By Mike Jones
Originally appeared in Word in Black
After constant pressure from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other right-wing conservatives, the College Board kicked off Black History Month by stripping down its African American Studies Advanced Placement course.
DeSantis and the MAGA crowd objected to the original draft because it was an American history from the perspective of the Black experience, which meant it didn’t provide a rationalization and justification for the historical oppression of Black people by white America.
Put another way, what’s Black history without white heroes?
What Carter G. Woodson knew in 1926 when he created Negro History Week (which became Black History Month in 1976) and what DeSantis knows now — and you need to understand — is that history is not objective, and education isn’t neutral.
For starters, the College Board’s African American Advanced Placement course is not really a history course. It’s an interdisciplinary academic study that includes history, literature, politics, religion, and a range of other humanities — essentially a comprehensive survey of American life through the lens of the Black experience.
In our day-to-day lives, we regularly discuss and argue about concepts and ideas we really don’t understand, like history, for instance. Scholars define events that occurred before the existence of written records in a given culture or society as prehistory.
They define history as the time period after the invention of written records in a given culture or society. A simple lay definition would say history is really nothing more than assembling the written record of the past, a retelling of that past by way of the extemporaneous documentation of what happened back in that day.
History is not objective, and education isn’t neutral.
But that’s not how we teach or understand history. History is not just the objective retelling of random past events, but the explanation of what those chosen events meant then, and mean now.
History is all about context. Context is defined as the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed. Despite their protestations, historians are storytellers and narrators of the past.
When discussing history, there’s another concept that’s always in play: the myth.
Myths are symbolic narratives that ostensibly relate to actual events. It’s obvious myths satisfy some primordial human need because there have been myths as long as there have been people. How we teach and understand history is dominated by mythical interpretations of historical facts.
For the average American, of all ethnic persuasions, it’s impossible to separate the history of America from the myth of America. And when facts of history contradict the myth, Americans tend to believe the myth.
To counter the myths about Black Americans, in 1915, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). ASALH’s official mission is “to promote, research, preserve, interpret, and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community.”
Ron DeSantis is not objecting to Black history. He’s terrified by the spirit of Carter G. Woodson.
In 1933 Woodson also published “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” which is required reading for anyone who wants to consider themselves a literate and informed Black American. The book focuses on the period from the end of the American Civil War to the early 1930s, and in it, Woodson explains that the U.S. school system doesn’t just fail to educate its Black students. It also actively oppresses them in order to preserve and justify white people’s disproportionate power, wealth, and privilege.
Woodson argues that the education system is a tool of social control based on convincing Black people of their inherent inferiority and the inherent superiority of white people.
Just like the American education system of 2023.
Ron DeSantis is not objecting to Black history. He’s terrified by the spirit of Carter G. Woodson — but why? I’ll invoke another revered ancestor, Fredrick Douglass, to explain “the why.”
Douglass wrote: “I have found to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one.” This is the reason it was illegal to teach enslaved Black people to read.
The goal of our modern manic suppression effort is to maintain dominion over the intellectual construct and narrative of reality as defined by the American myth.
The laws of physics say that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Ron DeSantis and his fellow white MAGA Americans seek to define history and what it means to be white in America — definitions that are antithetical to what it means to be Black and fully human.
Woodson put it this way, “If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have to worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told…”
What’s happening in Florida and other parts of the country has nothing to do with education as you’ve been taught to think of it, and everything to do with power and control. Only the hopelessly naive or the most venal among us either can’t or won’t accept that.