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Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is facing continued backlash for legislation he proposed last month that critics say panders to white people. The bill would prohibit public schools and private businesses from making anyone feel “discomfort” when they teach students or train employees about America’s racially charged history. The bill passed its first round of approval earlier this week.
The proposal becomes the latest move from conservatives in what has been seen as a growing trend to erase critical race theory, an academic concept focused the intersection of systemic racism and policy in the United States, from the public sphere. The passing of laws of this nature would virtually make it illegal for educators to teach students about inequality and race.
CRT was developed during the 1970s and 1980s, triggered by what scholars felt like was a lack of racial progression following the several monumental civil rights achievements in the 1960s.
In part, the bill proposed by DeSantis states: “A person, on the basis of his race or gender, does not take responsibility for actions done in the past by other members of the same caste or gender. Discomfort, guilt, Pain, or any other kind of psychological distress should not be experienced.”
On Tuesday, Jan. 18, SB 148, which is modeled on DeSantis’ proposal and sponsored by Miami Republican state Sen. Manny Diaz, advanced out of the Senate Education Committee in the Florida Legislature, the first hurdle it must clear en route to becoming law.
Democrats have said this measure would open the floodgates for unexpected ramifications and ultimately lead to censorship of education in schools.
In a statement to The Associated Press, state Sen, Shevrin Jones, who is Black, said, “This bill’s not for Blacks, this bill was not for any other race. This was directed to make whites not feel bad about what happened years ago.”
Jones added, “At no point did anyone say white people should be held responsible for what happened, but what I would ask my white counterparts is, are you an enabler of what happened or are you going to say we must talk about history?”
The bill titled the “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (STOP W.O.K.E.) Act” was announced last month while referencing the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “You think about what MLK stood for,” he said in his announcement. “He said he didn’t want people judged on the color of their skin but on the content of their character. You listen to some of these people now a days, they don’t talk about that.”
Still, Jones believes DeSantis is only trying to please his conservative base. “The governor will continue to go across the country with his racist rhetoric on critical race theory … It’s a problem that doesn’t exist,” Jones said. “I think the governor’s policies that he continues to push are racist.”
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