Ron DeSantis, Defender of Black History | Opinion

The debate over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's rejection of the AP African-American Studies course is both profoundly stupid and stupendously profound.

It can be aptly summarized in three lines of dialogue:

College Board: "Here's the new AP African-American Studies course."

Florida: "Wait, why is Queer Theory in here? We're not teaching this."

Elite Liberal Groupthinkers: "Florida's trying to ban teaching Black history! Racists!"

What exactly is Queer Theory doing in AP African-American Studies? And why are liberal media elites reflexively committed to the proposition that it is essential to Black history? There's actually a lot to unpack behind all of this.

As National Review's Stanley Kurtz has written and a leaked copy of the AP African-American Studies framework bears out, the closer that the course chronologically approaches the present day, the more it simply presents a one-sided vision of far-left academics as fundamentally integral to the African-American experience and national contribution.

The announced course framework features units on "The Black Feminist Movement and Womanism," "Intersectionality and Activism," "Black Feminist Literary Thought," "Black Queer Studies," "'Post-Racial' Racism and Colorblindness," and the Black Lives Matter Movement. The history of African-Americans, in other words, becomes the history and endorsement of far-left academic ideology. Nowhere is it suggested that there are profound critiques of these niche academic-activist interpretations. If a state were to offer AP African-American Studies in its current form, it would effectively be endorsing the position that these political-ideological academic hobbyhorses are essential to "Blackness."

Joe Biden once put this implicit political position far more pithily. In a campaign-era 2020 interview with Charlemagne tha God, Biden declared that if you were on the fence about voting for him, "then you ain't black."

Normal people saw this as degrading, and Biden apologized for it. But it also made perfect sense to some elite liberals. For example, "1619 Project" architect Nikole Hannah-Jones was quick to jump in and clarify: "There is a difference between being politically black and being racially black. I am not defending anyone, but we all know this and should stop pretending that we don't."

In this declaration, the self-proclaimed "Beyonce of Journalism" was only parroting a proposition articulated over a quarter-century earlier by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the woman who coined "Critical Race Theory." In her article pioneering the concept of "intersectionality," Crenshaw declared that there was a difference between saying "I am black," and "I am a person who happens to be black." Saying "I am black" takes "the socially imposed identity" of, say, a "black nationalist," and "empowers it as an anchor of subjectivity." By contrast, the latter formulation foregrounds universal humanity, declaring "I am first a person." After making this distinction, Crenshaw counsels that as a "resistance strategy," the former proposition should be embraced by activists.

Since then, an intersectional academic alliance ranging from critical race theorists to queer theorists has worked to develop a very specific set of political-ideological propositions and socially impose them as "Black," regardless of what people who happen to be black actually believe.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to guests
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to guests at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting on November 19, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Scott Olson/Getty Images

In other words, far-left activist academics have arrogated to themselves the exclusive authority to define "Black." Liberal elites have gone along with it, no matter how strange the propositions would strike normal people.

This ideological movement came to full political fruition with the Black Lives Matter organization, a powerfully named group run by self-declared "trained Marxists." Notably, the planks of this movement are widely unpopular with black people. Few African-Americans believe wholeheartedly that we must "disrupt and dismantle the Western-prescribed nuclear family," or that we should teach young children that modern gender ideology is metaphysical truth. However, these persons, who are certainly "racially black," would not, on account of their traditional views, be deemed "politically black" by the likes of Nikole Hannah-Jones.

It's easy to see the attraction of defining certain ideological positions as integral to "Blackness." It provides activist academics with a massive public relations subsidy. They may pioneer and promote their pet political ideologies and, regardless of what most black people actually think, market those pet ideologies as essentially "Black," and then frame opposition or skepticism to them as "anti-Black" or "racist."

This trick has totally worked on the elite university-trained corporate media. But most normal people can see right through it—and properly deem it dehumanizing.

The fundamental question posed by the AP African-American Studies course framework, and the concomitant squabble with Governor DeSantis, is: Which position should the government take? Are African-Americans persons who have distinctive, yet also diverse, experiences and opinions? Or are they political avatars whose subjectivity is properly anchored in the whims of contemporary far-left academics?

The College Board has taken the latter position. Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida have taken the former. It is a properly political question, although the divide is not between black and white. The divide is between elite liberal opinion, enchanted by critical race theory, and popular common sense, informed by the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The College Board may have the prerogative to attempt to impose a far-left worldview on high school students, but it has no right to do so. The state of Florida, by contrast, has every right to determine which political and sociological propositions its schools will teach children to be true. But Florida should not have been alone in its stand. If the final AP African-American Studies course framework, due to be released this week, does not radically alter course, every governor and state superintendent in America should reject this ideological usurpation of African-American history.

Max Eden is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.