Don’t whitewash Black history in Florida’s public schools. Tell the full story | Opinion

·3 min read

Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared that Florida “is where woke goes to die.”

I have never understood what exactly the governor is referring to when discussing his “woke” obsession. All I know is that the opposite of “woke” is “asleep,” and DeSantis appears to have slept through some important lessons himself, as seen in his recent assaults on teaching African-American history in our public school classrooms, including rejecting an AP course African-American studies classes from the state’s high schools.

DeSantis represents a clear and present danger to the cultural heritage of African-American students. We must stand against this intolerance. DeSantis clearly has his eyes set on higher office and believes the path to get there is through whitewashing our past. In the process, he is leaving a trail of confusion and dismay.

In the misguided effort to, as the Stop Woke Act says, prohibit “instruction on race relations or diversity that imply a person’s status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex,” a Florida textbook recently removed references to Rosa Park’s cultural heritage and race in order to comply with this confusing mandate.

Given that some African-American authors, including Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois and Alice Walker, indeed are on public schools’ reading lists, educators still are befuddled over how to teach them history without running afoul of the law.

The governor may want to whitewash history, but reckoning with it is an essential part of our collective ability to move forward as a country. Simply put, African-American history is an essential component of our nation’s history and should be taught in every classroom. Diluting this history sends a message that it is not as valued or important.

This decision will only deepen the cultural and educational divides that exist in our society and rob our students of the opportunity to fully understand and appreciate the context for how our modern society has evolved.

My mother, Wanda Louis Collins, was a trailblazer in desegregation, part of the first class to integrate an all-white Catholic school during the Civil Rights Movement.

Ironically, she chose to send me to an all-Black Catholic and later laboratory school, where I was exposed to African-American heritage through Black Studies programs. I vividly recall learning about Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History, who stated that, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

All who support diversity and inclusion — from corporate America to everyday citizens — should raise their voices, support efforts to undo this divisive and un-American law, and condemn DeSantis’ actions. He will only continue to meddle in the work of our state’s educators, as seen in his recent proposals to defund critically needed diversity, equity and inclusion programs in Florida universities.

He should remove politics from our schools, allowing our students to receive a comprehensive and inclusive education that acknowledges our past — which helps to shape our present and future.

Jamar J. Hebert is the founder and president emeritus of 100 Black Men of Greater Florida GNV and the CEO of J. Hebert Companies. He is also the author of the recent self-help publication, “The Only Black Man in the Room.”