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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Jeffrey L. Falick

SLAVERY AS INTERNSHIP AND OTHER RACIST REVISIONIST HISTORY

Last Friday night I made a passing joke about the governor of my home state of Florida, referring to him as the “Grand Wizard.” I doubt it was original. I must have heard some comedian say it. But whether it was original is beside the point because over the past few years – and strikingly since last week – it’s increasingly accurate.


In case you missed it, I refer you to the State of Florida’s curriculum for Black studies, its latest effort to warp history.


As widely reported last Thursday, Florida’s Board of Education just approved a new set of standards for teaching Black history in the state’s public schools. Among its many egregious distortions are claims that some Black people benefited from being enslaved. If that was not bad enough, it also contorts other events in Black history, pointedly affixing equal blame to persecutors and the oppressed in some of the most atrocious attacks on Black people in U.S. history. Based on what I know about some of these wholesale slaughters, Florida now considers attempting to vote to be a justifiable provocation for mass murder (see under: 1920 Ocoee, Florida Massacre).


When challenged by reporters, DeSantis doubled down, defending the new curriculum by pointing out that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Slavery as an internship.


It is exactly this kind of curriculum that civil rights activists predicted would emerge after passage of the state’s Individual Freedom Act (a.k.a., the “Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees – WOKE – Act”). That’s the latest incarnation of Florida laws prohibiting any instruction that might lead to individuals feeling “guilty” or “uncomfortable” about past wrongs committed throughout American history. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has already upheld an injunction determining the law unconstitutional, but that has not prevented the state from issuing curricula like this one. Nor did it prevent the state from banning a new College Board A.P. course in Black studies.


As it happens, I have some firsthand knowledge about Florida’s ugly history of racism. I grew up there, a third-generation descendant of family that first arrived in 1896. Their stories and my own experiences provided me with a personal view about what Florida has been like for Black Americans.


I saw it that time when my family stopped in Homestead to gas up on our way to the Keys. Right there in front of me were only recently defunct signs labeling the “colored” bathrooms and water fountain.


I heard about it from my Great Uncle Burnett Roth, a Miami Beach city commissioner and vice-mayor, civil rights attorney, and Jewish activist. He led the fight to abolish the "pass laws" that required Black people without special work passes to leave the city every night.


I learned about it when I spent time in Overtown, a City of Miami neighborhood torn to pieces by the construction of I-95 (much as Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood was demolished for re-development). Originally called Colored Town, it was where those Black people banished from Miami Beach would often spend the night.


About countless other stories of Black degradation and de-humanization I was provided with an excellent education by my Great-Aunt Rosebelle Roth, a civil rights activist in her own right. She edited the first-ever history of Black Floridians, worked tirelessly to include Black studies in the public school curriculum, and raised money for scholarships for Black scholars seeking to acquire academic degrees to bring their own history to light.


Today’s travelers to Florida who go there for the theme parks or winters probably have very little knowledge of the state's atrociously racist past. If it's even possible, what Black people experienced there for hundreds of years makes Florida's current efforts to re-write history that much more appalling.


Personally, until Florida changes course, I have no plans to go back. And while I’m certainly not advocating a boycott, I sure would like to see more visitors demonstrating solidarity with the many, many Floridians who are being hurt by this disgusting revisionist madness.

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