The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

The Official Student News Media of Southeastern Louisiana University

The Lion's Roar

OPINION | Desantis’ reprehensible assault on Black educational freedom

Kennith Woods

This story is the first installment of a series on Florida Gov. Ron Desantis’ increasingly authoritarian policies regarding education and minoritized populations.  

On Saturday, Aug. 23, 21-year-old Ryan Palmeter murdered three Black people in a Jacksonville, Fla. Dollar General. The victims were 19-year-old Anolt Joseph “A.J.” Laguerre Jr., 52-year-old Angela Michelle Carr and 29-year-old Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion. 

The shooting was an inarguable act of hate; Palmeter drew swastikas on his guns and wrote multiple manifestos both for his parents and the media. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attempted to speak at a vigil following the shooting but was met with a chorus of boos from a mostly-Black crowd. For Black Floridians and onlookers such as myself, the boos were a brief, cathartic respite from the otherwise never-ending onslaught of hate and White supremacy so many people of color face daily. 

The Sunshine State is, as Desantis says, “Where woke goes to die.” In reality, it seems to have transformed into the nation’s graveyard for Black history – and in the case of the August shooting, Black people themselves. Consequently, DeSantis deserved every second of indignant disapproval from his constituents. 

DeSantis’ bigoted administration and presidential campaign are leading a new age of American fascism that began during the Trump era. His attacks against Black educational freedom have turned Florida into the country’s blueprint for anti-Black fascism. 

The general public frequently has misconceptions about fascism. The far-right political ideology revolves around maintaining socioeconomic hierarchy by demonizing populations through legal and social discrimination. The head of state’s fascist regime preaches a national myth of former glory ruined by the oppressed population; these racist lies are meant to encourage and justify violence against them and preserve capitalism, the real culprit of any nation’s decline.

Violence and power are key components of fascism; the Nazis, the most famous example of a fascist regime, used state power to produce anti-semitic propaganda, falsely blaming Jewish people for Germany’s economic collapse following WWI, leading to the Holocaust in which six million Jewish people were murdered. 

Conservatives often utilize dog whistles such as “woke,” “indoctrination” and “critical race theory” (CRT) as a means to justify their crusades against racial educational programs. For example, at the high school level, Florida’s Department of Education banned AP African American Studies, a course offering college credit upon passing the AP exam, from being taught in the state. 

The state’s justification for banning the course was, according to them, that the curriculum attempted to indoctrinate students by teaching them CRT. For years now, Republicans have used CRT to limit Black educational freedom and they’ve successfully turned the complex theory into a wellspring of racist moral panic; the term has become so warped by rampant, intentional misuse that now, CRT is a catch-all term for any educational discussion on race.

In reality, CRT began as a highly advanced law course designed to teach students about systemic racism in American institutions and has grown into its own area of scholarly research. Moreover, a course of this nature is not being taught in public schools. AP African American Studies teaches students about important Black figures and events in American history, such as Reconstruction and the Harlem Renaissance. 

Denying students the ability to take AP African American Studies, as well as lying about the course’s actual curriculum, is an assault on Black history itself. DeSantis is sending a clear message: the Black American experience will not be chronicled in Florida.   

On Monday, May 15, DeSantis signed Senate Bill 266, a shockingly oppressive piece of legislation that bans “the state’s public colleges and universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs.” 

The Florida legislature has dropped all pretenses of “protecting children” by actively targeting college programs and classes. The law’s vague wording means DEI programs could include any classes about or extracurriculars for minoritized populations and considering the law’s House counterpart, House Bill 999, that is the legislature’s goal. 

The bill would ban programs teaching all critical theory, such as CRT, radical feminist theory and queer theory. In April, Ian Stewart, The Lion’s Roar’s opinions editor, wrote about how members of Florida A&M University’s Divine 9 voiced concern over the potential for these legislations to lay waste on programs centered around minoritized populations, including the Greek organization and multicultural student unions. 

If a similar law were passed in Louisiana, organizations such as SLU’s Black Student Union, MISA and the Lavender Lions would all be at risk.  

The Republican legislature’s attacks and threats against programs, courses and activities for minoritized people are meant to scare higher educational institutions into submission. 

Grown adults decide to be involved in these programs; no one forces them to engage. In Florida, Black college students, Black courses and Black extracurricular programs are at the mercy of the legislature. The self-proclaimed “Party of Freedom” once again shows its disdain for freedom exercised by populations they loathe.    

In a stunning move made by the Florida Board of Education (BOE), they decided students will now have to learn that slavery actually benefited Black people. 

DeSantis said he had no part in creating the new curriculum; nevertheless, he defended its inclusion, saying “[the new curriculum is] probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life.” 

The notion is ridiculous even on its surface. For the majority of slaves in America pre-emancipation, any skills they learned were not “parlayed into doing things later in life,” but were rather taken with them to their early graves. 

For freed slaves, abolition was followed by nearly a century of sharecropping, Jim Crow segregation and fascist violence via the KKK. Black people had their ability to build generational wealth stolen from them through systemic forces, meaning any skills they “learned” while enslaved were rendered moot. 

Delving beneath the surface, though, reveals how the entire “slavery helped Black people” premise is wholly untrue. In “African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Freedom,” Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Hackett Fischer explained how slaves were already trained in many skills before arriving in America. 

Slave owners targeted African communities with specific types of expertise, such as building irrigation systems, a skill common in West Africa. They had nothing to do with honing slaves’ abilities. For decision-makers in Florida’s education system, though, the idea that Black people have autonomy is so preposterous, they’d rather teach children fiction. 

The BOE’s assertion that Black people benefitted from bondage is utterly disrespectful to the millions of slaves who were beaten, raped, cannibalized and murdered by their owners, and it pushes an insipid White supremacist pro-slavery perspective. 

Answer me this: between providing kids the freedom to learn and engage with Black history or forcefully teaching them about slavery’s “benefits” – which one sounds more like indoctrination to you?  

Finally, in a recent development in Florida’s attacks against Black educational freedom, the BOE approved the use of PragerU Kids in K-12 classrooms. The online platform is an animated video series starring two children as they interact with various historical figures.

PragerU Kids, owned by Dennis Prager, the infamous right-wing radio host, is unaccredited and explicitly conservative. DeSantis and his Republican cronies have been waffling nonstop about the supposed left-wing indoctrination taking place in American schools. Yet, they approve a video platform with the specific intention of swaying children into right-wing beliefs? How odd. 

Of course, the platform itself is awful and its statements on history are misleading or outright inaccurate. Among the many notable clips that went viral following PragerU Kids’ approval was one featuring an animated Frederick Douglass saying slavery was a necessary “compromise in order to achieve something great, the making of the United States.” 

His animated character then said the U.S. “began the conversation to end [slavery];” actually, multiple countries banned slavery before America. 

Douglass was a former slave and abolitionist in real life. It is repulsive to use a man who spent his entire life fighting against bondage as a mouthpiece for excusing slavery.    

Florida’s brazen educational policies deploy an array of falsehoods to hide America’s distraught racial history. Their lies have consequences: not only do students learn woefully inaccurate information, but demonizing Black history breeds hatred for Black people, which leads to tragedy. 

Laguerre Jr., Carr and Gallion were murdered because White supremacy was and is allowed to run rampant in Florida. DeSantis’ policies only add fuel to the blaze. I fear how these policies could be implemented in other states and how they will affect fellow Black Americans, my brothers and sisters and myself. 

Gov. DeSantis, you cannot truthfully tell the story of America without reciting my people’s history and it is insulting to see you try. To oppressors such as yourself, socioeconomic hierarchy is a crucial component of life, and you’ve shown that so long as Florida is under your control, Black people will always be last, our history obscured from the spotlight.

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About the Contributor
Kennith Woods
Kennith Woods, Editor-in-Chief
Kennith Woods is a sophomore communication major with a concentration in television and multimedia journalism and a creative writing minor. A resident of Prairieville, Kennith is The Lion’s Roar’s newly-minted news editor. His passion for progressive change within our communities is the driving factor behind his educational pursuits, as he wants to use journalism to facilitate vital information to the public and simultaneously serve as a mouthpiece for the people’s needs and concerns.
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    Gabe MorseOct 3, 2023 at 3:22 pm

    Excellent piece, very well presented and evocative. Florida’s recent policy shifts have been disastrous for education and dangerous for all minority groups, LGBT and African Americans in particular.