by Reggie Goudeau
As most of my frequent readers likely know by now, the College Board has recently revised its curriculum for AP African American Studies. This decision conveniently came a mere few weeks after Governor Ron DeSantis rejected a proposed AP African American Studies course in Florida high schools. During that incident, a January 12th letter to the College Board revealed a number of concerning comments from the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Articulation. The office claimed the course was “...inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value” according to DeSantis administration rejects proposed AP African American Studies class in Florida high schools by Steve Contorno. A spokesman for DeSantis, Bryan Griffen, went on to tell CNN that the course prior to the revisions “...leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow.”
This series of actions was not unprecedented and occurred due to a larger cultural war on the teaching of Black history and highlighting Black stories (namely from the U.S. Republican Party). In the months prior to this incident, many Republicans and right-wing news stations like Fox News have been demonizing what they call “Critical Race Theory” (CRT). Critical Race Theory does not necessarily have a universal definition and is more of an overarching term than anything else. Still, for the sake of argument, I’ll use the following definition from the party credited for coining the term, according to the New York Times in “Critical Race Theory: A Brief History.” This individual is named Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a Black law professor at the U.C.L.A. School of Law and Columbia Law School. According to her statement in the aforementioned piece, Critical Race Theory “argues that historical patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other modern institutions” Furthermore, Crenshaw claims“...the theory says that racism is a systemic problem, not only a matter of individual bigotry.” Using this definition, it’s pretty easy to see the reason why many right-wingers and conservatives are feeling threatened by this term and its implications for their “land of the free.” These claims of racism being ingrained into society should not seem scary to anyone who has been subject to said discrimination, nor to allies of those people. The only party who has a reason to fear the average person learning of racism and discrimination’s casual integration into most of everyday life are those who use these methods for control.
This conclusion is in line with Crenshaw’s statement, “The rhetoric allows for racial equity laws, demands, and movements to be framed as aggression and discrimination against white people.” This is a tactic that occurred decades ago during the peak of the Civil Rights movement and then carried over into the protests inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Those in power, namely white and often wealthy people, always resort to this eventually when they feel their hold on existing power structures is loosening or threatened. After all, structures of white supremacy like the police allow them to criminalize Black and brown individuals while simultaneously having a natural defense for those criticizing repeated instances of police brutality. Many “radical” leftists and even the average Democrat often wonder how those like DeSantis or Donald Trump are able to maintain power without repercussions. After all, we all decided racism, indirect or direct, was bad years ago right? Well even if most of society does believe that (which I doubt more and more every year), those with the most influence do not share these sentiments, which is heavily indicated by many of these figures’ public statements, and private policy decisions.
Furthermore, most of DeSantis and Trump’s audience are extremely tuned into the admittedly limited scope of news media like One America News or Fox News. These stations are notorious for their fear-mongering and framing of threats to the status quo as an attack on these viewers’ livelihoods, beliefs, and rights to free speech. They frame protesters advocating for defunding the police as criminals and obstacles to a vague definition of “law and order.” Unfortunately, they’ve largely succeeded based on most cities’ police budgets only increasing even after the murders of even more Black people in recent years such as George Floyd and Tyre Nichols. Their campaigns succeeded so well that even moderates like President Joe Biden have pushed for nonviolence, understanding, and even larger funding for the police even in the wake of their repeated “mistakes.” This leaves me with little faith in the future of Africana Studies and all of its adjacent courses and curriculums. These platforms have largely succeeded by changing the definition of Critical Race Theory to mean anything that promotes the idea of inequality in America since that means America isn’t perfect. As flawed as this logic is, I fear this pattern from the news and Republicans of blatant misinformation will continue. Without action, it will eventually lead to more places giving in to the pressure of ignoring discrimination and its place in American history.
As dismal as it is, I’m not entirely sure if there’s a reliable method of combating this fearmongering from individual conservatives in power and the larger companies looking for more of their content. Despite DeSantis being one of the first Republicans to openly criticize their curriculum, the College Board changed their plans for this course across the nation in a matter of days following their comments. My beef with standardized testing aside, the College Board is a pretty widely accepted authority on matters of education throughout the country. If even they’re quick to fold after questionable criticism, what does that mean for the rest of America? How long is it before entire institutions like Oberlin begin bending to the will of the radical right? I know this may seem preposterous now, but how plausible did the denial of systemic racism by mainstream news, or even a section in AP African American Studies on “Black Conservatism” seem a mere five years ago? My point is, things change, and this place is rapidly changing for the worse if you’re anyone who’d benefit from more of the world acknowledging racism, or even the value of studying and appreciating Black people and history.