Opinion: What about Black students’ ‘discomfort’?
"Of all the attempts around the country to coddle the snowflakes among us who can’t handle the reality that our shared history is equal parts noble and brutal, the “discomfort” bill in the Florida state legislature is the most idiotic.
The official name of the legislation, part of the bonkers “stop woke” agenda of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, is “Individual Freedom.” One of its provisions directs that classroom instruction not make any student "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.”
That protection from “discomfort,” of course, is a one-way street accessible only to White students. What about the unease Black students feel learning history that is sanitized or just plain incorrect? I know I’m going back some decades, but I’ll never forget the discomfort of being one of the few Black kids in a predominantly White school, especially during history class when slavery, the Civil War, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or the civil rights movement would come up.
One teacher often had students read sections of the textbook aloud in class. No one ever saw my growing alarm as I realized that the (startlingly brief) section on slavery would be intoned by me. I could feel the eyes on me as I read aloud paragraphs that barely scratched the surface of the inhumanity visited upon my ancestors.
The Civil War was merely a costly conflict between North and South that resulted in the liberation of the slaves. And the civil rights movement, in retrospect, was discussed with an odd mix of admiration at how African Americans braved harrowing violence to push for the equality promised in the Constitution — and annoyance at how they disrupted the status quo by doing so. Mostly, though, Black people and our foundational contributions to this country were downplayed or ignored.
Anyway, back to that Florida bill. While it says educators “may facilitate discussions and use curricula” to teach about things such as slavery, racial oppression and racial discrimination, the flawed measure includes a big ol’ “but.” It says that “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.”
“Indoctrinate or persuade” is a giant loophole that could potentially lead to banning anything that twinges the fragile sensibilities of those who can’t handle confronting the truth or being intellectually challenged. Just how vacant this legislation and this movement are was illustrated by Tina Descovich, a leader of the conservative group Moms for Liberty. “To say there were slaves is one thing,” she told The Post, “but to talk in detail about how slaves were treated, and with photos, is another.” This is the very definition of what author Robin DiAngelo calls “white fragility,” which she says is “triggered by discomfort and anxiety" but is “born of superiority and entitlement.”
What’s happening in Florida is part of a larger and offensive national freak-out over teaching the truth of our history. This past month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) issued an executive order to “end the use of inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory” — which, I might point out, is not taught anywhere in Virginia public K-12 schools. During a radio interview that followed, Youngkin announced that there is even a tip line for parents to report school officials who they believe are teaching “divisive” subjects.
Singer John Legend had the perfect response to Youngkin’s nonsense. “Black parents need to flood these tip lines with complaints about our history being silenced,” he wrote on Twitter. “We are parents too.”
That’s who gets lost in all this: Black parents and their children. All because some White people can’t bear feeling “uncomfortable” learning about “divisive” subjects. They want a gauzy, feel-good version of history that blinds them to the impact such a mythology has on events unfolding now. Meanwhile, Black people have to live with the real-life consequences of this blissful ignorance.
In her new book, “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation,” Imani Perry, an African American studies professor at Princeton University, writes: “Americans are quite good at taking up pleasures of history and leaving its victims to fend for themselves. … If you want to understand a nation, or have aspirations for it that are decent, myth ought to be resisted.”
We’ll never understand this country as long as book banning, tip lines and legislation to bubble-wrap the tender White souls among us continue to flourish. We’ll just have more Black kids reading more rewrites of history, wondering what was left out. And they’ll know their discomfort never mattered."