Florida Takes Its Turn On 'Please Don't Make White People Uncomfortable' Bandwagon

Florida has a new bill to eradicate "critical race theory" from schools and from public life, with yet another variation on those cookie-cutter laws that have been so popular with red states in the past year. As the AP reports, the state Senate's Education Committee voted yesterday to send the bill to the full Senate. Florida's SB 184, called the "Individual Freedom" Act, wouldn't simply demand that schools be prohibited from teaching American history in an unflattering light; it would also prohibit private businesses or other employers from any kind of diversity training that might make white people feel bad.

OK, fine, the bill's text doesn't specify that, but as with all the outrage over "critical race theory," that's the gist of the bill, though it's translated into the usual boilerplate prohibitions on inculcating the belief that "Members of one race, color, sex, or national origin are morally superior to members of another race, color, sex, or national origin," for instance.

As we always point out, these bills, if read strictly, prohibit stuff that nobody's actually doing anyway. Nobody has to confess to being a white oppressor in order to keep their job as a dental hygienist, even if they say white teeth are better than green teeth. Another prohibited line gets at the real target, banning any training that promotes the idea that "An individual’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, sex, or national origin." In other words, you can't talk about "white privilege," because by law there's no such thing.

Or maybe you can discuss the idea, as long as you don't say white privilege is real. The bill includes a weird note that the long list of prohibited concepts

may not be construed to prohibit discussion of the concepts listed therein as part of a course of training or instruction, provided such training or instruction is given in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.

So perhaps if you preface every sentence with "some people say," you'd be in fine shape? That seems like a can of worms. Wouldn't that open the door to a corporate trainer repeating horrifyingly racist stereotypes with a fig leaf of a disclaimer? "Some believe Black people lack the intellectual capacity to govern themselves, although we don't endorse that idea"?

Should make for a fun court case.

Democrats on the Education Committee opposed the bill, arguing sensibly enough that it really isn't needed, and that it's likely to just end up in costly legal wrangling for the state. As the AP reports, Democratic committee members "asked, without success, for real-life examples of teachers or businesses telling students or employees that they are racist because of their race."

State Sen. Shevrin Jones, who is African American, said he was pretty sure he knew exactly what the bill was really about:

This bill’s not for Blacks, this bill was not for any other race. This was directed to make whites not feel bad about what happened years ago. [...] At no point did anyone say white people should be held responsible for what happened, but what I would ask my white counterparts is, are you an enabler of what happened or are you going to say we must talk about history?

The AP notes that last month, Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis called critical race theory "crap," and "said he would seek legislation that would allow parents to sue schools and employees to sue employers if they were subject to its teachings." As far as we can tell, SB 148 doesn't appear to include any such provisions for seeking damages, though Crom only knows whether that may be added as the legislative process moves forward.

The bill's section on how schools are allowed to teach about race includes pretty much the same boilerplate prohibitions on advancing "divisive concepts" as you'd find in other states' laws, explaining that no individual bears "responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex," and that no individual should ever "be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race."

Again, we certainly wouldn't want any schools to teach that either, but in practice, such language has been used to ban books on school integration and the civil rights movement, because those terrible books say white people kept Black children out of schools and public accommodations, and that's a very hurtful true statement. Wouldn't it be nicer for everyone to just agree we're all equal and to get along?

Weirdly, the bill also mandates education on the Holocaust — fortunately, no requirement to avoid offending Nazis — and on Latino and African American history, although we'd note the latter is limited to "the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition, and the contributions of African Americans to society." Notice there's no mention of who did the enslaving, and that there's nothing about Reconstruction and its overthrow.

Even here, the bill tries to have it both ways, insisting that sure, teachers can teach about history, even the bad bits, as long as they do it the right way:

Instructional personnel may facilitate discussions and use curricula to address, in an age-appropriate manner, the topics of sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination, including topics relating to the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in sexism, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination. However, classroom instruction and curriculum may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view inconsistent with the principles of this subsection or state academic standards. [emphasis added]

So sure, teach about the civil rights movement, as long as you don't make anyone feel "discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race."

The bill doesn't spell out exactly how that would be determined, so maybe the best approach would be to say Black people couldn't go to good schools, vote, or use the same public accommodations as others, but then they could, and wasn't that great? Just don't mention white people at all. They're very sensitive about that, not that they have any reason to be, are you saying "white fragility?" You're fired.

In conclusion, of course this fucking thing will pass, DeSantis will sign it, and then it'll be time for the usual follow-ups: library purges, teacher firings, and people terrorizing school boards. It's the American way.

[AP / Florida SB 148 / Learning for Justice]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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