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Opinion | DeSantis and the dangerous consequences of denying history

DeSantis himself has made targeting Black people, our history and culture a full-time job recently.

Governor Ron DeSantis speaking with attendees at a "Unite & Win Rally" at Arizona Financial Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. Gage Skidmore

Ron DeSantis is a liar. If you didn’t know before Saturday’s horrific shooting in Jacksonville, Fla., now you do.

The Governor of Florida’s own words indict him. “What he did is totally unacceptable in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said in reference to Ryan Palmeter, the 21-year-old shooter who killed three Black people at a Dollar General store.

“We are not going to let people be targeted based on their race,” DeSantis continued. 

Let’s pause. There’s the lie. 

He won’t admit it, but DeSantis himself has made targeting Black people, our history and culture a full-time job recently. It started with his dubious Stop W.O.K.E. Act, a legislative response to so-called “woke indoctrination.” 

“In Florida we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory,” DeSantis said in a news release dated December 15, 2021. “We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other.”

Lies are bad. Dumb, uninformed lies are even worse.

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By definition, Critical Race Theory is “a set of ideas holding that racial bias is inherent in many parts of western society, especially in its legal and social institutions, on the basis of their having been primarily designed for and implemented by white people.”

Excuse me, but where’s the lie? Of course, the United States has been racially biased – legally and socially – toward people who aren’t white and from a European culture. Anyone who denies that doesn’t know history at all – and is in denial about the obvious actions and artifacts that continue to tout a racial bias toward white people (Seen a Confederate flag recently??).

The attempt to enslave America’s Indigenous people, the theft of their land, and the many other efforts to subjugate and disenfranchise them was based on their race. The enslavement of Africans and their descendants, and the many tactics used to disenfranchise them both during and post-slavery, was race based. Treatment of Asians, Hispanics, people of Middle Eastern descent and others who aren’t white has often been determined by race.

Racial bias was embedded in the U.S. Constitution. It was the basis of social interactions and financial transactions for several centuries. And it certainly wasn’t Black or Indigenous people who created these policies. 

It was white people. 

What DeSantis has been fighting against is history, and his fragile ego. And he’s turned that battle into a political cause – using hate as an excuse.

I shouldn’t even have to say this, but for those of you who don’t know: Black people of good will are no different than white people of good will. We don’t hate white people for being white. We don’t hold your whiteness against you. 

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Now, we may not be trusting of you when first meeting you. But that’s not because of you. It’s because of history. And current events – such as the Jacksonville mass shooting – which teach us to engage with white strangers with care.

Examining history is not hate. But denying history arguably is – or at least creates an environment where hate can fester. 

That’s the environment that DeSantis has cultivated in Florida. For him to pretend otherwise makes him a liar – and an obvious one at that. 

But he’s not the only one.

Alabama’s 54th Governor, Kay Ivey, has been lying to us, too. “We have permanently BANNED Critical Race Theory in Alabama,” she posted on Twitter (now X) on Oct. 20, 2021. “We’re focused on teaching our children how to read and write, not HATE.”

More stupid, uninformed lies. Teaching history is not teaching hate. It’s teaching the truth, which can and should be used to explore pathways to healing.

Want to know what cultivates hate? Whitewashing history. Denying historical facts. Gaslighting people about the implications of history.

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The lies about race and history sanction the hate that spurs shootings like the one in Jacksonville. Or the recent spray-painting of Nazi symbols and racial slurs on homes and vehicles in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Montgomery. 

DeSantis and Ivey aren’t dumb. Deep down, they know this. They just don’t care.

David Person is a media personality and consultant who has been working in the Huntsville market since 1986 as a talk show host, columnist, and director/producer. David co-hosts the podcast Alabama Politics This Week.

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