Enraged members of Florida’s original task force on African American education say they were purposefully kept in the dark about the state’s new academic standards—which now include the wild revisionist claim that skills used during Black enslavement provided “personal benefit”—in a shady move that echoed plantation politics.
The Florida Commissioner of Education’s African American History Task Force was created in 1994 to implement “the teaching of the history of African peoples and the contributions of African Americans to society,” according to the group’s website.
However, three members now claim they were neglected to be informed about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new mission to restructure how Black history was taught. Instead, a totally different “work group” was quietly formed—and stacked with the Department of Education’s own appointees—to advise on the new standards and pass an agenda.
“It’s the same divide techniques that they used on the plantation,” African American History Task Force member Dr. Donna Austin told The Daily Beast. “It’s the same, identical thing. They always use methods of dividing the African and African American people. That’s what they do.”
The Florida Board of Education approved the new guidelines July 19, which detail African American contributions in art and civic service, patriotism, the livelihood of people who were enslaved, and abolitionist movements. However, there was widespread criticism over one section on how African Americans “benefited” from enslavement.
“Examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agricultural work, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation),” reads the Social Studies 2023 standards. “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
To no surprise, members of the new work group were proud of the new standards. In an interview with NPR, academic Dr. William Allen said it was a “collaborative process” that he was “perfectly content” to be part of, then claimed famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass was “inspired” by his mistress to read while enslaved.
“That small glimmer of light was enough to inspire him to turn it into a burning flame of illumination from which he benefited and his country benefited,” Allen said, according to NPR.
Despite Allen’s mental gymnastics on enslavement, the controversy found its way to the White House when Vice President Kamala Harris publicly blasted lawmakers for pushing a “misleading” curriculum. “They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it!” Harris cried during the Social Action Luncheon for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
(The new section appeared to be academically shoddy, too: Nearly half of the examples provided by the department of enslaved people who may have benefited from slavery were never enslaved at all.)
“I’m an African American, and I’m not expecting any type of standard to imply that my ancestors benefited from slavery,” Austin said in an interview with The Daily Beast Friday. “I thought that that was very disrespectful, extremely demeaning, and it supports what people want others to believe about African and African American people.”
Austin explained that she knew the Department of Education was creating a new work group, which was made up of three members selected by the Task Force and 10 members selected by the department. But despite the Task Force being required, by law, to have input on the standards, Austin said she was “completely unaware” of the standards until they were released to the public.
“I’ve been on the Task Force for years, and we were making great strides in getting districts to implement African and African American history in their classrooms,” she said. “We were doing very well at helping them to understand how to infuse the standards and their curriculum so that children from K-12 can really learn the truth about African and African American history. And for this to come…it seems to me that this was something that was applied and planned.”
Other Task Force members similarly shared their disgust at how the new standards “whitewash” African American history.
“Florida statute requires that instruction be provided on African civilization before colonization and slavery,” the office of state Sen. Geraldine Thomas said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “This focus is totally missing from the newly adopted standards. The standards should not advance the misconception that our history as a people began with slavery and not with one of the most advanced civilizations in the world.”
Thomas, who is a member of the Task Force but had nothing to do with the new standards, claimed that the new guidelines imply that Black history began with enslavement and that it’s mythologized as a “training ground where enslaved people were taught skills that they could use for their benefit.”
“This whitewashes the brutality that occurred when families were separated by being sold off during slavery and the resulting long-term trauma still experienced by current generations,” she said.
Kimberly Daniels, a Florida state representative who was appointed to the Task Force by Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, insisted she was also iced out of the process.
“I never participated in any conversation about the state’s Black History standards. In fact, I was never consulted about these standards,” she said, according to local outlet CBS 47. “I disagree with and would have immediately challenged and resisted any notion that slavery was a benefit to African Americans.”
Austin said she believed the separate “work group” was made—with a very similar sounding title of The African American History Standards Workgroup—to intentionally confuse the public about who was responsible for the new standards.
“[DeSantis’ people] purposefully did that. They did that,” she said, claiming the DeSantis administration utilized conservative Black people in the second group to do their dirty work.
“These people are very conniving and cunning… They’re very good at that because they set up systems for that to take place. But what we fail to do is recognize that this is a spirit of deception.”
“I’m gonna be honest with you: This is a race war,” she added. “And we have too many African Americans on the wrong side of the battlefield.”
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