Concerned Communities for America

NEWSWEEK | Both Sides Are Wrong About the DeSantis Fight Over Black History

By Daquawn Bruce | February 14, 2023

The recent controversy over a new Advanced Placement African American Studies course for high school students is a perfect example of what’s wrong with politics today. After the Florida Department of Education rejected the pilot course for violating state law, liberals and conservatives alike retreated into their respective echo chambers to slay their preferred straw men and score points with allies and supporters.

Liberals immediately detected the fingerprints of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, arguably their new favorite arch-villain, on the rejection of the course and proceeded to attribute the decision to a combination of racism and what they consider DeSantis’s native impulse toward censorship.

Conservatives, meanwhile, feted their favorite culture warrior for striking a blow against “woke” ideology, pointing out that the course included sections on Black Lives Matter, slavery reparations, and “queer” life.

The tribalistic impulse continued when the College Board, which oversees AP courses, announced that it had revised the curriculum, prompting jubilation among conservatives and additional cries of “censorship” from liberals.

The problem is that each side was focusing on completely different things.

Conservatives saw the revisions as vindications of their original objections. Fox News, for instance, reported that the College Board “cut much of the content associated with Black Lives Matter, the queer experience, and other controversial issues that prompted the Florida Department of Education to reject it from being taught in Florida schools.” Liberals, on the other hand, lamented the fact that the College Board even appeared to be taking Florida’s objections seriously, with many honing in on allegations that the revisions involved “silencing” Black authors such as Kimberlé Crenshaw and bell hooks.

College Board CEO David Coleman even went on NPR along with Brandi Waters, senior director of the AP African American studies program, to publicly refute charges that the College Board was capitulating to DeSantis by silencing Black authors. According to Coleman and Waters, a number of authors were included as resources for teachers participating in the pilot course and then eliminated in the final version of the course to comply with a policy of focusing on primary sources. Those authors, they clarified, would still be available to teachers and students through a resource called AP Classroom, as is the case for all secondary sources in AP courses.

But conservatives never sought to remove any authors from the course, and certainly were not celebrating the removal of Crenshaw, hooks, or any other Black authors. They were focused on the removal of sections promoting Black Lives Matter, queer life, and reparations—decisions that College Board executives did not feel the need to defend when they spoke directly to a liberal audience on NPR.

In the end, both sides emerged from this controversy with their pre-existing beliefs reinforced. Liberals still view DeSantis as a racist censor. Conservatives still view him as a champion of traditional values and defender of public education who courageously stood up to liberal bias and “woke” indoctrination.

Neither side is the least bit interested in understanding or even knowing about what their counterparts are saying. They’re content to stay within their echo chambers and let friendly journalists shape their understanding of the world around them.

That’s not good for our democracy, and it’s not good for our society. We can’t solve problems or reach consensus unless we are willing to engage with those we disagree with. Let’s stop talking past each other and start talking with each other.

DaQuawn Bruce is the executive director of Concerned Communities for America, a 501(c)(3) advocacy group that promotes economic empowerment, public safety, free and fair elections, and quality education for the black community.

Read the original op-ed in Newsweek here.

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