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Whitewashed Freedom

A new bill introduced by Miami-area Sen. Manny Diaz is the latest in a long line of attempts by the Florida GOP to stonewall America’s efforts towards confronting the history, and enduring legacy, of racism.

Cover of Rethinking Schools Magazine, Volume 35, No. 4

Senate Bill 148, championed by Governor Ron DeSantis and his allies in the Florida legislature, is titled simply “Individual Freedom.” It is a twist of the knife in the wounds previously inflicted last year by DeSantis' push for the Florida Department of Education to ban critical race theory, the academic study of racism’s pervasive impact, and his follow-up legislation the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act." The Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act allows parents to sue school districts, and employees to sue employers, if they are exposed to teachings or trainings delivered through the lens of advancing racial equity.

The Individual Freedom bill recently passed the Senate Education Committee on a party-line vote last Tuesday, and is currently being reviewed by the Rules Committee. It reads as follows:

"Providing that subjecting any individual, as a condition of employment, membership, certification, licensing, credentialing, or passing an examination, to training, instruction, or any other required activity that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such individual to believe specified concepts constitutes discrimination based on race, color, sex, or national origin; revising the requirements for required instruction on health education; prohibiting instructional materials reviewers from recommending instructional materials that contain any matter that contradicts certain principles, etc.

Many media outlets are describing the bill's genesis using a strategic idea framed and reinforced by conservative think tanks, media personalities, politicians, and lobbyists, which aims to disrupt lessons on race and gender. The idea that has proliferated across legislation found in at least 16 states considering or enacting bills that would limit how schools frame American history is as disturbingly ironic as it is simple; white people should not be made to feel "discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race."

Critics of the “Individual Freedom” bill say it’s meant to censor conversations about race and gender in schools and workplaces. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Florida chapter called it “a blatant attempt to suppress speech DeSantis and certain legislators do not like.”

“Students and employees deserve to have a free and open exchange about our history and its impact on our communities,” the ACLU said in a statement. “Legislators should not interfere with a student or employee’s right to receive an inclusive education just because certain aspects of our history make some people uncomfortable.”

Miami Gardens born and bred State Senator Shevrin D. "Shev" Jones (District 35), Vice Chair of the Education Committee, has been an outspoken critic of this bill and its predecessors. "What worries me the most is us not telling the truth in American history — Black history, at that — and shielding students from the civil rights movement, from slavery, from redlining and things that happened, and to ensure that we don't go back to those times," Jones told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"If we don't teach it, we're bound to go back to those days."

“This was directed to make whites not feel bad about what happened years ago,”Jones said at the Senate Education Committee hearing last Tuesday as reported by “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?’”

Senator Jones encourages all Miami Gardens residents who disapprove of the Individual Freedom Bill to share their thoughts via emailed comments to the Senate Rules committee members, your Democratic and Republican State Representatives (a similar bill is circulating in the House), or if you are able, travel to Tallahassee to make a Rules Committee appearance and make a public statement.

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