Archive for the ‘Racism’ Category

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis Builds His Educational Petrie Dish

Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

I know it’s masochistic, but I couldn’t help it. I found myself thinking about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his all-out assault on education, specifically education about racism, Wokism (if that’s a word), the LGBTQ+ community, and anything else he doesn’t agree with.

I began my long and winding journey down the DeSantis rabbit hole when I learned that yesterday was the day in 1964 when South Dakota became the deciding and 38th state to ratify the 24th amendment to the US Constitution.

The 24th Amendment prohibits making the right to vote conditional on paying a poll tax, or any other kind of tax. It reads:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 24th Amendment applied to Presidential and Congressional elections. Two years later, in 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6–3 in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections that poll taxes for any level of elections were unconstitutional. It said these violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Seven states never held a vote to ratify the Amendment. They are Wyoming, Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia. One state voted to reject the Amendment’s approval altogether. That was Mississippi. Mississippi again. The state seems to rejoice in being the bottom of the country’s bird cage.

Four states, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and Texas, waited years to ratify the Amendment, with Texas being the last, in 2009.

If you don’t count Virginia, which enacted a poll tax in 1876, but repealed it six years later in 1882, Florida was the first state to make a poll tax a condition of voting, enacting the legislation in 1885. It became effective in 1889. In 1941, 52 years later, Florida repealed its poll tax.

Florida did not repeal the poll tax because its legislators were conscience-stricken and knew they had to do the right thing. No. The state repealed the tax because too many white legislative candidates (they were all white) were buying votes by paying the tax for poor black and white constituents (disproportionately black, of course) who couldn’t afford it themselves. In essence, the tax was no longer doing what it was intended to do: suppress black votes.

Florida had two other legislatively approved ways to suppress black voting. The first was the Literacy test. According to the Tampa Bay Times:

In 1915, the Legislature enacted a literacy test along with a companion grandfather clause. The clause, common throughout the South, declared that any person who had a relative who voted prior to a certain date did not have to take the test.

According to the proposed Florida law, if you had a relative who was eligible to vote on Jan. 1, 1867, you were exempt from taking the test. Since no black Floridian was voting prior to that date, all of them had to pass the test.

Blacks were frequently asked more technical and legal questions than whites. When one black applicant was asked what “habeas corpus” meant, he responded: “Habeas corpus means this black man ain’t gonna register today.”

The final way the legislature held down, disenfranchised, the black vote in Florida was by means of the Criminal Disenfranchisement Law. This law, first enacted in 1868, reenacted in 1968, and in effect even today, bars anyone with a felony conviction from ever voting. Florida is one of seven states that still retain this disenfranchisement statute, which disproportionately affects blacks.*

Disproportionate imprisonment of blacks is not something peculiar to Florida. Nationwide, according to Bureau of Justice data, 18 and 19-year-old black men are 12.4 times more likely to be imprisoned than their white peers. And it doesn’t get much better as blacks age, as the chart below shows.

With this as background (and here are 24 more charts showing pervasive racism directed at blacks), Governor DeSantis insists there is no such thing as institutional racism, especially in Florida. And he’s gone to great lengths to make sure anyone in Florida who suggests otherwise will require divine intervention to escape punishment.

Ask Andrew Warren. Last August, DeSantis suspended Warren, the twice-elected Hillsborough County State Attorney, saying he violated his oath of office and has been soft on crime (Remarkably, Florida’s Governor has the legislative authority to do this). What had Warren done? Nothing, except for signing a group statement with other prosecutors saying “we decline to use our offices’ resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions.” In other words, Warren was suspended, not for something he did, but for something he said he might do at some time in the future.

Warren sued to get his job back. Yesterday, a federal judge ruled that, although DeSantis violated the Florida Constitution and the First Amendment, he lacked the power to reinstate Warren. In his 53-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, while grudgingly dismissing the case, excoriated DeSantis and his staff for attacking Warren for purely political reasons. Nonetheless, DeSantis won, which is usually the way things work in Florida.

And now, as we are smack dab in the second day of “Florida Literacy Week,” comes the Florida Department of Education’s new rules to enforce the Governor’s Parental Rights In Education Act, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay” or the Stop WOKE Act and Florida law 1467, the Curriculum Transparency Law, which requires school districts to be transparent in the selection of instructional materials and library and reading materials.

Taken together, these two statutes limit what teachers can teach and what their students can read.

The two statutes are supposed to apply to what goes on in the classroom. Consequently, in federal court filings, lawyers representing DeSantis insist  the statutes do not apply to library books. In practice the opposite is true. A recent 23-slide librarian training program, approved by the Florida Department of Education, asserts: “There is some overlap between the selection criteria for instructional and library materials.” One slide says that library books and teacher instructional materials cannot include “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.”

Good luck trying to understand what an “unsolicited theory” is, or what “student indoctrination” means. Indoctrination into what?

The rules are confusing for librarians, but they’re even murkier for classroom teachers, many of whom have created little classroom libraries over the years of their teaching. The Department of Education’s new rules require “media specialists” to vet every one of the non-curriculum  books teachers may have in their classrooms, as well as all the books in the school libraries. In Florida, some school librarians earn “media specialist certificates.” These are the “media specialists” tasked with vetting all the books in Florida’s 4,202 K-12 public schools. In Popular Information, Judd Legum reports that Kevin Chapman, the Chief of Staff for the Manatee County School District, told him that County principals told teachers last week they are subject to a third-class felony charge if unvetted books in their classrooms are deemed to violate the prohibitions contained in either of the two statutes.

Needless to say, those little classroom libraries are disappearing faster than the small piece of meat I dropped on the kitchen floor this morning right in front of my 80-pound dog, Lancelot (so named because he’s not Lance-a-little).

Florida law 1467 on Curriculum Transparency is particularly pernicious, because it prohibits teachers from exercising their own educated judgement regarding what is appropriate for their particular students. For Florida’s teachers, this is scary stuff. They are going to have to be very careful with what they say, or even suggest, in their classrooms.

Some teachers, perhaps many, will refuse to give up their intellectual freedom. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. As George Orwell said, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

Nevertheless, it seems Governor Ron DeSantis has achieved in Florida what all autocrats crave. He has brazenly fastened iron bonds on what the next and future generations of Floridians are allowed to know. To my mind, he has also underestimated the youth of his state whose intelligence, curiosity, global involvement, and just plain desire to know and learn cannot and will not be inhibited by anything an autocratic governor, whose overarching goal in life is to rule the world, will ever do.

My money’s on the kids.

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*Angela Behrens, Christopher Uggen, and Jeff Manza, Ballot Manipulation and the “Menace of Negro Domination”: Racial Threat and Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 1850-2002, 109 AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY 559 (2003).

 

 

Martin Luther King—Sharing The Spotlight With Confederate “Heroes”

Tuesday, January 17th, 2023

Yesterday, the city of Boston celebrated Martin Luther King day as no other city in the nation could. On Boston Common, the oldest public park in America, Mayor Michelle Wu and other leaders unveiled The Embrace, Hank Willis Thomas’s five-years-in-the-making monument to Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King.* 

The huge bronze hug is 38,000 pounds and sits 22 feet high and 40 feet wide. Boston’s newest monument is inspired by a photo of the Kings hugging after Martin won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The monument sits in an open circle with bench seating in the middle of Boston Common within another memorial, the new 1965 Freedom Plaza, which honors Boston civil rights activists.

The Kings had met as students in Boston and were married there in 1953. Among other things, the monument signifies the linkage between them in the civil rights struggles to which they each committed their lives. Coretta Scott King, in addition to being the wife of MLK, was also an artist, an activist, and a driving force who was by his side  doing the work with him, which she carried on after he was assassinated. She founded the King Memorial Center and never gave up fighting for a federal holiday honoring King’s legacy. Mrs. King’s efforts resulted in the federal holiday we now celebrate, when President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983; it was first observed three years later on January 20, 1986. In 1995, Congress designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the first and only federal holiday observed as a National Day of Service. Congress charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading this national effort.

All 50 states now recognize Martin Luther King day as a state holiday, South Carolina being the last in 2000. But when that happened, the South Carolina legislature also voted to create Confederate Memorial Day, which would be celebrated on the same day we honor King. And South Carolina is not alone. As Shoshana Gordon, Jacque Schrag and Russell Contreras report in AXIOS, “Ten states — all in the South — observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day plus at least one Confederate holiday.” This from the AXIOS report:

Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all have at least one day commemorating the Confederacy on other days of the year.

Mississippi and Alabama each celebrate a total of three Confederate holidays every year — Robert E. Lee Day, Confederate Memorial Day and Jefferson Davis’ Birthday — all paid holidays for state employees.

Many lawmakers in the ten states believe it is wrong to celebrate the confederate holidays, but nobody seems to want to propose legislation to repeal any of them. Now why would that be? Here is a map showing the states honoring the confederacy:

Of particular note is Tennessee with its three days honoring the confederacy. Why? Because one of them is Nathan Bedford Forrest Day (first observed in 1921). In honoring the confederate general and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s (R) 2019 proclamation saluted a “recognized military figure in American history” and a “native Tennessean.”

In these ten states Martin Luther King is lumped in with slaveholders, secessionists and murderers. The whole thing just oozes a terrible irony, especially when you consider how King’s life ended―and where―Memphis, Tennessee.

Those states aren’t the only places where Dr. King gets little respect. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI considered King “the most dangerous man in America” and conducted decades-long surveillance of him, surveillance encompassing more than 300,000 pages of documents.

Film director Sam Pollard chronicles Hoover’s efforts in his 2020 documentary, MLK/FBI. According to Pollard’s research and as reported on NPR:

The FBI campaign against King began with wiretaps, but quickly ballooned. When wiretaps revealed that King was having extramarital affairs, the FBI shifted their focus to uncover all evidence of his infidelity by bugging and taping him in his hotel rooms and by paying informants to spy on him. Eventually, the FBI penned and sent King an anonymous letter, along with some of their tapes, suggesting that he should kill himself.

Yes, like all of us walking God’s green earth, Martin Luther King had feet of clay. But he also had a heart as big as Texas and a passionate, life-long commitment to freeing his people from the chains of racism, a struggle that continues to this day, 163 years after the civil war’s first shot.

Were he alive today, King would probably be the first to acknowledge the tremendous strides made in the long journey for true equality in civil rights. He would also be the first to acknowledge how far away the last mile really is.

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*The Embrace has not won instant acclaim from everyone. In fact, there has been quite a bit of snarky criticism, some even calling the artwork “obscene.” It all reminds me of another monument, a memorial dedicated in late 1982—Maya Lin‘s minimalist Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. When it first opened to the public, politicians, celebrities, regular citizens and, most important, Vietnam Veterans, lined up to criticize it. It became known as “the black gash of shame.” Well, 42 years later, veterans go to the Wall and weep as they see the names of their fallen comrades. It is embraced by all, as will The Embrace be more and more as time goes by.