There’s that saying that goes, “White privilege is when your history is the core curriculum, and mine is an elective.” Well, to Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Black history isn’t even worthy of that bare minimum.
Earlier this month, it was revealed that the Florida Department of Education had sent a letter to the College Board, saying it would not adopt the board’s new Advanced Placement African American studies course for its public schools. The course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law,” the letter said, “and significantly lacks educational value.”
Meanwhile, AP courses in European history, American history, world history, U.S. government and politics, and other subjects, in various languages, remain untouched.
For the uninitiated: The College Board has for decades offered AP courses and exams in a variety of subjects for high-schoolers. The course material is supposed to be more intensive and to mimic what would be offered at a college level. To high school students who do well enough on their AP exams, many colleges and universities offer first-year course credits.
This day and age, it ought to be no question that African American studies deserves AP treatment. It’s crucial for all students to have access to this history and this knowledge and for scholars in the field to have an opportunity to reach younger generations.
The availability of this course would also be hugely meaningful for Black students. Study after study has shown that Black students are likely to be more engaged and perform better in school when their identities and histories are affirmed — and in a way that goes beyond fetishizing Black trauma. I was an AP student myself, scoring well enough on the European and American history tests to gain college credit. But I will never forget how humiliating it was to ask my teacher why we weren’t learning about Africa and Black people when so many other groups’ histories were considered essential.
The AP African American studies course isn’t even formalized yet; it’s in a pilot phase. For a decade, a group of African American scholars has been working to develop the program. Only 60 schools across the nation are testing it for the 2022-2023 academic year, though the College Board is hoping to roll it out nationally by the 2024-2025 school year.
DeSantis’s move, therefore, can be seen as a preemptive strike — on the continuum with all his recent attempts to cut off efforts to teach tomorrow’s adults about Black Americans and their place in history.
This would be a slap in the face at any time. But DeSantis’s latest escalation comes during the same month as the centennial of the infamous Rosewood massacre, when white residents destroyed the all-Black town of Rosewood, Florida. It’s more like stabbing the backs of Black Floridians with a hot knife.
And surely Florida is a testing ground. Most likely, it’s only a matter of time before conservative groups in other states use their institutional power to attack AP African American studies as well.
The history of the African American experience in the United States can’t ever be eliminated. But the bastions of white power in this country are doing their damnedest to eradicate it. In 2020, the whole world watched a white police officer eradicate George Floyd on camera. Diversity and inclusion programs are being eradicated from schools and corporations. Now, a state is using its power to eradicate the (elective!) inclusion of the African American experience in education.
What can be done?
First, more colleges and universities should band together to say they will recognize AP African American studies and give incoming freshmen course credit for the AP exam. With those incentives, it stands to reason that more students and educators will want to see the course offered in high schools.
Second, colleges should continue expanding their offerings of Black history and Black studies, including majors, minors and graduate degrees.
There are also legal challenges in the works. Janai S. Nelson, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told my colleague Jennifer Rubin: “AP courses are college-level courses that, by extension, are protected under the First Amendment, and the specific targeting of African American Studies is evidence of unlawful racial discrimination.”
But allow me to zoom out. I’d be remiss not to note that this should be a learning moment for all of us — for white people especially — about the failure to rein in the post-Black Lives Matter normalization of anti-Blackness.
As soon as the panic about “wokeness” in schools and the supposed teaching of critical race theory hit the mainstream, many Black journalists could smell what was coming. The laws against critical race theory and legislation such as Florida’s Stop Woke Act (another DeSantis special that has faced legal challenges) were always about anti-Blackness.
I have tried making this point over and over in my writing and in chats with well-meaning people who wanted to understand what the right was fussing about. I would hear people insist that if we just explained what critical race theory was, we could win by making fools of the conservatives who were banning nonexistent critical race theory courses. Those folks were wrong.
Instead, by singling out AP African American studies, Florida is showing us what the end game was always about: making institutional anti-Blackness lawful again.
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