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Congressional Black Caucus members demand Florida remove ‘racist tropes’ from new African American history standards

Florida’s members of the Congressional Black Caucus are putting the Florida Department of Education on blast for its new African American history standards, which among other things require students to learn how slavery was beneficial to Black people.

They’re calling for an immediate reversal of the Board of Education’s decision to adopt the lesson guidelines and excise the “racist tropes” and “lies” it would perpetuate.

“These standards are out of touch with reality and will leave future generations of Florida out of touch and disadvantaged in the world outside of Florida,” Florida Reps. Maxwell FrostFrederica Wilson, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick and Caucus Chair Steven Horsford of Nevada wrote in a fiery, two-page letter Friday to Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. and BOE Chair Ben Gibson.

“Your decision to rewrite history to ingrain white supremacy into the minds of children is a colossal step backward and an insult to Black people, descendants of salves, and the intellect of the American people.”

They concluded, “We demand the Florida Board of Education immediately reverse its decision. Not repealing these new standards would dig up the corpse of the worst version of our nation and force our children to live in it.”

The newly adopted standards for African American history has drawn broad censure from community leaders, elected officials and education organizations in and outside Florida since its approval Wednesday amid mostly oppositional testimony.

That included the country’s first African American Vice President, Kamala Harris, who in Friday speech in Jacksonville called the changes “an attempt to gaslight us.”

Critics of the standards decried, among other things, a reduction in the required details students must learn about key figures like Martin Luther King Jr.Rosa Parks and the Tuskegee Airmen and the absence of elementary and middle school students instruction on Black history after the Reconstruction era, a period of marked hostility and discrimination.

The 216-page set of guidelines also notes that high school lessons about several instances of mass killings, including the 1920 Ocoee Massacre in which a White mob murdered at least 30 Black people for attempting to vote, should include instruction on “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.”

But by far the most outrage came in response to a benchmark clarification for middle school lessons on America before the Civil War stating that students must be taught “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Paul Burns, deputy chancellor for the Florida Department of Education’s K-12 division, insisted that language does not mean lessons are meant to teach that slavery itself was beneficial.

“Our standards are factual, objective standards that really teach the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said.

Diaz called the standards “robust” and comprehensive. “If anyone takes the time to actually look at the standards, you can see that everything is covered,” he said Wednesday.

But Frost, Wilson, Cherfilus-McCormick and Horsford contend the benchmark clarification on slaves’ skill development is a falsehood previously repeated during segregation and by racists “to benefit those who excuse slavery to avoid accountability or hope to commit similar abuse.”

“The issue of slavery has been litigated by a Civil War that included the service of almost 200,000 Black people and former slaves who fought and nearly 40,000 who died to kill it,” they wrote.

“Debating it is an insult and rhetorical trap. Countless pages have chronicled the commonplace terror, murder, sexual assault, and sadism used to sustain it. That American slavery benefited the enslaved is a lie so absurd that slave owners themselves were too self-conscious to attempt it until they began to feel the heat of abolitionism in the years before the Civil War.”