By Josie Springer
[At a time when we should be commemorating Black history, some are trying to rewrite it. Image courtesy of The Guardian.]
While the rest of the country was celebrating Black history last month, Florida was busy trying to rewrite it.
Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis made headlines last year for his infamous “Don’t Say Gay” and “Stop W.O.K.E.” acts, which limited discussions on sexuality and race in school classrooms, respectively. More recently, DeSantis has threatened to ban College Board from piloting their new A.P. African American Studies class in the state, with claims that the original course framework violates state laws and is historically inaccurate. In response, the organization “watered down” the course’s nationwide curriculum, eliminating topics like mass incarceration, slavery reparations, and the Black Lives Matter movement. This move has faced nationwide criticism as an act of censorship that, unfortunately, may reflect today’s racial tensions more accurately than the compromised course ultimately will.
The College Board has released the course’s “new-and-improved” official framework online. In reading through the revised curriculum, it is evident that a number of contemporary and modern subjects have been cut down, shuffled around, or removed altogether. For example, the Black Panther Party isn’t included in the chapter titled Major Civil Rights Organizations, but instead has a separate, rather sparse chapter tacked onto its tail. The “essential knowledge” summary of the topic spans a mere three paragraphs, and reads, “…the FBI waged a campaign against the Black Panthers as a threat to national security.” It fails to mention the 1969 FBI-backed raid that resulted in the death of the Black Panther leader, Fred Hampton, and another member, Mark Clark. In fact, the course makes no mention of any racism or resistance past the 1960s; the Black Panther Party chapter is immediately followed by chapters on The Black Arts Movement and The Evolution of African American Music. While these topics fully deserve attention and celebration, they shouldn’t detract from discussions of yesterday’s and today’s oppression. The original course included discussions of police brutality and the resulting Black Lives Matter movement — but the revised framework contains no trace.
In place of these vital, yet axed discussions on present-day racism and resistance, the class will instead focus on historical resistances, like abolitionism and the civil rights movement. Unfortunately, this approach reflects the majority of today’s political approaches to race: “racism is in the past, move on”. These historical movements certainly deserve recognition and focus, but they shouldn’t be used to detract from modern issues that Black Americans face. They especially shouldn’t be weaponized for the sake of politicians like DeSantis, who has taken advantage of racial unrest to further his career by motivating his voter base with unfounded fears about critical race theory and its effects on white students, positing himself as a “defender of schoolchildren” in the face of woke culture.
In an article for the Seattle Times, Suneal Kolluri put it perfectly: “by attempting to appease everyone, the final curriculum will hurt African American students. The middle ground is often a perilous place for marginalized communities. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. long ago warned us of the dangers of moderation.
“‘I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice.’
“The College Board, the purveyor of AP curriculum responsible for the new African American studies course, seems to be the ‘white moderate’ here that King warned us about.”