March 3, 2024

Where Facts Go to Die

By Stephen Tuttle | July 29, 2023

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says Florida is “where woke goes to die.” He could have more accurately said Florida middle schools are where facts, history, and reality go to die.

Those Florida students will receive some interesting information about racism in general and slavery specifically in the new school year. What a shame much of it will be based on old, racist lies.

Under laws championed by DeSantis and recently passed by a compliant Florida Legislature, the appointed Florida Board of Education is creating new standards and all lessons involving race must be “objective,” “include both sides of the issue,” and may not “persuade students to a particular point of view.”

So, a subject like slavery cannot be taught with a particular point of view like, for instance, that slavery is completely and totally evil. No, students will be taught there are two sides to the issue, and this goes way beyond the usual excuses about state’s rights.

The new curriculum suggests students be taught that “…slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit…” Yes, this means teaching slavery was a vehicle for personal improvement because, you know, slaves learned things like carpentry and blacksmithing and agriculture. That slavery somehow improved the lot of slaves is an ancient and ugly racist trope now unpleasantly regurgitated by education officials in Florida.

Unwilling to back down from this offensive gibberish, two participants in the working group that came up with the new standards were quoted in the Miami Herald responding to criticism: “Florida students deserve to learn how slaves took advantage of whatever circumstance they were in to benefit themselves and the community of African descendants.”

“Took advantage of” and “benefit themselves” are interesting language choices that make it all seem not quite so terrible if there were advantages to be taken and benefits to be gained.

The lesson that should be taught is there is no advantage or benefit to being enslaved and never were. These are human beings who were kidnapped or captured and transported here in conditions so deplorable as many as 20 percent died en route according to The Resource Bank. Then they were sold like pieces of furniture, stripped of their given names while their families were ripped apart. Most slave children were forbidden from learning how to read, write, or do even basic arithmetic. The men were often shackled and whipped, and those trying to escape could be legally hunted down and killed. Women were raped, sometimes repeatedly, by slave owners. (There is a reason so many Black Americans still have traces of European DNA.)

Yes, some slaves, once freed, went on to become blacksmiths or cobblers or carpenters. But they could have just as easily learned those trades and made an income without being someone’s property and calling anyone “master.”

There is no benefit to being enslaved, and to suggest otherwise is racism at its most basic and naked.

Unfortunately, the Florida lesson re-writers weren’t quite done. They’ve decided the race riot and massacre in Ocoee, Florida, on Election Day, 1920; the Tulsa race massacre in June of 1921; and other race massacres should be described as “Acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.”

Here’s a brief refresher, courtesy of the Florida Historical Society: On November 2, 1920, a group of Black citizens attempted to vote in Ocoee, Florida, as they were legally entitled to do. They were met by members of the Ku Klux Klan who then followed and systematically murdered 50 of the would-be voters in what contemporaneous reporting described as a massacre with no mention of violence perpetrated by Black citizens.

In Tulsa, on May 31, 1921, as recounted by the Tulsa Historical Society, a young Black man entered an elevator with a white woman, who complained he had made advances, which he denied. It didn’t matter. At the time, the Greenwood District of Tulsa had successful and affluent Black business owners and professionals and had become known as the Black Wall Street. White Tulsa seized the opportunity to end that success, and for the next two days, white citizens, some deputized and armed by local officials, rampaged through Greenwood, looting, burning, and killing. When they were done, 35 blocks, the entire Greenwood District, had burned to the ground and somewhere between 35 and 300 people, all Black, had been killed. Press at the time referred to it as a “race massacre.”

There were no acts of violence by Black citizens precipitating or contributing to these events, regardless of what Florida teachers must now claim. It is absurd to believe there is another side to a massacre perpetrated by white sheet wearing thugs.

Or to teach children that, hey, at least those slaves learned useful trades while being owned, whipped, shackled, raped, hunted, lynched, and violated in every way imaginable.


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