During a rally Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down on his desire to rid Florida public schools of critical race theory with a proposal called Stop W.O.K.E. Activism.
This comes after his call for a ban during the summer, and according to a press release, it gives “businesses, employees, children and families tools to fight back against woke indoctrination.”
“It violates Florida standards to scapegoat someone based on their race, to say that they are inherently racist, to say that they are an oppressor, or oppressed or any of that and that’s good and that’s important. But we also have to realize that we have to do more to make sure that that actually carries the day in our classrooms and in our society,” DeSantis said.
However, while DeSantis and supporters of the initiative feel that critical race theory is divisive, others believe that its removal is what is separating people.
“History is history and you cannot separate people from their history and what happened to them,” said Oakland Park Mayor Michael E. Carn, who is Black. “I have a right just like a Holocaust survivor, a World War I survivor, or World War II, I have a right to remember my history. You cannot exclude me.”
Carn shared that his father fled South Carolina after he was threatened with death by white men when he attracted the attention of some white women. He left in the middle of the night on foot and the Carn family has lived in Broward County ever since.
“It’s not right, it’s deplorable and it’s inhumane and it’s really unintelligent,” Carn said. “It’s the most unintelligent thing you can do. You can unite people by having them understand history.”
Carn recently stepped down from his run for the District 94 special election in January, but he plans to run again during the regular election in August 2022. According to the 2010 Census, 58% of residents in District 94 — which includes parts of Wilton Manors and Oakland Park — are Black.
However, race is not the only thing under attack. In a critical race theory report by the Heritage Foundation, the group criticized Chicago Public Schools for advocating for students to speak up about “LGBTQ Awareness” and the “Keeping It Reel Film Project,” which included the issue of transgender rights. This summer, the Florida School Board of Education adopted new standards for public K-12 education (the statute can be read at the Online Sunshine website), with an emphasis on teaching events such as the Holocaust, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the civil rights movement, and the contributions of women, African Americans and Hispanic people.
There is no mention of LGBT people in the statute — possibly ignoring the 100,000 homosexual people arrested from 1933 to 1945 in Nazi Germany and the 15,000 killed in concentration camps. There is also a provision that allows parents to pull their children from classes teaching “reproductive health or any disease, including HIV/AIDS, its symptoms, development, and treatment.”
The statute, though, says schools “may not suppress or distort significant historical events.”
Elijah Manley, who is Black and gay, is also a candidate for District 94 and said that the Republican Party’s war on critical race theory is “an attempt to rewrite history against the consensus of academia.” He also noted that graduate-level theory is not even taught in K-12 schools.
“Contrary to the GOP's conspiracy theories, no child is being forced to believe anything, and there is no boogeyman hiding in the classrooms teaching your children to hate America,” he said in an email. “Facts will continue to be facts, and true history will continue to be taught as is.”
Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones, who is also Black and gay, said Republicans have weaponized critical race theory and that they’ve “engineered panic across the country,” agreeing that it’s a nonissue as it’s taught at the graduate level.
According to Education Week, critical race theory is “the core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”
It has been criticized by conservatives for decades, with the Heritage Foundation saying in a report, “its use of story-telling — easy to understand fictional vignettes that seek to portray in every day life terms the ‘systemic racism’ that CRT scholars insist exists in America — is but one of the ways that CRT scholars seek to effect change.”
Derrick Bell is considered a founding father of critical race theory. The first tenured African American Harvard Law School professor, Bell often sacrificed prestigious positions to preserve his core beliefs. He served five years as dean of the University of Oregon School of Law, resigning in 1985 out of protest when the school denied tenure to an Asian woman.
The Pacific Northwest is also where the controversy over critical race theory arose. Christopher Rufo, a Seattle writer, has been making the media rounds alleging, among other things, that Chicago schools are using critical race theory to teach elementary school students that “whiteness is the devil.” In an OP-ED published by the Wall Street Journal, Rufo argues critical race theory has nothing to do with history or sensitivity.
“It's a radical ideology that seeks to use race as a means of moral, social and political revolution,” Rufo wrote.