Florida’s so-called education authorities are still desperately trying to justify the new standards approved by the state’s board of education, which requires teachers to teach that enslaved people benefited from their enslavement because it taught them skills. (It also requires teaching students that Black people also committed acts of violence during anti-Black race massacres like Tulsa and Ocoee, but that aspect has largely been buried under the pro-slavery benefits lede.)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently tried to justify the diet white supremacy curriculum by speculating that “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.” DeSantis added that “scholars” put together the standards, which he said were “rooted in whatever is factual.” (I mean, scholars are also responsible for critical race theory, the concept of white privilege and The 1619 Project, but whatever.)
Now, two of Florida education officials responsible for the new standards, William Allen and Frances Presley Rice—who are both Black (because, you know, they had to trot out their “Black friends” to justify this white nonsense)—have put out a statement that not only justifies the new standards but disingenuously frames the criticism of the standards as an effort to reduce enslaved people to victimhood. (I mean, seriously, they’re really applying the “everybody wants to play the victim” narrative to actual victims of chattel slavery.)
“The intent of this particular benchmark clarification is to show that some slaves developed highly specialized trades from which they benefitted. This is factual and well documented,” Allen and Rice wrote in a joint statement. “Any attempt to reduce slaves to just victims of oppression fails to recognize their strength, courage and resiliency during a difficult time in American history.”
Now, before we get into how many of the pro-slavery internship claims made by the new standard’s crafters were debunked by people who actually care about Black history, I need to point out that, even if the contents in the new curriculum were factual, DeSantis, Allen and Rice are all completely missing the point of the outrage.
Regarding Florida’s new “education” requirements, everyone needs to ask themselves one important question: What is the educational value of teaching that slaves benefited from slavery?
If one were to say that the Holocaust benefited Jewish people because they got really good at finding clever hiding places while attempting to escape genocide, the response would be obvious: So TF what? Besides being antisemitic as hell, it would be useless information that does nothing to enhance the story of anti-Jewish oppression. The only reason for it would be to dilute the reality that it’s a story about and only about oppression. The same applies here.
Let’s say it’s true that Africans went into slavery not knowing any skills. (It’s not, but let’s just say it is for the sake of a stupid and blatantly racist argument.)
White people learned the same skills while being free and afforded the right to shape their own futures and destinies. It’s reasonable to expect that some enslaved people learned shills they didn’t have before while being forced to use what they learned to benefit their white owners, but it is not reasonable (actually, it’s absurd) to assert that teaching about those learned skills doesn’t still “reduce slaves to just victims of oppression.”
Anyway, as it turns out, these new standards that are supposedly “rooted in whatever is factual” are, in many instances, well, not so much.
From Mother Jones:
The statement includes several examples of such historic figures, including blacksmiths, shoemakers, fishing and shipping industry workers, tailors, and ironically enough, teachers. But, it appears these Florida educators didn’t do their homework. As critics were quick to note, many of the “examples” listed in the statement were never slaves, or they launched their respective professions only after gaining their freedom.
The Tampa Bay Times pointed out several examples, including Booker T. Washington, listed in the statement as a teacher. “Washington was enslaved but did not gain his skills until after being freed at age 9,” the paper notes. “He worked in mines and as a houseboy before entering school, according to Tuskegee University, which he founded in 1881.”
Here are some other examples, courtesy of the Times:
• The department listed Henry Blair as a slave who became a blacksmith and an inventor. Biography.com and several other sites state there is no information indicating that Blair was enslaved. He invented a corn planter and a cotton planter, becoming the second Black person to earn a U.S. patent.
• The department referred to Paul Cuffe as a shoemaker and shipowner born into slavery and escaped to freedom in 1781. According to PaulCuffe.org, operated by the Westport Historical Society, Cuffe was born in 1759 to an emancipated slave. Having worked on whaling boats starting at age 14, he established a shipping business in Massachusetts.
• The statement mentioned John Chavis as a fisherman born into slavery, who later was known for his work in teaching. The North Carolina Museum of History states that Chavis was born into a free Black family in North Carolina, fought in the Revolutionary War and became an educator.
Texas A&M statistics Ph.D. student Alexander Coulter also provided examples of Florida’s Black history arbiters failing at Black history.
Coulter cited a grand total of 16 times Florida’s new standards were inaccurate in their examples of Black people being low-key lucky to be slaves. (Almost half of them weren’t even slaves. Imagine accusing folks of trying to “reduce slaves to just victims of oppression” while making victims of slavery out of people who were not victims of slavery.)
Again, pointing out the inaccuracies in Florida’s “slaves benefited from slavery” narrative, while noble and truthful, is, in many ways, besides the point. Conservatives are attempting to put a positive spin on America’s racist history in order to prioritize patriotism (actually jingoism) over truth. The fact that they’re including ahistorical Black “history” in their “educational” requirements is really just icing on that white supremacist cake.
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