Guest opinion: Ron DeSantis knows things, Critical Race Theory isn’t one of them

Every American of conscience should have a love-hate relationship with this country –…

Guest opinion: Ron DeSantis knows things, Critical Race Theory isn't one of them 1

Ron DeSantis knows things. He knows how to ensure that Republican donors in exclusive Key West enclaves and individuals in predominantly white, affluent communities are prioritized for the coronavirus vaccine. He’s proven himself adept at working with the Republican-controlled state legislature to advance their antidemocratic agenda, such as HB 1/ SB 484, which the ACLU says silences dissent and criminalizes peaceful protest for racial justice, and SB 90, which severely limits voting by mail. That takes know how.

During a recent press conference in Naples, he demonstrated his facility for stoking racial resentment for political gain by mischaracterizing Critical Race Theory before an eager, largely white audience.

Indeed. Ron. DeSantis. Knows. Things.

Reading from prepared remarks announcing his new civics education initiative, DeSantis said, “Florida civics curriculum will incorporate foundational concepts with the best materials, and it will expressly exclude unsanctioned narratives like critical race theory and other unsubstantiated theories.” Once the audience finished applauding, DeSantis continued, “There’s no room in our classrooms for things like Critical Race Theory. Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money.” This is dangerous, calculated race-baiting nonsense.

More: Guest opinion: Civic literacy program is essential, so is engagement with racism in America’s history

Every American of conscience should have a love-hate relationship with this country – kids, too. There are unquestionably things about the United States worthy of both love and hate. Two of the latter are white supremacy and systemic racism.

Refusal to engage with and accept the damning and readily available historical, social scientific and journalistic evidence of systemic white racism in the U.S. doesn’t change the facts – white Americans continue to derive manifold unmerited advantages, resources and opportunities. Many whites have worked diligently for decades, in public and private, to ensure it remains that way. Thankfully, over the same period, a multiracial group of insightful antiracists worked hard to accomplish the opposite.

By the mid-1970s, in the wake of the modern civil rights movement, it had become apparent to a number of civil rights attorneys, legal scholars and activists that white Americans’ commitment to racial equality had largely waned. White liberals had grown weary, most were unwilling to support further changes in law and policy necessary to ensure that Blacks were fully and equitably incorporated into the body politic. The belief that enough had been done for Blacks and other Americans of color was a widely shared sentiment among whites during the period.

Guest opinion: Ron DeSantis knows things, Critical Race Theory isn't one of them 2

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Gov. Ron DeSantis talks initiative to expand civics education in schools

Gov. Ron Desantis is pushing for more than $106 million to go towards his initiative to expand civics education in Florida schools.

Andrew West, Naples Daily News

Critical Race Theory emerged when scholar-activists began to theorize the ways that U.S. jurisprudence had the effect of maintaining whites’ privileged position in the social order, under the pretext of a color-blind law that no longer made explicit distinctions based on race or color.

According to Critical Race Theory, racism doesn’t simply reside in the heart and mind, but in law and policy. Further, racism is understood as a constituent element of U.S. society, not an aberration. Therefore, it encourages us to dispense with the tired “few bad apples” and “isolated incidents” tropes that many whites and more than a few confused people of color parrot out to deny the systemic nature of racism. Another central feature of CRT is the importance of counternarratives and story-telling to give voice to the experiences of the racially minoritized.

More: Guest opinion: Racial respect. If not now, when?

An additional tenet of Critical Race Theory is interest convergence – the idea that white support for antiracist changes in law and policy that benefit racially minoritized groups tend to come about only when whites benefit, too, not because of a moral imperative to do so.

Over the past couple of decades, Critical Race Theory has found its way into other disciplines and fields such as education, sociology, communication, cultural studies and more.

Ultimately, Critical Race Theory is a conceptual framework, a lens through which to view honestly the terrible racial legacy in this country. It provides us with important tools to make sense of and hold accountable a nation that pretends itself the quintessence of a post-racial democracy, while simultaneously maintaining a structure that keeps Black, Indigenous, People of Color disproportionately economically disadvantaged, politically precarious, educationally deprived, violently policed, residentially ghettoized, medically disserved and subject to the ever-present disapproving gaze of whites.

More: Comments made about ‘Black excellence’ at FGCU Student Government meeting lead to protest

I’m not sure where Ron DeSantis received his introduction to Critical Race Theory, but as a practitioner and proponent of CRT, I know that his representation of this rigorous, multidisciplinary, racial justice-oriented body of theoretical and empirical scholarship is deeply flawed, dangerous and promotes white racial resentment. Isn’t racial justice something that “not racist” people like DeSantis and those in the audience who applauded his comments want?

Ron DeSantis says and does outrageous things. That’s what overly ambitious, calculating politicians who crave power do. So, it comes as no surprise to hear him arrogantly speak about things he knows nothing about. I would encourage those who want to understand Critical Race Theory to consult the many scholarly sources and tune out the ramblings of Ron.

By his speech and actions, Ron DeSantis shows he doesn’t truly care about civics or civics education. Consider that while DeSantis is enthusiastically advocating for broader civics education in Florida’s public schools, and putting public money behind it, he is simultaneously working with Republican legislators to effectively disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Floridians through a Jim Crow-esque bill that would radically restrict mail-in-voting under the pretext of ensuring election integrity. Yet, there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Florida, or any other state. Such lies have been thoroughly debunked in bipartisan fashion by local, state and federal election officials and agencies charged with administering and securing the nation’s elections.

It seems fairly obvious that DeSantis’s misstatements about Critical Race Theory were crafted by political advisors to promote white racial resentment and generate national headlines for the ambitious governor – which they did, as he positions himself for reelection and higher office.


Sadly, DeSantis’s inaccurate and inflammatory statements about Critical Race Theory will have real impacts on the opportunity of Florida’s students to receive a robust civics education, which would necessarily include not only exposure to concepts like systemic racism, but also a vigorous critique of the very type of antidemocratic speech and practices in which he routinely traffics. Perhaps some courageous educators who cherish democracy will defy the retrograde governor and ensure that their students are taught an authentic account of civics.

Ron DeSantis may know something about some things, but he knows nothing about Critical Race Theory, or what a proper civics education looks like.

Ted Thornhill is an associate professor of sociology and the director of the Center for Critical Race and Ethnic Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University.

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