Florida has rejected an AP African American history course as having no academic value, according to Gov. Ronald Dion DeSantis. But there is a track record on the real motive can be judged.
In August 2018, during his ﬁrst gubernatorial campaign, DeSantis told voters not to “monkey this up” by electing his Democratic rival Andrew Gillum, an African American whom he described as “an articulate spokesman for the left.” The Tampa Bay Times noted, “There is a long history of black Americans being referred to as ‘monkeys’ as a racial slur. ‘Articulate’ is also a common dog whistle that preys on negative stereotypes that black people do not speak well.”
Republican activist Steven M. Alembik, who donated more than $20,000 to DeSantis, called President Barack Obama a “F—- MUSLIM N—-” on Twitter. He also got him to speak at a gala at then President Donald Trump’s Mara-a-Lago private club, Politico reported. DeSantis disassociated his campaign from him, as well as from former Miami state legislator Ralph Arza, accused in 2006 of describing a man as a “black piece of s—t” and calling a colleague “my nigga,” Miami New Times reported.
DeSantis served as an administrator of a Tea Party Facebook group where commentators repeatedly made “racist and racially charged posts.” He spoke four times at conferences organized by David Horowitz, who, according to The Washington Post, once tweeted, “Black Africans enslaved black Africans. America freed them sacriﬁcing 350k mainly white Union lives. American blacks are richer, more privileged, freer than blacks anywhere in the world, including all black run countries.”
Robocalls were made to voters, apparently funded by The Road to Power, which Vox described as “an anti-Semitic, white supremacist website and podcast.” On the call, someone pretending to be Gillum used “an exaggerated minstrel dialect with jungle noises in the background.”
DeSantis defeated Gillum and has gone on to sign laws under a slogan of “anti-woke,” a perverse interpretation of an African American Vernacular English (AAVE) word which the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017 deﬁned as “being ‘aware’ or ‘well-informed’ in a political or cultural sense.”
By the time DeSantis got to it, “woke” had been around for a century, starting in 1923 when Marcus called on the African diaspora to “Wake up.” Huddie Leadbetter – Lead Belly — at the end of his 1931 protest song “Scottsboro Boys” said people should “best stay woke, keep their eyes open” when going through that Arkansas city where nine young African Americans were put on trial, wrongly accused of raping two European American women.
“Woke” came to reflect outrage over police killings of African American men, notably Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, and George Perry Floyd Jr. in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2020. Rightwing Republicans used what deandre a. miles-hercules (sic), a linguistics scholar at the University of California at Santa Barbara called “semantic bleaching” to convert “work” into being patriotic and it provided cover for ofﬁcial policy in some states, including Florida, where, DeSantis boasted, “woke comes to die.”
DeSantis used his interpretation of “woke” to launch an ongoing assault on critical race theory, which the late attorney Derrick Bell developed after his experience with school closures and desegregation led him to conclude that, as Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker, “racism is so deeply rooted in the makeup of American society that it has been able to reassert itself after each successive wave of reform aimed at eliminating it” and is “permanent.” Instead, as Cobb pointed out, “conservatives have been waging war on a wide-ranging set of claims that they wrongly ascribe to critical race theory, while barely mentioning the body of scholarship behind it or even Bell’s name.”
Leading that “war” was rightwing activist Christopher F. Rufo, who boasted, “We have successfully frozen their brand – ‘critical race theory’ – into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.”
Critical race theory suddenly became “Black-supremacist racism, false history, and the terrible apotheosis of wokeness,” Cobb said, reflecting what scholar Patricia Williams denounced as “deﬁnitional theft.” DeSantis became the thief-in-chief. Last April, he signed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act (the Stop W.O.K.E. Act) that prohibits public universities and colleges and in workplace training from teaching it. The law “provides substantive protections” to ensure that students and parents would be insulated from “pernicious ideologies like CRT [critical race theory]” in K-12 schools – which, as The Miami Herald pointed out, do not teach. Among those at the signing: Christopher Rufo.
The state’s intrusion into academic freedom has already led to banning of several texts, including math books, from the classroom and libraries. It has panicked teachers and professors who are scrambling to avoid committing a crime by simply having a book on display for this and similarly draconian “don’t say gay” laws that seem to have been taken straight out of “Fahrenheit 500.”
Next, there is the Combating Public Disorder Act – the anti-riot law — which DeSantis signed in April 2021 in direct response to widespread national demonstrations against Floyd’s killing. Its provisions include immunity against civil lawsuits for motorists who drive through protesters blocking a road and makes blocking a highway a felony. It allows for arresting of protesters, with no bail until the ﬁrst court appearance. And it creates a new felony crime of “aggravated rioting” with a sentence of up to 15 years and a new crime of “mob intimidation.”
DeSantis also hijacked two majority African American districts with a voting map which he gerrymandered in violation of the Fair Districts state constitutional amendment. And he delayed setting a date for a special election to choose a successor to the late Democratic Rep. Alcee Lamar Hastings, denying congressional representation for nine months to 800,000 voters in the predominantly African American district.
There is still more. The “anti-riot” law also makes it a crime to deface, destroy or remove of the 70 or so Confederate monuments in the state, with DeSantis declaring that “we’re not going to let the mob win the day with that.”
Such laws clearly represent a concerted effort to diminish or erase African American history in Florida. Marvin Dunn vows not to let it happen. The 82-year-old community psychology professor-emeritus at Florida International University, Morehouse College graduate and U.S. Navy veteran, has been devoting much pf his life to bringing awareness to the state’s racist history, as The Post recently noted. He started a community garden as part of a Roots in the City initiative and has written books such as “Black Miami in the Twentieth Century” and “A History of Florida: Through Black Eyes.” He also established the Miami Center for Racial Justice which sponsors Teach the Truth tours to sites such as the Pleasant Plain Cemetery, burial place of the “Newberry Six” – the Rev. Josh J. Baskin and ﬁve other African Americans, including a pregnant woman — whom a European American mob hanged from an oak tree in 1916, after accusing them of stealing theft of a hog.
Dunn also takes visitors to Rosewood, a predominantly African American town which a mob burned in January 1923, killing at least six residents and forcing the others to flee. He bought a ﬁve-acre plot in Rosewood. Also on the itinerary is the North Miami-Dade County street corner where six European American police ofﬁcers beat to death a young insurance salesman named Arthur McDufﬁe in 1979 over a trafﬁc incident – 12 years before Rodney King’s assault.
Dunn is aware that he is defying the Stop W.O.K.E. law but he told The Post that he is not worried. He told MSNBC’s Joy Reid that he has been promoting Florida’s African American history “before DeSantis was born.” In fact, he is one of eight plaintiffs who have sued the state over the law. “We’re going to keep on teaching it. … This is the antidote to the DeSantisizing of history,” he said.
“Listen, “Dunn told The Post, “if there is such a thing as the woke mob in Florida, I aspire to lead it.”
And that is the record, so far, as another “Black History Month” arrives.