Over at NBC News, my colleague Kimmy Yam published a report Wednesday about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing of a law mandating that some history about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders be taught in public schools, mere months after education officials in Florida whitewashed an Advanced Placement course about Black history.
As Yam’s report shows, many Asian Americans see this as a blatant attempt to drive a wedge between marginalized racial groups by a governor whose rhetoric around race and politics aligns him with white Christian nationalists.
Gregg Orton, national director of National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, a coalition of 38 AAPI organizations, said the history law is far from a “win” for the Asian American community, adding that “racial justice can’t be a zero-sum game for communities of color.”
“When you advance a bill that uplifts AAPI communities, but don’t want to acknowledge the fact that in the same state, there are real intentional efforts to invisiblize or erase Black history, or [critical race theory], you are on the wrong side of history,” Orton said. “With Florida, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion than they are actively trying to use the Asian American Pacific Islander community as a wedge here.”
The DeSantis administration’s performative partiality toward Asian Americans in this case fits within a long history of white Americans’ attempting to use Asian Americans as a tool to enforce a racial hierarchy that places Black folks at the bottom and white folks at the top. Historically, white Americans have relied on the “model minority” myth to portray Asian Americans (a nebulous term that describes a diverse group of people) as smarter or more determined than Black people, even as these white Americans have subjected Asian Americans to racism — and in some cases, blatant racist violence.
As I’ve written for The ReidOut Blog previously, this is why many Asian American civil rights activists have long been allied with the Black civil rights struggle: There’s an understanding that their demands of justice and equality are linked, no matter the oppressor’s framing. And that’s why Asian American activists in the education space — such as Mari Matsuda, one of the founding practitioners of critical race theory — insisted that Asian Americans “will not be used” in the effort to crowd Black people or Black voices out of classrooms.
DeSantis and his right-wing minions aren’t on to anything new with their pseudo-support for Asian Americans here. Just old-school tactics of divide and conquer.