From curricula to library books to teachers themselves, queer expression and education in U.S. public schools are being slowly but surely outlawed. One of the most severe cases of this degeneration of rights is in Florida under the rule of perennial mess Ron DeSantis.
The governor signed what’s likely the country’s most notorious anti-LGBTQ curriculum bill into law last year, commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
This week, he doubled down on his disdain for LGBTQ+ education of any sort, referring to its inclusion as “indoctrination” and “a political agenda”.
This latest denouncement came after being asked why his administration had rejected the curriculum for an advanced placement African American Studies course.
The offending material? A section on “queer theory”:
“This course on Black History, what’s one of the lessons about? Queer theory!” he exclaims. “Queer theory” is the widely accepted academic name for the field of LGBTQ+ studies, so the way he managed to make it still sound like a slur is kind of amazing.
His next question to the room proved his lack of understanding of both Black and LGBTQ+ people, ignoring the existence of a whole category of humans in one sentence:
“Now who would say that an important part of Black History is ‘queer theory’?” he asks incredulously.
Let’s think for a moment! Would Martin Luther King Jr.’s close advisor Bayard Rustin say so? How about women like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith who helped create the genre of blues music? Do James Baldwin and Audre Lorde not exist in Black History to Florida?
This examination of the intersection of identities and how they interplay in culture and history is exactly the kind of knowledge DeSantis and co. want to keep from the nation’s youth.
“That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids,” he rails. “When you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons — that’s a political agenda. That’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards.”
Discussing Black history without discussing the way Black people continue to be disproportionately incarcerated seems to also be a big no-no to the governor. Makes sense coming from the governor of the state with the third highest number of inmates in the country.
“When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory,” he continues, “you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”
Throughout all this attempting to cover up historical figures and contributions, he firmly asserts that he’s still here for “cut-and-dry history”.
“You learn all the basics, you learn about the great figures,” he contradicts. “I view it as American history. I don’t view it as separate history. We have history of a lot of different shapes and sizes.”
He closes by very vaguely advocating for the teaching of “people that have participated to make the country great and people that have stood up when it wasn’t easy.” The unabridged facts of who stood up and against what aren’t as important to him as making sure the LGBTQ+ community isn’t among them.
How silly and thin this excuse is. Somehow it will harm kids in a advanced placement college level course to know that some black people that deserved a place in history were gay or trans. Seriously the idea that these high school teenagers knowing that gay people did some great things is harmful to the students according to the right / republicans. Michelangelo was gay. The fact is gay kids need and deserve the positive affirmations of knowing they also can achieve great things. It is about seeing representation of ones self, but the right is terrified of nearly adult teens knowing that gay people have done some incredible things. That knowledge contradicts all the right wing ideology of how bad gay / trans people are, how they are low-life scum out that never achieve anything and always look for way to assault and rape the good straight people. This is again out of the Russian playbook that outlawed anything positive about gay people while the state constantly pushes the most negative harmful narratives. There are gay people in all walks of life and their sexual orientation is part of who they are. What the right wants to do is let kids assume that all people are straight, that all people in history that did something notable were straight is total right / republican indoctrination / ideology. As for the justice system being about more than prison and punishment again other developed countries have shown that if your prisons are not punitive hellhole but having reform with rehabilitation have shown that it cuts recidivism rates. Crime goes down, and you have less prison populations. But that would interfere with the for profit prsions incomes. Hugs
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said that his state recently rejected an advanced placement (AP) African American Studies course because of the course’s “indoctrination” of the “queer” agenda.
“We have guidelines and standards in Florida: We want education, not indoctrination,” DeSantis said during a news conference. DeSantis was asked why his state Department of Education had refused the course, which is currently being offered by the College Board in a pilot program at 60 schools nationwide.
DeSantis said that when he heard that the class didn’t meet the state’s educational standards, he figured the course involved critical race theory (CRT), a college-level curriculum about the effects of institutional racism throughout history.
“It’s way more than that,” DeSantis continued. “This course on Black history, what’s one of the lessons about? Queer theory. Now, who would say that an important part of Black history is ‘queer theory?’ That is someone pushing an agenda on our kids.”
Queer theory examines societal responses to non-heterosexual and non-cisgender identities. It’s an essential part of Black history both because of notable Black LGBTQ+ figures and the criminalization of Black sexual identities throughout history.
Nevertheless, DeSantis also criticized the course for having a “political agenda” because its current form includes content about intersectionality and abolishing prisons. Intersectionality examines how overlapping personal identities result in social privileges or disadvantages. Prison abolitionists want restorative justice and rehabilitation programs instead of just prisons.
“We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them,” DeSantis added. “When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”
Last Friday, Florida’s Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. wrote that the state had “rejected an AP course filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law.”
Specifically, the department said it objected to “the inclusion of readings from many major African American scholars, activists and writers, who explored subjects like Black queer studies, Black feminist literary thought, the reparations movement and intersectionality,” The New York Times reported.
Florida’s education department said it objected to readings from professor Angela Davis for being a “self-avowed Communist and Marxist”; professor Kimberlé Crenshaw “the founder of intersectionality”; and bell hooks for using language like “white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”
Though the College Board didn’t comment on Florida’s rejection, it noted that the course is still being revised based on feedback from African American scholars, the Times reported. The final framework of the course will be publicly posted before becoming widely available in U.S. high schools.
Critics have also pointed out that Florida high schools offer AP European History courses, which reinforce a narrative of predominantly white cultures colonizing and enslaving non-white countries in order to benefit capitalist and industrialist regimes.
It’s hardly surprising that DeSantis’s administration rejected the Black history course. Last year, he signed the Individual Freedoms Act (known as the Stop WOKE Act) which limits how racial issues are taught in public schools, public universities, colleges, and workplace trainings.
Last year, he also signed the Parental Rights in Education bill (known as the Don’t Say Gay law) which restricts teachers from acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ+ people in public schools. He worked with far-right media outlets and book-banning groups to help promote the law.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre criticized Florida’s rejection of the course.
“These types of actions aren’t new… especially from Florida,” Jean-Pierre said. “Sadly, Florida currently bans teachers from talking about who they are and who they love.”
“They didn’t block AP European history. They didn’t block our music history. They didn’t block our art history. But the state chooses to block a course that is meant for high achieving high school students to learn about their history of arts and culture,” she continued. “It is incomprehensible.”
According to the College Board, the pilot version of the AP African American Studies course will expand to hundreds of additional high schools in 2024. The final course will be offered in schools that same year, with the course’s first exams being offered in Spring 2025.
The truth is DeathSantis and his ilk want to erase the LGBTQ+ and insure that only straight white Christians are the default and the only acceptable representation in society. They do not want inclusion, diversity, or even the tolerance of others different from them. This is about having the white straight homogenous society they think the 1950s had where white straight men were just assumed to be in charge having all the authority and say in society while those who were not straight white men were expected to know their place or not be seen in decent society. Ask why the republicans and the right wing media are so against general respect for others that are different from them? Not talking acceptance, but the right / republicans are going full speed on not even showing respect for anyone or anything different from them. They have shown they can not tolerate much less respect anyone who has political differences from them. They attack in mass anything said by a democrat regardless of what it is. They have become so tribal that they will soon attack those with different hair colors in their own groups. They make a mockery of the term land of the free. This is a great short read. I ask how just letting kids know there are gay kids, gay people, and same sex families with children is sexualizing them but letting kids know that straight kids, straight people and opposite families is not sexualizing kids? That makes no sense. Gay or straight are still sexual orientations that exist and are legal. If reading about two boys or two girls holding hands is indoctrination so is reading about a boy and girl holding hands. Hugs
By his own admission, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has attempted to prevent residents, schools, and corporations in Florida from becoming actively attentive to important societal facts and issues – especially issues of racial and social justice. This is clear in his rhetoric and support surrounding the state’s so-called “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act.”
In addition to demonizing Latinx and Black immigrants coming from the U.S. southern border and using their bodies as props to promote himself and his far-right agenda, DeSantis and Republicans in the state legislature passed the Stop W.O.K.E act to supposedly provide businesses, employees, children, and families the legal means of opposing alleged “woke indoctrination.”
The bill bans the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other discussions around the country’s racial history in schools, and it also bans diversity and inclusion training in corporations.
During his second inaugural address on January 3, DeSantis declared, “We reject this woke ideology. We seek normalcy, not philosophical lunacy. We will not allow reality, facts, and truth to become optional.” And then he pledged, “We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.”
In his statement and actions, DeSantis is not allowing reality, facts, and truth to enter the public sphere.
DeSantis is not only criminalizing discussions of race and racism, but he is also preventing Florida residents from actively attending to important facts and issues of sexuality and gender as well.
On Tuesday, June 7, 2022, a large van from the Broward County Florida public school department drove up in front of the Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Fort Lauderdale. In the van, Broward County school officials had filled boxes of children’s books on LGBTQ+ themes taken from county classrooms and school libraries for donation to the museum.
While county officials claimed the donations were the result of their attempts to clear shelves and office space for the accumulation of other subject matter, it is no mere coincidence that Florida’s so-called “Parental Rights in Education” law, referred to by opponents as the Don’t Say Gay law, was to take effect weeks later on July 1, 2022.
Passed primarily by Republicans in the state legislature and signed into law by DeSantis, the new law reads in part: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Florida has positioned itself at the tip of the spear to cut and bleed to death school curricular materials on topics of race, gender, and sexual identity, but most schools, as reproductions of the larger society, function on an overarching system of racism, heteronormativity, and other forms of oppression.
A December 2022 progressive political panel in Denver titled “Straight White American Jesus” (after Podcast of the same name) focused on the topic of white Christian nationalism in the United States. Speakers discussed the major components of Christian nationalism: “innocence” in history and “purity culture.”
Sara Moslener, a lecturer in religion at Central Michigan University, asserted that these concepts of “innocence” and “purity culture” are often located in white Christian nationalism, stemming from colonial history when whiteness was coupled with freedom and innocence.
“The innocence that is connected to white racial identity has been a… delusion that has worked really well in giving white people a sense of specialness, a sense of ‘we have something in common with one another,’” she said. “There is this sense that we are innocent of all of these things, and white Christian nationalism says: Well, this was all part of God’s plan.”
Moslener continued by explaining the concept of “purity culture,” taken from conservative evangelical Christianity, which opposes abortion rights and homosexuality and adheres to traditional gender roles and sexual abstinence before marriage for women. She claimed that this is also foundational to Christian nationalism. This “purity culture,” is mainly about “evangelicals gaining political power.”
“White Christian Nationalism is steeped in myths of national innocence and this idea that the founding of the United States was a God-anointed beginning,” Moslener said. And this is connected as a movement by a unified commitment to a social order of a shared theology of family, and a shared perception of gender roles, sexuality, and gender expression.
Katherine Stewart, an investigative journalist and author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism who was also on the panel said of Christian nationalism, “It’s not a single religion, it’s both an ideology – a set of ideas — and it’s also a political movement – an organized quest for power.”
“Many politicians have tried to ally themselves with this ideology to promote it,” Stewart said, citing Ron DeSantis, who identified himself with this ideology to gain votes in his political campaigns, and now it seems in his quest for the White House.
So, as DeSantis and the growing number of politicians and state and national conservative caucuses push for similar “anti-WOKE,” “anti-CRT,” and “anti-LGBTQ+” regulations and laws in the schools, as well as restrictions on diversity and inclusion discussions in businesses, their not-so-hidden agenda is intended to bring the nation closer to the patriarchal white Christian nationalist ideals attempted in other Fascist movements.
Power-hungry autocrats understand that an informed awake populace increases the chances of mass challenges to their authority, as history has clearly shown. But if the white power structure can severely restrict and downgrade the education of people they deem outside this structure – people of color, non-Christians, non-cisgender, and non-heteronormative individuals – then they believe their domination will be assured.
However, allowing free and age-appropriate discussions of the “hard” history connected to race and racism unmasks this Christian nationalist myth of “white innocence.” And free and age-appropriate discussions of topics around sexuality and gender knock out of the water the propagation of their invention of some sort of “purity culture” destined by God.
Anti-wokeness is anti-awareness, and that is DeSantis’ intent.
Teachers in Manatee County, Florida, are being told to make their classroom libraries — and any other “unvetted” book — inaccessible to students, or risk felony prosecution. The new policy is part of an effort to comply with new laws and regulations championed by Governor Ron DeSantis (R). It is based on the premise, promoted by right-wing advocacy groups, that teachers and librarians are using books to “groom” students or indoctrinate them with leftist ideologies.
Kevin Chapman, the Chief of Staff for the Manatee County School District, told Popular Information that the policy was communicated to principals in a meeting last Wednesday. Individual schools are now in the process of informing teachers and other staff.
Teachers in Manatee County lamented the news on social media. “My heart is broken for Florida students today as I am forced to pack up my classroom library,” one Manatee teacher wrote on Facebook.
Another Manatee teacher called the directive “a travesty to education” that interfered with efforts to “connect with books and develop [a] love of lifelong learning.”
In an interview with Popular Information, Chapman said that the policy was put into place last week in response to HB 1467, which was signed into law by DeSantis last March. That law established that teachers could not be trusted to select books appropriate for their students. Instead, the law requires:
Each book made available to students through a school district library media center or included in a recommended or assigned school or grade-level reading list must be selected by a school district employee who holds a valid educational media specialist certificate, regardless of whether the book is purchased, donated, or otherwise made available to students.
In Florida, school librarians are called “media specialists” and hold media specialist certificates. A rule passed by the Florida Department of Education last week states that a “library media center” includes any books made available to students, including in classrooms. This means that classroom libraries that are curated by teachers, not librarians, are now illegal.
The law requires that all library books selected be:
1. Free of pornography and material prohibited under s. 847.012.
2. Suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented.
3. Appropriate for the grade level and age group for which the materials are used or made available
Chapman says that school principals in Manatee County were told Wednesday that any staff member violating these rules by providing materials “harmful to minors” could be prosecuted for “a felony of the third degree.” Therefore, teachers must make their classroom libraries inaccessible to students until they can establish that each book has been approved by a librarian.
In response to the policy, some teachers packed up their classroom libraries. Others covered up the books students are no longer allowed to read with construction paper.
Restoring student access to classroom libraries is a complex process. First, someone must cross-check each book in their classroom library with the district library catalog. If the book is available in the district libraries, that means it was approved by a media specialist and can be made available to students again. But any book not currently held in the district libraries must be individually evaluated and approved by a librarian.
And that’s just the beginning. Materials prepared for an upcoming Manatee County School Board meeting include a 21-point list of procedures to ensure that classroom libraries comply with the new rules.
As a result, one Manatee teacher reported being forced to take Sneezy the Snowman and Dragons Love Tacos off the shelves pending review. Other teachers, fearing criminal liability, are telling students not to bring in “unvetted” books from home:
Chapman said he was not aware of teachers being told specifically to prohibit students from bringing books from home but, as a policy, “all materials we use in a classroom are all state approved.”
One high school teacher in Manatee County told Popular Information that they would not comply with the new policy. The teacher has spent the year carefully curating books donated by parents or sourced from their personal collection. “I’m not taking any books out of my room,” the teacher said. “I absolutely refuse.” The teacher spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing that speaking out about the policy could put their job at risk.
Librarians in Manatee County are now expected to review thousands of books in classroom libraries to ensure compliance with the new law. Manatee County has 64 public schools and 3,000 teachers, many of whom maintain classroom libraries. Chapman said that every school in Manatee County has a media specialist but that the process could take a while because it is “one person” and “they are human.” Any book approved for K-5 students must also be included on a publicly available list.
Similar policies will be implemented in schools across Florida. Some Florida schools do not have a media specialist, making the process even more cumbersome.
That review must also be consistent with a complex training, which was heavily influenced by right-wing groups like Moms For Liberty and approved by the Florida Department of Education just last week. Any mistake by a librarian or others could result in criminal prosecution. This process must be repeated for any book brought into the school on an ongoing basis. But librarians and teachers are not being provided with any additional compensation for the extra work.
Stephana Ferrell, a co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, said the new policy followed “a pattern of fear-based decisions that prioritize staying in good favor with the Governor over doing the right thing for our students.” Ferrell said she blamed “the Florida Board of Education that passed this rule change last Wednesday without an ounce of consideration for its impact.” Now, “thousands of students are without classroom access to fun and engaging literature.”
Ironically, Manatee County is making thousands of books inaccessible to students just in time to celebrate “Literacy Week” in Florida, which runs from January 23 to 27. Only about 50% of students in Manatee County are reading at grade level.
“Err on the side of caution”
Popular Information asked Chapman if Manatee County librarians and teachers were expected to remove books that violated the Parental Rights In Education Act, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay” or the Stop WOKE Act, which limits classroom discussion of racial issues. Chapman did not answer the question directly, saying only that librarians are expected to apply the “specialized training for media center specialists” approved last week by the Florida Department of Education. That training, Chapman says, includes “new definitions of inappropriate material.”
The Parental Rights In Education Act prohibits all instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in K-3 classrooms and instruction in other grades that is “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” But the law applies only to “[c]lassroom instruction by school personnel or third parties” — not library books. Similarly, the Stop WOKE Act is limited to classroom instruction.
The teacher training approved by the Florida Department of Education, however, does not inform librarians that the Parental Rights in Education Act and Stop WOKE ACT do not apply to library books. Rather, librarians are told: “There is some overlap between the selection criteria for instructional and library materials.” One slide says that library books and instructional materials cannot include “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.”
A subsequent slide provides a list of “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination,” which includes information about “sexual orientation or gender identity.” It also includes a variety of topics related to race, including “Critical Race Theory” and material that might make someone feel “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” as a result of their race. The training instructs librarians to “err on the side of caution.”
As Popular Information reported earlier this month, Manatee County schools have already removed several books from school libraries because they contain LGBTQ characters or themes.
This interpretation of the law runs directly counter to the arguments the DeSantis administration is making in court. In federal court filings, lawyers representing DeSantis insist that the Parental Rights in Education Act does not apply to library books. Nevertheless, the DeSantis administration, through its media specialist training, is encouraging a much more expansive interpretation of the law.
Kirk is a well know republican racist bigot. So he thinks a white centered white straight history is the only history to be taught. Hugs
“I am enthusiastically behind Ron DeSantis saying that Black-centered education has no place in Florida schools, obviously. It’s bigoted from its premise.
“First of all, Western culture is better and it’s a thoughtcrime to say it out loud. Number two, Blacks were sold into slavery by other Blacks. Can’t say that out loud, Thomas Sowell wrote that in great detail.
“Number three, when Blacks were given opportunities to return home, they did not want to return home. Blacks didn’t want to leave.
“I mean obviously, slavery is reprehensible and terrible and awful, but there’s a lot more to that story than people would ever want to acknowledge and admit, which is more Blacks have come to America voluntarily than ever came in the slave trade.
“More Blacks have come to America voluntarily since the 1980s, whether it be from West Africa, from the Caribbean, than ever came in the slave trade.” – Charlie Kirk, on yesterday’s show.
Florida rejected a proposed Advanced Placement course focused on African American Studies because it included study of topics like the Movement for Black Lives, Black feminism and reparations, according to a list of concerns provided to CNN on Friday by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office.
The state also said the course framework for the study of reparations – the argument to compensate Black Americans for slavery and other historical atrocities and oppressive acts – includes “no critical perspective or balancing opinion in this lesson.”
The state Department of Education on January 12 informed the College Board, the organization that oversees the Advanced Placement program, that the course violated state law and rejected its inclusion in Florida schools.
Read the full article.
Quick update on me before the video that has information that everyone should hear. I hurt so bad right now I can only stand a few minutes before the pain is so bad I either have to sit or fall. Of course it is better earlier when I first get up by noon or 1 PM I can barely get up and go to the bathroom before the pain is so severe I am in danger of falling down. But if I sit the pain builds up in the upper part of my back instead of the lower part so again I have to move. Mostly right now it seems I get about 3 hours up at most and then 2 hours laying down. When I take enough medication to help cover the pain which lately has been the maximum of my medications, the next day I am sick to my stomach and have nausea issues. Think of it like being on a drunken night out at the bars, and how you would feel the next day. That lasts until I get enough medication back in my system again, and then if I take the maximum again I am sick the next day. It is a cycle I cannot stand. Be pain controlled in the afternoon and rest of the day while befuddled with confusion of the medications and the next morning wake up sick with a rolling stomach and nausea that either makes me vomit (three times yesterday) or just feel like I am going to vomit such as today when I did not vomit but felt I could until about 1 PM. I have an MRI on the 25th. I am losing the good from the last set of spine shots in the bottom of my spine, so tomorrow I need to call the pain clinic and see if they can adjust my appointment to get another set of spine epidurals for all three sections. Right now I am spending as much time laying down as I am upright. However this morning and yesterday morning Ron and I did take a short walk as we used to before the hurricane. It is much shorter than the other walks were because my back gives out and his hip starts to bother him too much to do a longer one. If the new spine shots don’t fix this, then I need to change medications to fentanyl or something as strong. The doctor tells me that fentanyl is much stronger than the medications I am currently taking. One last thing. Randy my wonderful brother has tried to get me to look at getting an over the bedside table like hospitals use and using a couple of the old laptops we have or at least the bedroom TV and a laptop to read and answer comments which I bitch constantly I am missing. Today Ron and I have started talking about it. It will depend on what the doctors can do. Hugs
When I was growing up in the 1980s, we were taught that the way to be a good person was to swear that race didn’t matter, at least not anymore.
We had all learned the lessons of the civil rights movement — that everybody is equal, and according to the morals of the sitcoms we watched after school (Diff’rent Strokes, Webster, Saved by the Bell), what was racist was pretending that people were any different from one another. Furthermore, the most un-racist people didn’t even see race at all; they were color blind.
We now know that color blindness is a form of racial denial that took one of the aspirations of the civil rights movement — that individuals would one day “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” — and stripped it from any consideration of power, hierarchy or structure. The moral logic and social appeal of color blindness is clear, and many well-meaning people have embraced it. But when it’s put into practice in a still-racist world, the result is more racism.
The sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, author of the groundbreaking book Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America, describes how once we stop seeing racism as a factor and treat equality as a reality rather than an aspiration, our minds naturally seek other explanations for the disparities all around us.
In a way, color blindness makes the civil rights movement a victim of its own success: Legal segregation is over, so now it must be up to people of color to finish the work themselves. As Bonilla-Silva puts it, if racism is no longer actively limiting the lives of people of color, then their failure to achieve parity with whites in wealth, education, employment, and other areas must mean there is something wrong with them, not with the social systems that somehow always benefit white people the most.
Social scientists look to this question — whether you believe that racism is to blame for disparities or that Black people just need to work harder — to help them determine what they call racial resentment. And racial resentment, in turn, is a predictor of opposition to policies that would improve the economic security of millions.
Instead of being blind to race, color blindness makes people blind to racism, unwilling to acknowledge where its effects have shaped opportunity or to use race-conscious solutions to address it. Denial that racism still exists; denial that, even if it does exist, it’s to blame for the situation at hand; denial that the problem is as bad as people of color say it is — these denials are the easy outs that the dominant white narrative offers to people. Wellesley College professor Jennifer Chudy’s research finds that only one in five white Americans consistently expresses high levels of sympathy about anti-Black discrimination.
Color blindness has become a powerful weapon against progress for people of color, but as a denial mindset, it doesn’t do white people any favors, either. A person who avoids the realities of racism doesn’t build the crucial muscles for navigating cross-cultural tensions or recovering with grace from missteps. That person is less likely to listen deeply to unexpected ideas expressed by people from other cultures or to do the research on her own to learn about her blind spots.
When that person then faces the inevitable uncomfortable racial reality — an offended coworker, a presentation about racial disparity at a PTA meeting, her inadvertent use of a stereotype — she’s caught flatfooted. Denial leaves people ill-prepared to function or thrive in a diverse society. It makes people less effective at collaborating with colleagues, coaching kids’ sports teams, advocating for their neighborhoods, even chatting with acquaintances at social events. Nor is denial easy to sustain.
To uphold the illusion of effortless white advantage actually requires unrelenting psychological exertion. Sociologist Dr. Jennifer Mueller explains that color blindness is a key step in “a process of knowing designed to produce not knowing surrounding white privilege, culpability and structural white supremacy.”
But it was a white poet, novelist and farmer named Wendell Berry whose words brought home to me most poignantly the moral consequences of denial. In August 2017, I traveled to Northern Kentucky to meet with a multiracial grassroots organization called Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
After a day of workshops, one of the members gave me a dog-eared copy of a book by Berry, a local hero who had grown up in rural Kentucky during the Jim Crow era. The book was called The Hidden Wound — Berry wrote it in 1968, in the midst of widespread protest and unrest — and that night in my hotel room, I read it from cover to cover.
By denying the reality of racism and their own role in it, Berry explained, white Americans have denied themselves critical self-knowledge and created a prettified and falsified version of American history for themselves to believe in, one built on the “wishful insinuation that we have done no harm.” Of course, he understood the impulse of white people — himself included — to protect themselves from “the anguish implicit in their racism.”
A few years before Berry published The Hidden Wound, James Baldwin, as keen an observer of human behavior as there’s ever been, wrote his own account of what happens when white people open their eyes to racism.
“What they see is a disastrous, continuing, present condition which menaces them, and for which they bear an inescapable responsibility. But since, in the main, they seem to lack the energy to change this condition, they would rather not be reminded of it.” Baldwin went on to observe that white Americans “are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence.”
Wendell Berry calls this suffering “the hidden wound.” He counsels that when “you begin to awaken to the realities of what you know, you are subject to staggering recognitions of your complicity in history and in the events of your own life.” Of this wound — this psychic and emotional damage that racism does to white people — he writes, “I have borne it all my life . . . always with the most delicate consideration for the pain I would feel if I were somehow forced to acknowledge it.”
As I closed Berry’s book in that Kentucky hotel room, I thought about what it must it be like to be part of the dominant group in an unfair “meritocracy” that denies its oppressions and pathologizes the oppressed.
“I think white folks are terribly invested in our own innocence,” says the scholar Catherine Orr. The belief that the United States is a meritocracy, in which anyone can succeed if only they try hard enough, also supports the notion that anyone who is financially successful is so because they’ve worked harder or are somehow more innately gifted than others.
Both ideas operate as a justification for maintaining our profoundly unjust economic system. Recent research from social psychologists at Yale and Northwestern finds that “Americans, on average, systematically overestimate the extent to which society has progressed toward racial economic equality, driven largely by overestimates of current racial equality.”
Wealthy white Americans, they find, have the most unrealistic assessment of how much progress the United States has made in terms of economic equality (and thus how fair the competition has been that they seem to have won). In a 2019 public opinion survey, majorities of both Black and white people said that being Black makes it more difficult to get ahead in America. Yet only 56 percent of white respondents believed the corollary — that being white helps you get ahead.
And of those who recognized the obstacles Black people face in terms of economic mobility, Black respondents attributed this to systemic discrimination, such as having less access to good schools and high-paying jobs. White people, on the other hand, were more likely to blame problems such as the lack of good role models and family instability — pathologies, in other words, that ultimately lay blame at the feet of Black people themselves.
Morally defending your position in a racially unequal society requires the fierce protection of your self-image as a person who earns everything you receive. From the tradition that trade unions make a place for members’ sons and legacy admissions at colleges to college students who can choose career-building but unpaid or low-paying internships because families can support them and employers who seek “a good fit” by hiring younger versions of themselves, the deck is stacked on behalf of white people in ways that are so pervasive we rarely notice them.
Within this context, many white people both resent affirmative action and imagine that it is vastly more widespread than it really is. The share of Black and brown students at selective colleges has actually declined over 35 years despite stated affirmative action policies, and the overwhelmingly white categories of children of alumni, faculty, donors or athletes made up 43 percent, for example, of students admitted to Harvard from 2010 to 2015.
Meanwhile, according to a 2016 study by Harvard Business School professor Katherine DeCelles, Black job applicants who removed any indications of their race from their résumés were significantly more likely to advance to an interview. Many other studies bear out similar findings, including an economic research paper that traced improved job prospects to whether applicants had names like “Greg” or “Emily” as opposed to “Lakisha” or “Jamal,” and a sociological study in New York City that found that “Black applicants were half as likely as equally qualified whites to receive a callback or job offer.”
Still, the idea that people of color are taking jobs from white people is another zero-sum belief that lumbers on from era to era. As Ronald, a middle-aged white man from Buffalo, New York, told the Whiteness Project, “I think affirmative action was nice. It had its time, but I think that time is over with. Are we going to keep this up another one hundred fifty years? ‘Oh, we gotta have so many Asians in the fire department, we gotta have so many Blacks in the fire department.’ . . . The white guys will never have a chance to be a fireman or a cop anymore.” Although using such numerical quotas to achieve affirmative action in employment was outlawed in 1978 by the Supreme Court, Ronald’s grievance is evergreen, as is his certainty that white guys getting all the public service jobs was the natural order of things, not its own form of white affirmative action.
Excerpted from the new book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee. Copyright © 2021 by Heather McGhee. Reprinted by arrangement with One World, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
Watch her TEDWomen Talk now:
You should go to the actual tweet and read the comments. Hugs
Why do kids need guns made for them? They seem to do well with adult guns at shooting people. But seriously everyone understands that kids emotional control and reasoning ability are limited. Some adults never grow out of those limitations. Again the comments are all over the map. Hugs
I just started to follow this guy above on YouTube. He has a veery reasonable take on things and is easy to understand. Hugs
The story below is amazing because it took kids to figure out something the adults should have seem a long time ago. Grand kids. Hugs