When three Black people in Jacksonville are murdered by an avowed white supremacist for no reason other than the color of their skin, you’d think that the lesson, while tragic and painful, would be all too obvious.
But, sadly, tragically, we all know better.
In fact in Florida, where the murders took place, it’s not even clear how a lesson about the racist attack could be taught. According to Florida’s Stop WOKE Act — which critics say is intentionally vague — no class on historical racism in America should cause students to be “distressed” due to their race, sex or national origin.
What’s a teacher to do? Where’s the line on so-called wokeness? What if a single parent were to complain that the teacher had crossed that line in discussing the racist assault? Is it worth risking a career?
A teacher could presumably call the killer, as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did, a “scumbag” and also a coward for taking his own life. Or they could say that killing someone because of race — as DeSantis also pointed out — is wrong and won’t be tolerated in Florida.
But could the teacher lay out the history of white supremacy and outline its modern context? Maybe a teacher could get away with noting that the FBI has said white supremacy is the nation’s greatest, and most lethal, domestic terror threat. Or maybe not.
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We do know that teachers, whether in public schools or state colleges, can’t teach Critical Race Theory — a formerly obscure academic subject that has become a conservative catch-all to mean any discussion of racism. There is a law against teaching CRT in Florida, where no one has ever taught it. Just as there are rules against teaching CRT in places like, say, Douglas County, where no one has ever taught it, either.
You have to wonder. Could a Florida teacher note that the killer’s legally possessed AR-15, assault-style rifle was fashioned with a swastika? Presumably. But could they also note how Nazi Germany’s anti-semitic Nuremberg Laws were inspired, in large part, by the South’s racist Jim Crow laws, which were in place in Florida until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964?
Or how about the fact that a Black state legislator in Florida said DeSantis had blood on his hands? Could the teacher explain why the legislator might have come to that conclusion or why DeSantis was booed at a vigil for the Jacksonville victims?
That would require, one supposes, teaching about the Florida board of education’s decision that middle schoolers should be taught that some slaves “benefited” from learning a trade. And that DeSantis defended the board’s decision.
It might also require discussing the concept that Florida students should be taught about the “violence perpetrated against and by African Americans” during 20th century massacres of Blacks by whites. As an example, there was the infamous Aug. 27, 1960, Ax-Handle Saturday attack in Jacksonville by white rioters on Black demonstrators holding peaceful sit-ins at segregated lunch counters.
Yes, nothing’s obvious, except the anti-WOKE bill was pushed into law by DeSantis, along with his don’t-say-gay law and his fight with Disney, as the basis for his now-reeling presidential campaign, in which the unofficial slogan was that Florida was where “woke goes to die.”
In light of the Jacksonville killings, the slogan hasn’t aged well.
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Even before Jacksonville, it seems that DeSantis was ready to try out a new strategy. You may have noticed that in the recent GOP debate, he never once brought up the W-word.
But the question — and I’m pretty sure we’re still legally able to bring it up — is why DeSantis thought anti-wokeness would be his ticket to the Republican nomination in the first place. It turns out that’s an easy one, given that so-called white victimization is at the very core of Trumpism.
Let’s take a quick visit to Trump World and assorted adjacent locales to see how it works. For Donald Trump, it’s commonplace to call Black people racists, particularly if they happen to be Black prosecutors. Trump, the once and possibly future president, called one Black prosecutor “rabid,” another an “animal,” and suggested that Georgia DA Fani Willis was romantically involved with a gangster.
Of course, Trump, a well-known dog whistler, has traded in racism for years. It’s as plain as the scowl on his mug shot.
Certainly Vivek Ramaswamy, the GOP’s newest bright light, has noticed. He went on the TV news shows Sunday to blame the Jacksonville murders not on white supremacy or the killer’s racist manifestos, but on, yes, the usual suspects, like affirmative action and so-called reverse racism.
“Right as the last few burning embers of racism were burning out, we have a culture in this country largely created by media and establishment and universities and politicians that throw kerosene on that racism,” Ramaswamy told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday. “I can think of no better way to fuel racism in this country than to take something away from other people on the basis of their skin color.”
This is no accident. A few days before the Jacksonville murders, Ramaswamy engaged in a battle of words with Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who is Black, about statements she had made about “brown voices” in 2019. In return, Ramaswamy, a contrary brown voice, compared her to grand wizards of the Ku Klux Klan.
Maybe even worse — if GOP voters noticed — was Ramaswamy’s recent message on the campaign trail, denying the very existence of white supremacy.
“I’m sure the boogeyman white supremacists exist somewhere in America,” he said during a campaign stop in Iowa. “I have just never met him. Never seen one. Never met one in my life, right? Maybe I will meet a unicorn sooner. And maybe those exist, too.”
And then a unicorn showed up at the Dollar General store in Jacksonville, in plain view, dressed in tactical gear and blue latex gloves, carrying his assault-style rifle and a Glock, to bring hate and destruction and death.Just as other unicorns had shown up at a Walmart in El Paso, a supermarket in Buffalo, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, a church in Charleston. I’m not sure how anyone could have missed them.
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