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A jobs program, indeed...
Governor DeSantis wants us to ask the Florida Department of Education about their new curriculum extolling the benefits of slavery. \They want us to believe it is nothing more than a Vo-Tech program— with chains. Don’t ask him— ever again.
Sure, Governor DeSantis, we will. Should we also ask them more existential questions about slavery in the United States? Is there, for example, a better rationalization for family separation that was a staple of slavery? Or how about touting the economic benefits that enriched so few for so long at the expense of so many to this day? Finally, do you think parents really want to send their impressionable children to the bastions of propaganda that DeSantis and his ilk have visited upon Florida with taxpayer dollars, Governor?
"If you have any questions about it just ask the Department of Education. But, I mean, these were scholars that put this together," DeSantis said. "This is not anything that was done politically...”
"Democrats like Kamala Harris have to lie about Florida's educational standards to cover for their agenda of indoctrinating students and pushing sexual topics onto children. Florida stands in their way and we will continue to expose their agenda and their lies," tweeted DeSantis…
Nice work if you can get it…
Because the concept of slaves benefitting from their own enslavement is so intensely absurd, many on the right, like FOX News replacement nerd for the now banished Tucker Carlson tried to explain the reasoning, with a word-for-word circular argument that would have him flunk Pre-K sandbox logic :
“No one is arguing slaves benefited from slavery… No one is saying that. It’s not true. They are teaching how Black people develop skills during slavery in some instances that can be applied for their own personal benefit.” (emphasis mine)
The Florida curriculum tweak attempts to sell a story straight out of Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda “Big Lie” playbook which became a stand-in for truth in a fascist state:
“It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion.”
The repulsiveness of the Florida Department of Education's decision to find a semblance of worth and value in the institution of slavery begs deeper questions:
does the department wish to compare the lives of slaves and the benefits they accrued to those of slave owners?
should there be reparations from a white community whose economy and inherited wealth were enhanced by forced labor?
how does the department want to deal with the unsavory elements such as the mistreatment of these fellow human beings and the use of their children as forced laborers, the whippings and lynchings, and the raping of their women in the practice they have proclaimed a “jobs program”?
The Florida Board of Ed would certainly have developed a required lesson plan or two to whitewash these indelicacies found in the historical record.
A Fascist Flashback
Before we become even more inured of the fascist propaganda the right-wing lunatics have imposed upon us, we mustn’t forget that this is done in the name of their war on something they have created and have chosen to fight. Again, their logic is in goosestep with that of Goebbels who employed a similar straw man argument targeting Jews and German intellectuals:
A Jew is for me an object of disgust. I feel like vomiting when I see one. Christ could not possibly have been a Jew. It is not necessary to prove that scientifically - it is a fact. I do not need to prove this with science or scholarship. It is so!
There was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted and would anyway always yield to the stronger, and this will always be "the man in the street." Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect. Truth was unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology.
The dumbing-down of Florida’s youth is not simply an exercise in political deception and an attempt to please a base— it is a far more nefarious plot to manufacture a base for the future. And it is not simply happening in the ironically dubbed “sunshine state”, but is a staple anti-science-education-intellectual fascist worldview.
Back-Stepping into it
For his part, the putative caboose to Donald Trump’s renomination circus train, DeSantis is trying to erase any hint of past racism. The tactic has redounded on the governor and has magnified the current racist thread running through him and the current MAGA-jacked GOP. His attempt over the weekend to walk back his own complicity only underlined the extent to which he is ensnared by the paradoxical position Republican candidates share trying to walk the fine line between running against the ex-president while drunk with the need to placate his base. Each day his candidacy flounders, his prospects for any office fades. He may one day conclude that the devil’s bargain he so eagerly entered required his soul only as a toss-in. The meat of his self-betrayal has been a loss of what could have been a lifetime of political legitimacy for a moment’s worth of power:
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is intensifying his efforts to de-emphasize racism in his state’s public school curriculum by arguing that some Black people benefited from being enslaved and defending his state’s new African American history standards that civil rights leaders and scholars say misrepresents centuries of U.S. reality.
“They’re probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life,” (emphasis mine)
Not So Healthy Skepticism
There is a belief among many, one that I suppose is a literal truth, that this, too, will pass. I write that in sadness— as a citizen, as a retired educator, as a dad, and as a human— since it punctuates a lifetime of belief that this wouldn’t, no couldn’t, happen here. But it is happening and in a way that challenges all that has transpired during the historical period those in Florida are trying to erase. That it is happening today, after surviving a history we thought we had learned from, questions our resolve as our nation as we continue to slow-walk equality for all but the privileged.
I am a fan of James Baldwin’s writing— have been since my college days. But near the end of his life in an interview in the documentary film James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket, in which he shares his frustrations with many who question white folk testing the vast dwindling pool of patience expected of America’s formerly enslaved:
“What is it you want me to reconcile myself to? . . . You always told me it takes time. It has taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brothers’ and my sisters’ time, my nieces’ and my nephews’ time. How much time do you want for your ‘progress’?”
— James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket
Governor DeSantis has tapped into a moral and ethical quandary that will either consume the American promise of freedom and equality or will once again be postponed by our better angels. Any thoughts that an end to the current fascist movement and its maniacal focus on race and delusional sense of superiority is in the works should end with reminders from our recent past. Joseph Goebbels’ words reach out from like fingernails on classroom chalkboards grating our senses and dispelling our sense of complacency:
Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.
This, unfortunately, is the America we now live in, an America in which even our history can be stolen and placed in the service of scoundrels— an America Blacks have lived through since their ancestors first walked our shores for the first time in slave chains.