- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, also a GOP presidential candidate, asserted that some Black people benefited from being enslaved, particularly in gaining skills like blacksmithing.
- His comments, made while defending Florida’s newly implemented African American history standards, sparked immediate backlash from educators, civil rights leaders, and some fellow Republicans.
- DeSantis defended the state’s new curriculum, which includes the claim that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
- High-profile figures, such as Vice President Kamala Harris and Texas U.S. Representative Will Hurd, have publicly decried DeSantis’s remarks.
- Fox News host Jesse Watters and others from the right defended DeSantis, while Florida State Rep. Fentrice Driskell described the Governor’s comments as an “assault on Black history.”
Ignorance of History
When Governor Ron DeSantis suggested that some Black individuals benefited from their enslavement by developing skills such as blacksmithing, the statement hit the nation like a shockwave. Standing before a nearly all-White crowd of supporters, DeSantis defended the newly implemented African American history standards in Florida schools which civil rights leaders and scholars say misrepresents centuries of U.S. reality.
“There’s probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life,” DeSantis claimed, drawing immediate backlash from his party and from educators nationwide. Former U.S. Representative Will Hurd of Texas responded succinctly, “Slavery wasn’t a jobs program that taught beneficial skills. It was literally dehumanizing and subjugated people as property because they lacked any rights or freedoms.”
The Fallout and Reactions
DeSantis’s remarks, which come amid a struggle to bolster his standing in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, incited rebukes from high-profile figures. Vice President Kamala Harris, on a visit to Jacksonville, emphasized the horrific realities of slavery, citing rape, torture, and the dehumanizing treatment of individuals as stark evidence against DeSantis’s argument.
Florida State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, the first Black woman to become House Democratic Leader, characterized DeSantis’s comments as an “assault on Black history.” Echoing this sentiment, Biden campaign co-chairman Cedric L. Richmond dubbed DeSantis’s defense of the new Florida curriculum as “disgusting,” denouncing it as a symptom of the extremism that’s infected the Republican presidential candidates.
Fox’s Defense of DeSantis
Despite the widespread condemnation, DeSantis found some defenders among the right-wing media. Fox News host Jesse Watters argued, “No one is arguing slaves benefited from slavery. They are teaching how Black people develop skills during slavery in some instances that can be applied for their own personal benefit.”
However, the debate over these comments highlights a larger national conversation regarding the teaching of history, especially in relation to topics like slavery and racial injustice, and how these discussions shape the minds of the next generation.
“It is so outrageous that people are going to reject It.”
Marvin Dunn, a professor emeritus at Florida International University, believes DeSantis will gain no political advantage from his argument, noting that it is “so outrageous that people are going to reject it.”
As the controversy rages on, it becomes increasingly evident that the handling of historical realities such as slavery in educational materials can significantly impact public sentiment, policy-making, and even political races. For many critics, the crux of the matter is the danger of presenting an undeniably dark chapter of human history as having any redeeming qualities, thereby undermining the historical struggles and triumphs of African Americans.
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- The Washington Post: Read more here