarchy by portraying slavery as a harmless institution and honoring the “lost cause” of white Southern rebels who had tried to topple the government in defense of slavery. Their effort to revise history was concentrated mainly on schools.
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In one of its most successful campaigns, the UDC called for the widespread adoption of textbooks that trivialized the horrors of slavery.
As a result, a 1954 middle school textbook titled History of Georgia claimed that a typical enslaver “often had a barbecue or picnic for his slaves. The [enslaved] often had a great frolic. Even while working in the cotton fields, they sang songs.” (It’s no coincidence that the book was published the same year the NAACP won a Supreme Court case to desegregate public schools.)
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And while most contemporary school lessons have moved toward acknowledging that slavery and its post-Jim Crow era were scandalous, organized efforts were frequent incidents in protest of teaching accurate racial history.
The legacy of the UDC amendment recently resurfaced in Florida when Republican governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis introduced legislation that would de-emphasize racism in the state’s public education curriculum.
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Last week, DeSantis announced that Florida’s lessons would teach students that slavery benefited African Americans who “acquired skills” that “eventually … enabled them to do other things”.
Civil-rights leaders, educators, and scholars criticized criticism of the brutality of slavery as ignorance at best and deliberate misrepresentation at worst.
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Vice President Kamala Harris also reacted, calling the policy an attempt to “replace history with lies.”
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The reaction to DeSantis’ move is appropriate and necessary, but most critics fail to recognize the deep frailty of the Florida law.
What the creators of this law are attempting to do – as the UDC attempted a century ago – is to propel a political right and preserve conservative white rule in a country with rapidly changing demographics.
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By denying the real evils of slavery, DeSantis is working to absolve the US government of the obligation to rectify its current inequalities.
The violence of slavery was not limited to a series of heinous acts committed in the past, and it also involved a deliberate process of propaganda that enabled future generations to perpetuate the power that violence generated.
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Although DeSantis’ career has depended heavily on gaining power by rejecting violence, political strategy is not his invention.
Denying violence has long been a hallmark of the modern world’s most repressive regimes. Take, for example, the British Empire.
During her 21st birthday address in 1947, the heir apparent, Elizabeth II, memorably declared that her life would be “in the service of our great Royal Family, to which we all belong.”
His characterization of Britain’s unrelenting and exploitative colonial system as “service” and his claim of a “royal family” that included subjugated African, Asian, and Caribbean peoples are examples of the same whitewashing tactics employed by DeSantis.
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Even his efforts to ban “controversial” texts were rebuffed – the British crown consistently banned books that challenged colonial rule in conquered territories.
Another world power that has tried to destroy the historical record is Turkey, regarding the government’s refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.
To aid its denial, Turkey spent millions of dollars to control the genocide story and enacted laws that defined the term “genocide” as the killing, starvation, and forced expulsion of an estimated 800,000 to 1.5 million Armenians.
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Used to criminalize anyone who used the word accurately. Country from 1915 to 1916. Even today, Turkish loyalists dismiss dissidents who speak out about the genocide as having an agenda or being supported by foreign agitators.
Ultimately, regimes take advantage of disinformation about the past as the truth threatens their hold on power. But it should not surprise anyone when these strategies to gain political mileage also dominate today’s issues. DeSantis’ war on reality doesn’t stop at slavery.
During the pandemic, his administration banned masks, quarantines, and vaccines. It suppressed facts about the growing number of Covid cases, even as the death toll for Floridians surpassed that of other states.
Reporting the information DeSantis and his supporters distort in textbooks and other messages is important. However, it is equally important that the denial of violence does not ignore its greater danger to society. Organized efforts to document and disseminate the truth of our past are our most important defense against disinformation.
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