Florida is poised to become the first state to enact legislation that restricts how race is discussed in classrooms and the workplace – a measure that Black lawmakers strongly condemned but could not block in the Republican-dominated legislature.
On Thursday (March 10), Florida lawmakers voted 24-15 along party lines to approve the legislation, the Associated Press reports.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the measure. He is one of a number of conservative politicians who have opposed Critical Race Theory (CRT), a college-level academic framework to analyze systemic racism. The GOP has used misinformation about it to stir up its political base as the 2022 midterm election approaches.
The legislation applies to K-12 public schools and race sensitivity training of private businesses. Workers could sue their employers for violating the new rules.
In part, the bill reads, “A person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
Black lawmakers denounced the measure Thursday during debate of the bill, calling it an attempt to whitewash history, including the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws, The Washington Post reports.
“This bill is about fear. Not fear of someone feeling guilt, but fear of our young people coming together to tear down walls of division that some people want to keep up … The bill makes it okay to talk about Pilgrims coming over on ships, but not a race of people coming who came over on slave ships,” Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson said.
Florida State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat, called the measure, “a continuation of a national agenda to whitewash history all because we don’t want white children to feel uncomfortable about true Black history. Just because you don’t like the truth, doesn’t mean you try to hide behind it.”
The Democrats also warned that the bill would have a chilling impact on businesses across the state that are trying to promote diversity. They predicted that it invites frivolous lawsuits.
Their opposition will likely fall on deaf ears when the legislation lands on DeSantis’ desk. The governor, who is rumored to have his eyes on a presidential run in 2024, has made battling CRT a top legislative priority.
In December, he initially announced the bill to ban critical race theory called the "Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act," or “Stop WOKE Act.” The legislation would ban the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools and prohibit school districts, colleges and universities from hiring CRT consultants.
This controversial legislation can be viewed in the context of a larger nationwide conservative movement to control how issues about race and identity are discussed.
GOP strategists have made CRT a catchphrase referring to any curriculum or initiatives around racial equality disliked by conservative politicians and officials. Developed in the 1970s and 80s by the former Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell, CRT examines how racism is embedded in institutions to protect white dominance, according to The New York Times. It challenges the idea that racism exists only at the individual level. Rather, racism is systemic, across the nation’s education, criminal justice and other systems.