Louisiana Lawmaker Forced to Clarify There Was No ‘Good’ in Slavery

Rep. Ray Garofolo was trying to explain his education bill, which is part of a larger trend against “critical race theory.”
April 29, 2021, 6:23pm
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Rep. Ray Garofolo, chair of the Louisiana House Education Committee

A Louisiana state rep said earlier this week that schools shouldn’t teach “divisive concepts” but rather give students “the good, the bad, and the ugly” on various topics such as… slavery. 

Unfortunately, that was the example that immediately sprang to his mind in a recent hearing, and he quickly had to confirm it had no “good” parts. 

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Rep. Ray Garofolo, the chair of the Louisiana House Education Committee, made the comments during a committee hearing on his own bill that would ban any K-12 school or college that receives public funding from teaching “divisive concepts” such as the United States or Louisiana being “fundamentally, institutionally, or systemically racist or sexist.” 

The bill is part of a larger trend against “critical race theory,” which seeks to scrutinize America’s racial caste system and the history and role of white supremacy in our institutions. On Wednesday, Idaho became the first state to officially ban instruction of the concept, even in universities, though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he was banning it from the state’s education curriculum last month.  Former President Donald Trump also criticized the theory (at least as he understood it) and formed a “1776 Commission” as a response to the New York Times’ 1619 Project, but President Joe Biden immediately shut the commission down after taking office.

Garofolo’s bill is a response to a February online panel discussion at Louisiana State University about a book called “The Religion of White Rage: White Workers, Religious Fervor, and the Myth of Black Racial Progress,” whose co-editors include two professors in the university’s African-American Studies department. 

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“Are we presenting all sides?” Garofolo told the New Orleans Advocate earlier this year. “If we are making these types of presentations on campus, are we presenting an alternative viewpoint as well [as] making sure we have balanced presentations?”

During the Tuesday hearing, Garofolo cited parents telling him about "handouts they're being given saying that the United States is a racist country, that corporations are inherently racist and have a bias,” but maintained that his bill simply clarified that you couldn’t teach “theories” as “facts.” 

Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, a Republican, asked Garofolo what it meant to “prohibit discussion of divisive concepts as part of a larger course of academic instruction,” as Garofolo’s bill intended to do. 

To illustrate this point, he used the example of slavery, which wasn’t legally abolished in Louisiana until 1864. “If you're having a discussion on—whatever the case may be, on slavery," Garofolo said. “Then you can talk about everything dealing with slavery: the good, the bad, the ugly.” 

“There’s no good to slavery, though,” Hilferty shot back.

The room broke out into laughter. "You’re right. You’re right,” Garofolo responded. “I didn't mean to imply that. And I don't believe that, and I know that that’s the case,” adding that he was using slavery as a “generic” example. 

During the same hearing, Rep. Gary Carter Jr., a Democrat, asked Garofolo point-blank if Louisiana “ever was” systematically racist or sexist. “From my perspective, I’m not a history teacher, so you can’t ask me a history question that I may not have that fact to,” Garofolo said. 

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“But you drafted the bill,” Carter responded. “You would acknowledge though, right... that the state of Louisiana was fundamentally, institutionally, and systematically racist in the past?” 

“I’m not a history teacher, I’m not a history scholar,” Garofolo repeated. “The bill doesn’t pick what is fact and what is not fact.”

Garofolo has since pulled the bill, according to the Advocate. On Wednesday he took the floor of the House saying he was “totally taken out of context” and that “a lot of people are putting up negative things on my children’s Facebook pages and my wife’s Facebook page.”

“The media is totally reporting this inflammatorily against me,” Garofolo said. “I don’t think anyone should be treated like this when something like this happens…  This is a matter of personal integrity for me.” 

After Garofolo took the floor, Louisiana Black Caucus chair and state Rep. Ted James called for the Louisiana House leadership to remove Garofolo as the committee chair, the Advocate reported

“An apology is not enough,” James said. “The defense of systemic racism throughout our country is inarguably an issue, and the language of this proposal alone is enough to offend those of us working toward change.”