“Non-educational value.” That is the phrase Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Department of Education used to describe the Advanced Placement African American Studies pilot program proposed as an elective for high school students aspiring to gain college credits. Even in 2023, after everything that people of African descent have endured in this country – from being forced onto Europeans’ boats off the coast of West Africa to the horrors of the transatlantic voyage, to being sold into a cruel form of subhuman slavery in which future generations were harvested for cotton, sugar, tobacco and other commerce, to the courage of Harriett Tubman and Frederick Douglass smuggling souls through the Underground Railroad to freedom – it should not surprise any of us what the inheritors of the myth of White supremacy think of us. Our value to them is not in the knowledge we acquire that uplifts our race and makes us proud of our heritage. White supremacists such as DeSantis recognize our value only when it falls under the definition of what tickles their racist fantasies.

This is not surprising coming from DeSantis and his Department of Education – I am stressing “his Department of Education” – because within the past two and a half years, instead of governing Florida as a member of a 50-state democracy, DeSantis has chosen to be an authoritarian dictator insinuating himself in areas of his constituencies’ lives that have little to do with him. In his quest as a feared little man with high hopes of one day being the big cheese in the White House, DeSantis is eagerly courting the “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) Republican base, which is looking for an alternative to former president Donald Trump. It’s not that they no longer subscribe to Trumpism policies, only that they have grown tired of his public antics. With DeSantis, MAGA Republicans get an infusion of White supremacist thought on steroids, with a slice of excitement in the form of pandering to the alt-right element who strongly fear that White people are being replaced by the ever growing Black and Brown population, which could shift the balance of power in America. In their minds, White supremacy must be upheld in America by any means necessary.

Through subterfuge such as the “Stop Woke Act,” DeSantis in his craftiness has designed a tool that desperately seeks to pacify racists and pat their ancestors on the back for the cruelties they visited upon scores of Black peoples in this state. First of all, let us stipulate that usage of the term “woke” by White Americans and DeSantis is a slap in the face. To be “woke” implies being self-aware; awakening from a state-sanctioned sleep; being unplugged from the Matrix and tapping into reality. What are we unplugging from? The lies and suppression of truth that have proliferated in this country since its inception. The lies that elevate and promote whiteness as the gold standard, as superior, as the authoritarian, as the intellect, as superior to every other race. To be “woke” is to understand that for whiteness to thrive, everything Black and Brown must be suppressed and oppressed.

That is what DeSantis’ “Stop Woke Act” is framed to do, and by deeming the AP African American Studies program as something that has “non educational value,” the state of Florida in all its racist glory harkens back to the days of when Black Floridians were treated as mere cattle to be used and abused with one singular purpose in mind. White slave owners forbade their slaves the right to read and write or be educated in any way, punishable by death in many cases. To permit a slave to be educated would unlock the collective memory of a people who created and designed civilizations, developed institutions of higher learning, who are architects of sciences and math.

The same is true today. To educate our Black students and expose them to their history before we arrived on the shores of the Americas and Caribbean is to awaken pride and self-awareness. When we are lifted, and “woke,” we of African descent naturally become the mirror in which whiteness recognizes its atrocities and hides in guilt and shame. DeSantis wants to stop all of that.

“Non educational value.” It’s funny how whiteness has the audacity to tell us that an African American studies class designed by Black scholars basically is worthless. How? Based on what exactly? Is it the fact that Black feminist, known communist and prison reform activist Dr. Angela Davis is studied, or that intersectionality theorist Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name bell hooks, and her body of work is discussed? Or that suggested reading material authored by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw, one of the intellectual minds behind critical race theory, is part of the curriculum? Could it be the section of the program called “Black Queer Studies” that has DeSantis’ antenna on alert?

The AP African American Studies course, while providing historical context and foundational African American history, also proves that the intellect of African American theory is not monolithic. Students should be taught the breadth of African American history. Studying the lives of Angela Davis and bell hooks is essential to the African American experience. The reparations movement, the history of Black activism is congruent and adjacent to American history being that every movement critical to American history has included the participation of Black America in some capacity, or was the blueprint for activism, i.e. the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Gay Rights movements. To say that Black history is American history is too vague. Black history is World history would be more applicable.

Yet to acknowledge the accuracy of that would be to be “woke.” DeSantis would rather Florida students remain “plugged in” to his Matrix of the myth of White supremacy, because in his world, whiteness and ignorance is bliss.