“Florida Is a Laboratory of Fascism”: Scholars Discuss Fight Over Black History

We host a roundtable with three main Black students concerning the Faculty Board’s resolution to revise its curriculum for an Superior Placement course in African American research after criticism from Republicans like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The revised curriculum removes Black Lives Matter, slavery reparations and queer idea as required matters, whereas it provides a piece on Black conservatism. The Faculty Board, the nonprofit group that administers Superior Placement programs throughout the nation, denies that it buckled to political stress. “Florida is a laboratory of fascism at this level,” says Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor of historical past, race and public coverage on the Harvard Kennedy College. We additionally converse with two students whose writings are amongst these purged from the revised curriculum: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African American research at Northwestern College, and E. Patrick Johnson, dean of Northwestern’s College of Communication and a pioneer within the formation of Black sexuality research as a subject of scholarship.


It is a rush transcript. Copy will not be in its last type.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Warfare and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We start as we speak’s present wanting on the controversy surrounding the Faculty Board’s resolution to revise its curriculum for an Superior Placement African American research course. The revised curriculum removes Black Lives Matter, slavery reparations and queer idea as required matters, and it provides a piece on Black conservatism. Many outstanding authors and teachers have additionally been faraway from the AP curriculum, together with James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, June Jordan, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Manning Marable, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Barbara Ransby, Roderick Ferguson and two of our visitors as we speak: E. Patrick Johnson and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. The brand new curriculum was launched Wednesday, on the primary day of Black Historical past Month.

This all comes simply weeks after Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis threatened to ban the AP Black research course in Florida colleges, and Florida’s Training Division mentioned the course, quote, “lacks academic worth.” Florida had raised concern about six factors within the curriculum: Black queer research, intersectionality, Motion for Black Lives, Black feminist literary thought, the reparations motion and Black battle within the twenty first century. Whereas a number of of these matters have been eliminated as required elements of the brand new AP curriculum, the Faculty Board maintains the ultimate selections to revise the curriculum have been made in December, earlier than Governor DeSantis mentioned he was banning the category.

UCLA professor Robin D. G. Kelley, whose writings have been additionally faraway from the required curriculum, mentioned, “That is deeper than an AP course. That is about eliminating any dialogue that is likely to be crucial of the USA of America, which is a harmful factor for democracy,” he mentioned.

We’re joined now by a roundtable of visitors. Two of them are professors whose work has been faraway from the required curriculum.

In Greenville, South Carolina, E. Patrick Johnson joins us. He’s dean of the College of Communication at Northwestern College in Chicago and a pioneer within the formation of Black sexuality research as a subject of scholarship. His most up-to-date e-book is Honeypot: Black Southern Ladies Who Love Ladies.

In Chicago, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor joins us. She’s professor of African American research at Northwestern College, as properly, a contributing author at The New Yorker journal and editor of the e-book How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective.

And Khalil Gibran Muhammad is with us, professor of historical past, race and public coverage on the Harvard Kennedy College, creator of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Trendy City America.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! And we’re going to start in South Carolina with Dean E. Patrick Johnson. You’re one of many banned. Are you able to reply to — this can be a complete controversy. The Faculty Board attacked The New York Instances for saying that they eliminated these sure sections from the required AP course in response to Governor DeSantis. They’re not disputing, the Faculty Board, that they eliminated these sections, however they’re saying they did it earlier than DeSantis made his last feedback on this challenge. What is understood is that the Faculty Board made their — revealed the curriculum on the primary day of Black Historical past Month. Speak about what’s taking place right here.

E. PATRICK JOHNSON: Properly, there’s a lot to cowl. , in response to the elimination of my identify, it’s a terrific checklist to be on, due to the great thinkers which might be included. And I additionally thought it was ironic that the truth that we’ve been eliminated means, really, in some methods, extra college students can have entry, as a result of now individuals are doing searches for our work. So, that’s the irony in all of this.

I can’t converse to the Faculty Board’s motivations or their course of, however what I can say is everybody is evident that African American historical past is getting used as a political pawn for the governor’s personal ascension, his personal aspirations to grow to be president. It is a motion to gin up his supporters and the conservative motion. And most of us, you understand, understand this, and so I’m not shocked by any of this. Nevertheless it simply signifies that we now have to be steadfast. We have now to maintain at it and ensure that the scholars who would have in any other case been in a position to entry our work can nonetheless entry it in lots of different methods.

AMY GOODMAN: I needed to show to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida telling reporters why he opposed the unique AP African American research course.

GOV. RON DESANTIS: This course on Black historical past, what are one — what’s one of many classes about? Queer idea. Now, who would say that an necessary a part of Black historical past is queer idea? That’s someone pushing an agenda on our children. And so, while you look to see they’ve stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that’s a political agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Dean Patrick Johnson, your response?

E. PATRICK JOHNSON: Ron DeSantis has no standing about what ought to and shouldn’t be part of African American historical past. He’s not a scholar of African American historical past, and he himself will not be African American. So, why ought to he have any position in what ought to and shouldn’t be included? And something that — if something lacks academic worth, it’s the governor.

AMY GOODMAN: I wish to flip to your pupil, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, as a graduate pupil, now additionally a professor, a professor now at Northwestern College of African American research, one of many canceled, as properly. Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, your response to this controversy, and what college students will be taught throughout this nation? It’s not simply restricted to Florida. There are legal guidelines being handed or being weighed in lots of states across the nation.


I wish to speak about that, however I wish to start together with your query concerning the Faculty Board and their motivations, as a result of I feel it’s plausible that that they had a piloted course that was being circulated amongst many faculties, dozens of colleges — I feel it’s 60 colleges across the nation. It’s completely plausible that, by means of that course of, they determined that issues wanted to be faraway from the course, that it wanted to be revised not directly, that it wanted to be tightened up. That’s the objective of getting a pilot within the first place.

However what will not be plausible is that the political environment had no bearing on their selections about what to revise and the methods wherein they revised it. And I say that as a result of a part of the — this has been — the event of this course has been in course of for a decade. Nonetheless, Trevor Packer, who’s the top of AP inside the Faculty Board, advised Time journal final fall that the occasions surrounding the homicide of George Floyd reinvigorated his need to get this course achieved. And so, it’s exhausting to imagine that given the circumstances round George Floyd and the historic demonstrations that got here within the wake of that homicide, the choice to excise any reference to up to date Black America, to the Black Lives Matter motion is simply coincidence, is unbelievable.

And so, the modifications to the curriculum didn’t need to be immediately associated to the phrases of Ron DeSantis. The political writing has been on the wall, each when it comes to the unfounded assaults on crucial race idea, the derision of The 1619 Challenge, which is the place a lot of this started, The 1619 Challenge being banned in states throughout the nation, the mere point out of crucial race idea being banned in states throughout the nation. And so, on the Faculty Board, you solely wanted to be a considering particular person to comprehend that if we don’t change vital elements of this curriculum and weed out the unconventional writers, then, you understand, we’re in all probability are asking for hassle. So, their rationalization that that is simply a part of the method and it has nothing to do with the political atmosphere is totally unbelievable.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you to reply to David Coleman, the CEO of the Faculty Board, defending their resolution on CBS.

DAVID COLEMAN: We on the Faculty Board don’t actually look to the statements of politicians, however we do look to the document of historical past. So, after we revised the course, there have been solely two issues we went to. We went to what Brandi described, which is suggestions from academics and college students, in addition to 300 professors who’ve been concerned in constructing the course, and we went again to rules which have guided AP for a very long time and served us properly.

AMY GOODMAN: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, your response?

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Once more, I do suppose that they have been engaged in a course of that went from a piloted course to a revised course. However even historical past, a few of that is utterly nonsensical — the truth that within the unit on civil rights and Black energy, that they’ve decreased the Black energy motion to the lifetime of Malcolm X, who was killed in 1965, earlier than, actually, the heyday of the Black insurgency within the late Sixties came about. And why is that necessary? As a result of from 1963, actually, by means of 1968 — in Elizabeth Hinton’s e-book referred to as America on Fireplace, which reveals a good longer historical past of Black revolt and rebellion in the USA — is the context inside which Black research was born. Black research as a tutorial subject, as a self-discipline, emerges out of the rebellions of the Sixties. It’s Black college students demanding that their lives, that their historical past, {that a} curriculum be developed across the experiences of Black individuals, round an understanding of racism in the USA, round an understanding of the form of core hypocrisy of the USA proclaiming itself to be a simply democracy whereas treating Black individuals, one, as slaves, after which as second-class residents. That is utterly faraway from the curriculum, so we don’t even perceive or know the place the self-discipline of Black research comes from. And so, that can be a political alternative. And so I feel that it’s simply unsuitable to say that politics had nothing to do with it, when it’s so evident, based mostly on the alternatives of what remained and what was eliminated, it’s so evidently formed by the political environment that we’re in as we speak.

AMY GOODMAN: I needed to ask you concerning the Combahee River Collective, which stays within the curriculum, a manifesto of the Black feminist group. You edited How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective. Clarify what it’s and the way it matches into this Black research course.

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: The Combahee River Collective itself was a company of Black feminists, Black lesbians that shaped within the Nineteen Seventies. And three of the main members of that group put collectively, wrote a manifesto, basically, proclaiming the which means of Black feminism for them, which was actually about wanting on the ways in which the experiences of Black girls had been minimized or marginalized over the course of the radicalization of the Sixties, which is to say that, for a lot of, Black politics was seen as a male enterprise, as a set of politics and organizing that have been oriented across the calls for of Black males, and the emergent feminist motion was seen to have been dominated by white girls. And so, the Combahee River Collective emerges to speak about, actually, what are the experiences of Black girls.

And so they write this manifesto as a solution to articulate the necessity for what they describe as identification politics, and never the form of identification politics that’s talked about as we speak, that’s criticized by the fitting and by liberals as we speak as an exclusionary enterprise, however actually as a approach for people who find themselves oppressed and marginalized to have a solution to speak about their very own experiences, to construct a political motion round what they want, as a result of, as Barbara Smith, one of many authors of the assertion, mentioned, if we will’t battle for ourselves, then why would we count on anybody else to battle for us? Actually, we all know nobody else will battle for us. So, it’s a really crucial and necessary assertion within the canon of Black feminist research but in addition within the canon of Black radicalism.

AMY GOODMAN: I needed to usher in Khalil Gibran Muhammad. I needed to start out, although, with Fox Information’ Jesse Watters, who mentioned this on Fox Information, criticizing the AP African American research course.

JESSE WATTERS: It’s an excellent course. Three-quarters of it is rather rigorous and superb, and that is very high-level stuff. And then you definately get to about 1960 in right here, and it’s all activism. It’s all ideology. It’s no historical past. A great course — chunk of that is actually great things, after which it goes into white supremacy, patriarchy, abolish the prisons, overthrow capitalism, queer idea, intersectionality. And also you’re like, “Whoa! We have been going fairly good right here,” after which, growth, it hits you with all that stuff.

AMY GOODMAN: And the decrease third of this Fox Information is “Warfare on ‘Woke,’” is what it says. Khalil Gibran Muhammad is professor of historical past, race and public coverage at Harvard Kennedy College. Your response?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Properly, right here’s the factor. We dwell in a rustic the place the query of how we must make use of our assets, what sort of political construction we should always have in an effort to determine on management are all political questions. And we’ve been combating a query about how you can distribute these assets for the reason that very starting, since 1619, within the debate between indentured servitude and chattel slavery. So, when Fox Information means that activism to advance a place of a extra equitable, a extra egalitarian economic system — name it “socialism,” in the event you’d like — or activism in pursuit of an precise multiracial democracy — name that “woke,” in the event you’d like — is simply one other approach of articulating the identical factor the fitting does, which is to say that we should always solely be instructing capitalism, we should always solely be instructing particular person freedom. It’s absurd, but it surely’s good propaganda.

And so, my job, Professor Yamahtta Taylor’s job and Professor E. Patrick Johnson’s job, and the 650 African American research college and their allies who’ve written a letter in protest to what’s going on, it’s our job to truly inform the fullest historical past and account of the nation we really dwell in, from the previous to the current. That’s our job. And so, it’s the job of locations just like the Faculty Board, who purport to be able to develop curriculum to show college students based mostly on what students and scholarship says — it’s their job to push again in opposition to propaganda. And sadly, that’s not what has occurred right here.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you able to inform us, Professor Muhammad, about what the Faculty Board is? I imply, the Faculty Board makes the SATs and PSATs. More and more, they’re being made elective everywhere in the nation. Folks don’t often consider this as — I imply, it’s a big company that makes a fortune off of this, however now that income is threatened. And so they additionally, then, have these AP programs. And in the event that they see that the political local weather on this nation goes to be banning programs, are they caving to this stress for their very own monetary causes?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Once more, we, as students, need to ask these questions. You, as a journalist, need to ask these questions. The Faculty Board doesn’t need to reply these questions. They’re an unbiased entity. Now, only a clarification: They’re a 501(c)(3), which suggests they aren’t a personal company; they’re a nonprofit. They get, actually, tax breaks for what they do. They generate an amazing quantity of income, a billion {dollars}, based mostly on —


KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: And half a — I’m sorry? A yr, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: A billion {dollars} a yr.

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Yeah. Half a [billion] of that comes from the distribution of the AP system, and one other portion of it comes from their SAT, after which they’ve these pipeline applications. So, it’s a gigantic entity. The president of the Faculty Board in 2020, in line with the general public 990, made two-and-a-half million {dollars} — the CEO, David Coleman — which is twice the wage, one of the best I do know, of the present Harvard president. So, it isn’t an insignificant entity, and its issues about his personal well-being financially need to be thought-about in mild of those controversies.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about how this leads, not simply the elite AP programs, however to what academics and professors train throughout this nation, and their fears? For instance, in Manatee County, Florida, academics have taken to protecting up or eradicating books from their class libraries, after a brand new regulation prohibiting classroom materials that hasn’t been vetted and authorised by so-called licensed media specialists went into impact. Academics present in violation of those tips face felony expenses, may go to jail. And so, not understanding what that is about, wouldn’t there be large self-censorship beforehand to not danger turning into criminalized?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Completely. This is the reason what Florida Governor DeSantis is doing is definitely shaping nationwide academic requirements. That is now not simply concerning the Cease WOKE Act, that impacts what occurs in Florida, or within the case the place he has now taken over one of many schools and actually banned any notion of range and inclusion, which is now extending to the bureaucracies of the college. I imply, the notion of a chilling impact and self-censorship on what academics suppose they could be capable to train is just now being examined. Florida is a laboratory of fascism at this level. I work on the Harvard Kennedy College, and we discuss lots about laboratories of democracy. We speak about metropolis innovation. Properly, Governor DeSantis is now floor zero for paving the way in which for the extension of the elimination of any notion that we dwell in an open society the place we get to debate concepts freely.

And I wish to remind people who an AP course is designed to permit college students to get school credit score. When he and his minions say, “Properly, that is about highschool college students,” properly, AP programs are actually not about highschool college students. It’s about them not having to learn Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor or E. Patrick Johnson in school, as a result of they’ve already learn them in highschool. So, the affect on that is nationwide in scope, and we now have to contemplate that in mild of DeSantis’s personal plans.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you able to discuss concerning the letter that you simply wrote, together with 650 African American division college members, condemning efforts to critique and curtail this new AP course? The importance of this, Professor Muhammad?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Certain. Properly, I wish to make clear: It’s African American research college. And we’re represented by Black individuals, white individuals, Latinx individuals, Asian individuals, everyone. So, everyone seems to be included in that letter. What I wish to say is, we’re operating out of individuals in our subject who can assist this, together with individuals within the letter who’re listed within the AP curriculum for credit score for taking part within the course of. It’s turning into much less tenable for the Faculty Board to say that their 300 college have weighed in on this, when this quantity retains rising, and among the identical individuals they cite as supporting it have signed this letter.

Professor Yamahtta Taylor has already mentioned strained credulity. I imply, we’re past straining credulity. This doesn’t add up numerically, as a result of what I’m studying once I’m studying the press stories, when I’m studying the releases by the Faculty Board, I’m seeing this gesture to this universe of individuals, however, in reality, I’m studying {that a} a lot smaller variety of gamers take part within the precise crafting of the curriculum. I’m not shocked that the Faculty Board is utilizing this as a communications technique, rolling out individuals like my colleague Henry Louis Gates to face in for what they’ve performed. However Henry Louis Gates by no means seems in any credit within the unique curriculum. He solely magically seems in a while, after which as a spokesperson for this.

So, what our letter tried to do was to say this — what is going on right here within the Faculty Board’s obvious appeasement suggests to us that Ron DeSantis is now essentially attacking probably the most sacrosanct rules of an academic system of an open society, and a frontal assault on educational freedom and democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s be clear, after all, he’s not simply Florida Governor Ron DeSantis; he’s clearly a presidential aspirant and can form the discourse in 2024, if in reality he runs, however clearly considering that his positions now, he’s attempting to form them to enchantment to all the nation — which brings me again to E. Patrick Johnson, Dean Johnson. That’s proper, dean of the College of Communication at Northwestern College, pioneer within the formation of Black sexuality research as a subject of scholarship. Are you able to share a message to future AP college students? Are you able to discuss concerning the focus of your work and why you suppose it’s necessary for college kids to find out about Black queer research?

E. PATRICK JOHNSON: Completely. , one of many issues — going again to one thing that Professor Taylor says, you understand, the suggestion that Black historical past stops in 1963, and even 1968, is ludicrous. , one of many progenitors of what we now consider as Black queer research is James Baldwin, who was one of the vital necessary thinkers of the twenty first century. To depart somebody out of the historical past, of African American historical past, like James Baldwin is absurd, as a result of he was not solely only a fiction author, a nonfiction author; he was an activist, and he was additionally queer. And his considering has formed, together with many others — Audre Lorde — what we now consider as Black queer research. And so, you may’t parse out the mental historical past of Black research with out these necessary thinkers. In order that’s why it’s necessary for college kids who’re in highschool to be uncovered to those thinkers, and likewise to grasp the historic context out of which they emerged. Even when they, of their time, weren’t utilizing the language that we use now — i.e. “queer” — they have been engaged in conversations and questions round sexuality because it pertains to Black individuals.

And sexuality as a query, as a mode of thought, additionally applies to the interval of slavery and thereafter. So, I imply, as Black individuals, we’re sexual beings. And so, that’s why it’s necessary to grasp the position that sexuality performs within the historical past of Black individuals. If you consider, as an illustration, the establishment of slavery and the way sexuality was very important to sustaining that establishment, when it comes to utilizing Black girls’s our bodies as breeders or utilizing Black males’s our bodies as breeders to take care of slavery as an establishment, it’s ludicrous to suppose or to say or espouse that sexuality will not be necessary after we speak about Black historical past.

And the opposite factor I’ll say is, this tradition warfare that we’re experiencing now will not be the identical tradition warfare that we have been experiencing within the Eighties. And the distinction is social media. The youth and younger individuals as we speak have been born with the entry of the world of their pocket by means of a cellphone. So, even in the event you take out the Black Lives Matter motion from this course, even in the event you take out my work and others’ work, individuals can have entry to it. So, we now have to be steadfast. We have now to be artistic, as we at all times have, to ensure that our younger individuals perceive the totality of Black historical past, which incorporates the historical past of Black sexuality.

AMY GOODMAN: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, we’re going to finish with you. February 1st was a starting and an finish. It’s the start of Black Historical past Month; it was the funeral of Tyre Nichols. When you can wrap up this dialogue by speaking about what’s taking place as we speak on this nation — one other assault on the AP curriculum is speaking about police violence — and what individuals have to grasp about the place we stand as we speak on this nation?

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: I feel one of many the explanation why the historical past — I imply, that is an African American research course. However why Black historical past is so necessary proper now’s as a result of it speaks to the longevity of each the situation of Black individuals on this nation, one among oppression and marginalization, but it surely additionally speaks to the longevity of political battle. And that’s half of what’s so appalling, actually, concerning the resolution of the Faculty Board in caving in to the fitting wing on this, whether or not it was DeSantis or whether or not it was the final environment, which is to say that Black individuals have been delivered to this nation as slaves, after which, when slavery ended, there was one other 100 years of authorized subjugation. So it’s solely constant that the whole lot of Black letters could be consumed with questions of battle, with questions of activism, with questions of politics.

But in addition, as a part of which might be questions concerning the American venture itself, which is basically what many of those individuals are afraid of. And with out that historical past, we don’t perceive the depth of the fury of protest at police brutality. We predict that the calls for to defund the police or the questioning concerning the American jail system, and even the suggestion that we don’t have prisons, that we not have prisons, is impetuous, simply got here up, is a latest phenomenon. No, this comes from a protracted historical past of police repression, a protracted historical past of judicial misconduct.

And that is likely one of the the explanation why this subject of inquiry is so extremely necessary. You can not perceive the hyperlink between crime and the Black group until you learn Khalil Muhammad’s e-book, The Condemnation of Blackness, one of the best e-book ever written on the subject. You possibly can’t perceive a lot of Black life as we speak until you interact with the sphere of African American historical past, which is why this isn’t just a few remoted scholastic query, however that it has deep political implications. Black historical past is about understanding the up to date second, not only for Black individuals, however for the nation as an entire. And that’s the reason that is utterly harmful and why we now have to withstand these efforts to attenuate our understanding of this historical past as a substitute of broadening it and deepening it.

AMY GOODMAN: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, we wish to thanks for being with us, professor of African American research at Northwestern College; E. Patrick Johnson, dean of the College of Communication at Northwestern College; and Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor of historical past, race and public coverage on the Harvard Kennedy College. We thanks all a lot for this necessary dialogue.

Developing, we converse to an asylum seeker right here in New York who has simply been evicted from a resort the place he was staying together with a whole bunch of different migrants, now the town transferring them to a distant terminal in Purple Hook, Brooklyn. Stick with us.