Saturday, July 22, 2023

A Sorry Episode

The controversy engendered by the adoption by the Florida Board of Education of new standards for teaching African-American history in schools has exposed ugliness, obvious and hidden, about race in the USA.

Noting the numerous sections which evidently aim to highlight the horrors of slavery and the contribution of African-Americans to the USA, the National Review's Charles W. Cooke argues "there is simply no way of perusing this course and concluding that it 'gaslights' people or whitewashes slavery." 

Yet, the "clarification" reading "instruction includes acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans" suggests that violence committed by black slaves was in some way comparable to violence inflicted upon them.  Another clarification, "instruction includes how slaves developed skills which in some instances could be applied for their personal benefit," implies that there may have been a positive side to slavery.  Don't go there. These are bad.

Perhaps there was nothing nefarious in inclusion of these two "clarifications." Preferable would have been something akin to "acts of violence perpetrated against African Americans and the victims' response" and "how slaves developed skills which were coincidentally comparable to those needed in a market economy." Or just drop it altogether.

We'll probably never know whether architects of the curriculum were unaware of the misleading nature of those standards, pleased that they were proposing history be taught inaccurately, or expressing themselves very badly.

By contrast, we can more clearly assess the motives of Vice President Kamala Harris who, blasting the new academic standards, stated in Jacksonville

Extremists here in Florida pass a law "don't say gay" trying to instill fear in our teachers that they should not live their full life and love who they love. And now, on top of all that they want to replace history with lies.

Middle school students in Florida to be told that enslaved people benefitted from slavery. High schoolers may be taught that victims of violence of massacres were also perpetrators. I said it yesterday- they insult us in an attempt to gaslight us. And we will not have it. And we will not have it.

The "Parental Rights in Education" bill is also known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill and was signed by Florida governor Ron DeSantis in March of 2022. It reads "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."

The legislation has nothing to do with curtailing adult same-sex relationships or what the vice-president described as "that they should not live their full life and love who they love." But she might have been confused. This is, after all, Kamala Harris.

Nor is it particularly significant that Harris evidently finds something offensive about the term "slaves." In a rebuke to the axiom "keep it simple, stupid" (KISS), she substitutes the new-age "enslaved people" for "slaves." It is quite simple- as ordinary Americans realize, people who are enslaved are slaves. The evil of slavery is not reversed with a change in terminology.

But who is this "us" of which Ms. Harris speaks? The portion at issue of the State's Academic Standards is not entitled "Black History" or "Black American History."  It is not called "African-American and West Indies History." 

The West Indies is "an unofficial grouping of island countries and territories in the Atlantic Ocean." The group includes such territories as Martinique, Aruba, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and such countries as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica.

Kamala Harris' mother is from India. The vice-president's father was born in Jamaica, studied in England, and became a naturalized USA citizen. His parents were of Afro-Jamaican and Irish-Jamaican heritage.

Thus, as with many Americans, Kamala Harris has a mixed ancestry, apparently Indian, Jamaican, and more. But she is not predominantly African-American, nor in any way generational African-American. She is not descended from individuals brought to the shores of the USA by white Europeans (who have traditionally comprised this country's power elite), held in bondage, and after emancipation held back by generations of discrimination oppressing their descendants.

There is a difference. The California task force which has recommended reparations be made to African-Americans requires recipients

to be able to trace their lineage directly to a person who had been enslaved in the United States, or to African Americans who lived in the U.S. prior to 1900. This presumes “that such persons are descendants of enslaved ancestors or free persons who ran the risk of being enslaved during the 246 years that the institution of slavery existed in America,” (task force member Don Tamaki) said.

Whatever the recommended remedies- and I'm skeptical of them- the task force understands the special circumstances of generational African-Americans. When and if Kamala Harris returns to California, she will not be eligible.

That is only fitting, given the vice-president's ancestry and cultural background. Yet somehow, when Harris addressed a group in Florida about that state's curriculum on African-Americans, she referred at least twice to "us" as if said curriculum applied to her own ancestors.

The Vice President is entitled to be dishonest and as a politician, it is almost expected. However, if the Administration denounces a deceptive educational curriculum as characterized by "lies," a better messenger would be someone without a significant history of dishonesty and who chooses not to be deceptive in the present.


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