Clebrating Black History, Maybe?


On January 13 the office of Governor DeSantis issued a long press release announcing Black History Month Student and Educator Contests with the theme of “Celebrating the Achievements of African American Floridians.” The contests are named: Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis’ Black History Month Art Contest; Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis’ Black History Month Essay Contest; and, Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis Black History Excellence in Education Award Contest.

In the same release, Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, Jr. is quoted as saying, “Learning about African American achievements is central to learning about Florida and America itself.” Then, ironically, a few days later we learned that The Florida Department of Education informed the College Board of its intent to block a new advanced-level high school course that teaches African American history.

The reason given by the Governor’s office was that the course “leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow.” Note that the complaint was not that the course contained anything wrong, but that there were gaps that might be filled with something that they (Department of Education? Governor?) might object to. Since then the Governor has scrambled to find evidence of a ”political agenda.”

What is of greatest concern to Florida Republicans is that “wokeness” might be found in or might work its way into the curriculum. Why that is such a terrible disease is unclear given its definition. According to Merriam-Webster, “woke” is being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice.” Many of the opponents of woke say it is just and excuse to rewrite history and justify left wing extremist ideology and programs. It appears that just knowing about past and current social and economic injustices can lead students to think terrible things about America and maybe even consider radical ideas on how to improve things.

One wonders what is the opposite of “wokeness”. I don’t think it is racism or ignorance. I think it is something worse: indifference. It is easy to be against anything or anybody that opposes the status quo or your beliefs.  Just make them out to be evil or threatening to your security. What is much harder is advocating for something that might improve the lives of others even if that that might cost you something.

This month saw the birthdays of two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Martin Luther King and Albert Schweitzer. Just as King spent time in jail for being black in the white south leading freedom marches, Schweitzer was interred for being German in a French colony speaking against war. Both men, perhaps because of their common theological background, offered a radical solution to the social and economic inequities they saw.

While the Left may blame the Right for trying to “whitewash” history, both men looked at light differently. In the words of King, ”Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” And Schweitzer wrote, “Just as white light consists of colored rays, so reverence for life contains all the components of ethics: love, kindness, sympathy, empathy, peacefulness and power to forgive.”

What seems to be lost in all this divisiveness is the importance of our mutual dependence, where our lives are improved by helping others deal with the obstacles and barriers to their security and happiness. As King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others.” When we leave this existence, will our life be measured by apathy, mistrust or hostility? Or will we leave traces of kindness, compassion and the help we provided to those in need around us?

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