Mon, Jul

Who’s Afraid of Rosa Parks?


REWRITING HISTORY - Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida continues his battle against what he identifies to be “woke indoctrination” and “the state-sanctioned racism” in schools, also known as Critical Race Theory. In the news release announcing the legislative proposal Stop W.O.K.E. Act, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran stated, “Under Governor DeSantis’ leadership, Florida has very publicly adopted new state education standards for English Language Arts, Mathematics, Civics, Character Education and more, and we are modernizing students’ curriculum and lesson plans to match Florida’s new world-class education standards.”

Modernizing the curriculum for new world-class education standards in Florida means ransacking textbooks to censor “prohibited topics” such as race. In an effort to follow the Stop W.O.K.E. Act and align with Florida’s new state standards and frameworks, Studies Weekly, a social studies publisher which provides K-6 curriculum to 45,000 schools across the country, went to great lengths to alter the story of Rosa Parks.

Samples provided to PEN America and published by New York Times show Studies Weekly’s different textbook versions prepared for state approval. In the current version of the textbook, Rosa Parks’ story reads: “In 1955, Rosa Parks broke the law. In her city, the law said African Americans had to give up their seats on the bus if a white person wanted to sit down. She would not give up her seat. The police came and took her to jail.” And here is the version created for the textbook review: “Rosa Parks showed courage. One day she rode the bus. She was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin. She did not. She did what she believed was right.” Out goes the segregation law, out goes the police. But it does not stop there. Here is the second updated version, in which the mention of race is erased completely: “Rosa Parks showed courage. One day she rode the bus. She was told to move to a different seat. She did not. She did what she believed was right.”

What comes next, taking Rosa Parks off the textbook? Perhaps the Civil Rights Movement, too?

While whitewashing Rosa Parks’ story, the same version of the Studies Weekly textbook also sought to explain segregation laws without the mention of race. Removing the reference to “African American men,” which was in the original textbook, it now said it was illegal for “men of certain groups” to be unemployed and that “certain groups of people” were prevented from serving on a jury.

Certain people are afraid of Rosa Parks. Certain people are afraid of history. Certain people choose ignorance over knowledge again and again.

DeSantis claims to be fighting against state-sanctioned racism, yet the pedagogical oppression evident in the attempts to remove mentions of race from textbooks and prohibit discussion of race in classrooms is nothing but a deliberate act of state-sanctioned racism.

Philosopher Kelly Oliver recognizes that “seeing and not seeing or blindness” are “political acts.” “With the metaphor of a color-blind society, the connection between vision and politics becomes explicit,” she writes. Color-blindness is a symptom of racism. Oliver explains that rather than see and acknowledge the social significance of color and the painful history that has constructed and long sustained racial injustice, some choose not to see at all. In Racism Without Racists, political sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva demonstrates how this kind of color-blindness comes to serve as an “ideological armor” safeguarding white society from America’s racial realities. As Bonilla-Silva sees it, white people who adopt this ideology no longer have to feel responsible for the enduring racial and social stratification.

This is exactly DeSantis’ unapologetic agenda. His senate bill, in section 760.10, clause 7, states its aim is to prevent an individual from feeling “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin.” Subsequently, clause 8 acknowledges racial colorblindness to be a “virtue.”

Late psychologist James Hillman asserted that “America has a certain hubris about its virtue.” He pointed out, “Living on illusions or delusions, and the re-establishing of these illusions or delusions requires a big effort to keep them from being seen through.”

Threatening teachers with a five-year term in prison and a $5,000 fine for having unapproved books in the classroom. Forcing schools to empty libraries and cover classroom bookshelves. Disputing professors’ freedom of speech. Rejecting math books. Opposing social emotional learning. Imposing educational gag orders. An avalanche of book bans. So much effort, indeed.

DeSantis will continue to try to prohibit the topics such as race, ethnicity, as well as gender and sexuality in education. He will try to suppress the discussions of slavery, segregation, civil rights. He will continue to bully librarians and teachers. Ban as many books as he can. Demonize critical race theory, social studies, social emotional learning. Plant curriculum landmines everywhere. He will try to avoid feelings of guilt, anguish, and distress. He will try to escape historical consciousness. He will try to evade a sense of responsibility in spite of everything. All these tireless efforts point to a deep underlying sense of insecurity and fear. Not virtue.

To learn the real meaning of virtue, to understand the self-awareness, resilience, and sacrifice it demands of one, DeSantis may look to Rosa Parks, who on that bus in Montgomery, put fear aside and acted out of moral courage. By refusing to give up her seat she demanded visibility. And not just for herself but for the whole system of state-sanctioned racism.

Rosa Parks’ legacy cannot be revised and erased simply because certain people are afraid.

(Ipek S. Burnett is a depth psychologist and Turkish novelist living in San Francisco. She’s the author of A Jungian Inquiry into the American Psyche: The Violence of Innocence (Routledge, 2019). For more information visit: www.ipekburnett.com.)