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Ron DeSantis-backed sad white people bill has roots in Florida's racist past

A Florida Senate committee approved a bill this week to make it illegal for school or workplace lessons and trainings to make white people feel "discomfort."


The Florida Senate Education Committee approved a bill Tuesday that would effectively codify white fragility into law.

Senate Bill 148, which should really be called the “sad white people bill,” seeks to bar public schools or workplaces from making people feel “discomfort” or "guilt" about their race during lessons or trainings focused on inequality.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has endorsed the bill, which includes several provisions outlined in his Stop W.O.K.E. Act, a purported ban on critical race theory that was introduced last month. (For the record, critical race theory is a college-level area of study and isn't taught in K-12 public schools.)

Educating people about the inhumane ways white people positioned themselves atop America's social hierarchy is a direct threat to that racist power structure. White people are most likely to feel discomforted by these lessons.

Photo: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is pushing  that would prohibit public schools and private businesses from making white people feel “discomfort” when they teach students or train employees about discrimination in U.S. history
Justine Goode / Getty Images

That’s why — if the white parents complaining about Black authors weren’t enough — it’s clear that the Florida bill is designed to coddle white people, even though it doesn’t mention them specifically. 

“An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex,” the bill states. “An individual should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.” 

Lessons about racism or sexism are OK, but only if they meet the literally impossible standard of not offending anyone, the bill appears to suggest. School or professional instructors can use lesson plans “to address, in an age-appropriate manner, the topics of sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination,” according to the bill. But “classroom instruction and curriculum may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view inconsistent with the principles of this subsection or state academic standards,” it states.

They see the facade of white supremacy — weak as it is — crumbling under the weight of high school lesson plans and workplace trainings.

So, to clarify: Florida conservatives are prioritizing white hypersensitivity over truthful teachings. They’re apparently saying lessons about America’s racist and sexist past are acceptable only if they don't offend white people. 

To me, these new demands for fealty to fragile whiteness sound like a re-up of the Black Codes, laws instituted during and after the Civil War to reinforce white supremacy. 

In some states, the codes permitted capital punishment against Black people for minor crimes like petty theft, allowed whippings for vagrancy and swearing, and banned Black land ownership. Florida’s particularly harsh codes allowed white people to beat Black workers for “disrespect,” as historian Jerrell H. Shofner wrote in his 1976 essay on the state’s racist laws.

Historian Joe M. Richardson wrote that white Floridians passed the codes out of fear that their racist world was crumbling around them. 

“The fear of rebellion, a fear exacerbated by the emergence of northern abolitionism, periodically spurred Florida’s lawmakers into action,” he wrote in a 1969 article about the codes. "News of a recent uprising, regardless of its location or magnitude, was quite often followed by further revisions to the state’s slave code.”

It seems DeSantis and Florida’s GOP-led Legislature are operating with a similar fear. They see the facade of white supremacy — weak as it is — crumbling under the weight of high school lesson plans and workplace trainings. And bills like SB 148 are sad attempts to piece that facade back together.

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