The Florida state Legislature approved a bill Thursday that aims to stifle conversations about race and gender in the school and workplace, and end the great scourge of our time: thoughtful considerations of privilege and racist oppression in America.
The Florida Senate passed a bill modeled on an effort Gov. Ron DeSantis called the “Stop WOKE (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) Act” on a party-line vote Thursday. DeSantis is expected to sign the bill, which he unveiled last December with a speech in which he warped the famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote, about being judged not by the color of your skin but by the content of your character, into an attack on critical race theory (CRT).
The bill, called simply “Individual Freedom,” would prohibit schools and workplaces from using instruction material that teaches, among other things, that a person’s status as “privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex.”
An earlier version of the bill would have made it illegal to teach lessons and materials that cause a person to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin.” The bill was amended last month to narrow the definition to prohibiting lessons that say a person “bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” for systemic racism and sexism—something that’s actually happening in very few classrooms, if at all.
The intent of the bill, however, is clear. Similar to others around the country, it’s aimed at tackling CRT, “critical race theory,” an academic theory about America’s legal system that the right has turned into a bogeyman that’s allowed them to target diversity trainings and school curricula about racism both past and present.
Though the bill doesn’t explicitly name critical race theory, DeSantis has called the concept “state-sanctioned racism.” State Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., a Republican who sponsored the bill and is rumored to be in consideration to become DeSantis’ next education chief, said Thursday that “as the teacher, you should never know my politics. You should never know where I stand on those issues.”
But state Sen. Shevrin Jones, one of many Black Democratic legislators to register vocal opposition to the bill, said the effort was part of a national trend toward “revisionist history.”
“This bill is not about individual freedom,” Jones said Thursday. “This is a continuation of a national agenda to whitewash history all because we don’t want white children to feel uncomfortable about true Black history.”
State Sen. Bobby Powell, a Democrat, repeated several times that America “is indeed the land of the free and the home of the brave,” but noted it was also “the home of the slave.”
“Slavery happened,” Powell said. “Jim Crow happened. George Floyd happened… when you tell the story, tell it all.”
Florida has been busy this week fighting the conservative culture wars. The Senate passed what’s been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which similarly prohibits discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.
DeSantis has not yet signed the bill, but after the CEO of Disney—the state’s biggest driver of tourism—came out against the bill, the governor said Thursday that his state “won’t allow them to inject transgenderism into kindergarten,” and slammed the company as “woke.”
“You have companies, like at Disney, that are going to say and criticize parents’ rights, they’re going to criticize the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten in first grade classrooms,” DeSantis told supporters in Boca Raton, according to Fox News. “And so in Florida, our policies got to be based on the best interest of Florida citizens, not on the musing of woke corporations.”
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.