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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The benefits of slavery

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I told you so

Misinformation is information that is proven to be inaccurate, even though the disseminator might not be aware that it is. On the other hand, disinformation is misinformation that is combined with the intent to deceive. Notably, disinformation doesn’t necessarily need to express a complete falsehood; disinformation may contain a cell of truth that metastasizes into a cancer of lies.

Enter the Florida Department of Education, which is the rubberiest of rubber stamps for the State’s governor, “anti-woke” crusader Ron DeSantis. The department recently announced new educational “standards” for teaching African American history. Among the controversial changes is the notion of teaching that Black people benefited from learning skills as a result of their enslavement. Vice President Kamala Harris joined a large chorus of voices who have spoken out against this highly offensive argument.

In response, Dr. William Allen, who is a member of Florida’s African American History Standards Workgroup, defended the curricular changes. He said, “I just want to… encourage everyone to take the time to read, or as I said in my response to the vice president, I think every intellect can understand the language written there if people only take the time to read it.” Dr. Allen added, “It is the case that Africans proved resourceful, resilient, and adaptive, and were able to develop skills… which served to their benefit, both while enslaved and after (being) enslaved.”

Well, I read the standards. Having done so doesn’t change the fact that the State of Florida is spreading disinformation. Dr. Allen’s apologia seems to be, “We didn’t say that Black people benefited from slavery! What we actually said is, well, Black people benefited from slavery in some cases.” Such amphiboly is worthy of the widespread ridicule that it has received.

The primary impression that one gets from reading Dr. Allen’s statement is that slavery wasn’t all that bad because a few Black people gained useful skills. I understand that such is probably not what Allen would say his intent was, but that doesn’t absolve him of his culpability. His “cell of truth” will have a carcinogenic effect on how students perceive America’s original sin.

Human traffickers could beat their “property” to within an inch of their lives (or worse), yet their property “benefited” from learning how to be a carpenter or blacksmith? This is the academic version of blackface – turning the suffering of African Americans into a minstrel show to soothe white guilt.

Suppose I made the following argument: “Some children benefit from being sexually abused because they became more resilient”. Or try this one: “Some Jewish people benefited from the Holocaust because it taught them to be more resourceful.” And lest we forget: “Some women benefit from domestic violence because they learn how to be more adaptable.” These disgusting sentiments are no different from those that Dr. Allen uttered.

Importantly, there have been several recent instances of school board members and parents – all of them white – who have forced changes to school curricula based on the fact that their children have been (or even might be) “uncomfortable” with discussions of racism in the classroom. What if Black children or parents are “uncomfortable” with the suggestion that their enslaved ancestors benefited from slavery? Would those school boards change the curriculum? Nevermind. There’s no need to answer that question.

To make matters worse, the Florida standards argue that Black people were morally wrong while they were defending themselves during racial massacres that were perpetrated by white mobs: “Instruction includes acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans but is not limited to 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, 1919 Washington, D.C. Race Riot, 1920 Ocoee Massacre, 1921 Tulsa Massacre and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre.” (Italics mine.)

You read that correctly. Florida is arguing that there is no moral distinction between African Americans defending themselves from murderers and the people who were murdering them. Florida has required teaching African American history since 1994. Its new standards, and the attitude that fostered them, appear to have come from 1894. The purveyors of such attitudes are worthy of Dantean levels of torment.

Here’s the thing. If the overwhelming majority of Black folks don’t like what you’re doing “for us”, you’re not doing it for us; you’re doing it to us – irrespective of your intent. It would be much more useful to teach children, Black and white, about Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois’ incomparable work, Black Reconstruction in America. In discussing the South after the Civil War, Du Bois writes about the “public and psychological wage” that white Americans gain from racism. In short, even the poorest and least skilled whites were given the non-monetary (i.e., social) wage of being white, which was worth infinitely more important than financial wages that African Americans earned.

This newest episode of “The Ron DeSantis Show” is another example that exposes the abject lie concerning the (non-existent) teaching of Critical Race Theory. The real issue is, and has always been, that DeSantis and his ilk do not want children of any race to learn the ignoble parts of American history. This attitude sells our children short in myriad ways, including disrespecting their intellectual capacity and underestimating their emotional maturity.

There is no way around the fact that American chattel slavery shaped this nation in ways that still profoundly affect all of us. Attempting to soft-peddle our history does not erase it. Perhaps at some point the people who are attempting to do so will understand that confronting all of our history is the only way that we will ever be able to heal and to forge a better future.

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