Slavery was actually beneficial to Black people, according to a set of new rules around how Black American history is going to be taught in Florida’s public schools.
The new curriculum also includes assertions that Black people themselves perpetrated violence during historical racial massacres like the 1906 Atlanta race riot and the 1921 Tulsa massacre.
The slavery-was-actually-a-good-thing and there-were-bad-actors-on-all-sides bits are old, racist talking points that I’m not surprised to see Ron DeSantis shamelessly dredging up now that he’s on a national crusade to make himself as appealing as possible to the worst of white America. Using school curricula to delegitimize the horrors of slavery was an obvious next step, but we still need to call it what it is – white supremacy in government.
The historical revisionism being employed here has a singular goal – to erase the horrors of America’s racist past, legitimize far-right ideology and create easier pathways for racism to thrive.
Just look at what’s happening in Italy. For years, revisionists have redirected conversation about Italy’s role in the second world war away from its fascist crimes, effectively trivializing that past – and helping legitimize the county’s new far right. The prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, and her ilk simply refuse to acknowledge that Nazis and fascists were the bad guys in the war, and this ridiculous glossing over of Italy’s past has been extremely helpful to Italy’s contemporary far right.
That is what DeSantis wants for America. A systematic destruction of human rights followed by a reworking of our collective memory around race, so that ultimately the country’s most vulnerable people don’t have a leg to stand on in fighting for their most basic rights.
Let’s be clear, Black people did not benefit in any way from slavery. They were kidnapped from their motherland, trafficked to the Americas, abused, enslaved and killed – and their communities and cultural products continue to be pillaged and plundered to this day. In a way, the institutional attacks on public memory that we’re seeing help America get by without having to hold itself accountable for, well, any of it.
Slavery has always been the lightning rod for larger historical anti-Blackness, so if slavery itself isn’t that bad, then what does America truly have to make up for?
Denying the truth about the institution upon which the US was built also softens the hard and violent edges of all of slavery’s grandchildren. Jim Crow, redlining, systematic disenfranchisement, mass incarceration – none of it means that much if we can’t even agree on the very thing that spawned them.
What DeSantis has started in Florida is a steady campaign of lies, obfuscation and political violence that slowly chips away at our shared reality, without which a truly democratic and free society is impossible to achieve. And like Derrick Johnson, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said, Florida’s new education rules are clearly “an attempt to bring our country back to a 19th-century America where Black life was not valued, nor our rights protected”.
Vice-President Kamala Harris blasted DeSantis as well, articulating a sentiment that I think is the only appropriate response right now:
“They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us and we will not stand for it.”
And Americans absolutely should not stand for this. Those who truly care about the future of the country’s democracy must demand that Ron DeSantis not only end his presidential campaign, but also resign as governor. Because if the calls he’s made at a state level are anything to go by, America is headed for even darker times ahead should he be made president.
I’d be remiss not to mention the irony that all of this is happening while demand for AP African American Studies courses surge across the US. People want to learn the truth about the country’s past, and covering up the sordid bits isn’t going to change the fact that they happened.
Tayo Bero is a Guardian US columnist