In a Sunday interview with NBC News, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stood by a new provision in the state’s education guidelines that implied freed African-Americans benefited from chattel slavery, claiming it would teach students that enslaved people “eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life.”
“That means they developed skills in spite of slavery, not because of slavery,” DeSantis added. “It was them showing resourcefulness and then using those skills once slavery ended.”
The remarks came as DeSantis also attempted to distance himself from the same provision. “I didn’t do it. I wasn’t involved,” he told NBC.
Last month, Florida’s Board of Education approved its new standards, including two controversial inclusions:
- Instruction for high school students about several race massacres, including the 1921 bombing of Black Wall Street and the 1920 Ocoee Massacre, must include acts of violence perpetrated by African-Americans
- Middle schoolers must learn about “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
As I wrote at the time, the move added to Florida’s ongoing efforts, under DeSantis’ leadership, to water down Black history and other topics the governor and his conservative allies have deemed “woke” in Florida’s curriculum.
The new guidelines suggesting that Black people benefited from slavery sparked outrage from Black leaders on both sides of the aisle, including Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).
“What slavery was really about was separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives. It was just devastating,” Scott, who is also running for the GOP presidential nomination, said at an Iowa event. “So, I would hope that every person in our country, and certainly running for president, would appreciate that.”
DeSantis’ defense of the provision comes as Republican voters appear to sour on the party’s focus on culture wars. As my colleague Isabela Dias wrote this weekend, only 24 percent of national Republican voters sought “a candidate who focuses on defeating radical ‘woke’ ideology in our schools, media and culture” over “a candidate who focuses on restoring law and order in our streets and at the border.”
That’s bad news for DeSantis, whose entire brand has relied on championing himself as a crusader against “woke” everything. One has to wonder what the Florida governor might have to offer beyond that.