Christianity.org is borrowed from an opinion column by Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times. I love the title. Indeed, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is working overtime to bring ruin and disrepute to the state where my spouse and I have resided since 2000.
Not only has he recklessly chosen to take on Disney with his “Don’t Say Gay” initiative and to launch a sweeping ban of books teachers normally use in classroom instruction, he has now chosen to stir the pot even more in his obsession with WOKE politics. (To be woke is to be concerned with racism and its social justice implications.) Part of the problem with DeSantis is that he’s so racist he just can’t help himself. It’s who he is.
The context for this article is the proposed new curriculum for the instruction of students on African American history. Outrage over the proposal is mounting every day. The focus of the controversy is the quote from the state’s guidelines on the teachings of slavery where students will be taught that “Slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” The obvious suggestion, arrogant and insidious to the core, is that the condition of slavery (as in, human bondage) brought with it certain experiences that served to benefit slaves. Could there be a more outrageous, racist claim?
Let’s not talk about the brutish beatings, torture, and rapes that took place. Let’s not mention the separation of children from their mothers and the general separation of families that tore at the souls of slaves. It’s not that some of the white slave owners did not show acts of kindness to some of their slave workers, such as those who cared for their children and cleaned their homes. It’s that the wider context was one of cruel inhumanity and unwanted servitude. Can any of us even imagine what it’s like to have all of our freedoms stripped, to wake up every day as an enslaved person?
Reflections of a slave. Listen to the words of the incomparable Frederick Douglass, himself a runaway slave at the age of twenty-one; a self-educated man who went on to become an abolitionist, writer, statesman, and one of the greatest orators in American history. In his reflections on observing sailing vessels going out to sea–these words from Prayer of a Slave:
You (the vessels) are loosed from your moorings, and free. I am fast in my chains, and am a slave! You move merrily before the gentle gale, and I sadly before the bloody whip. You are freedom’s swift-winged angels, that fly around the world: I am confined in bonds of iron. O, that I were free! … O, why was I born a man, of whom to make a brute! The glad ship is gone: she hides in the dim distance. I am left in the hell of unending slavery. O, God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free.
The efforts of DeSantis and others to whitewash the truth of slavery and how it is taught as part of the new African American curriculum in Florida schools (and if he were elected President, in the rest of the nation as well) reeks of the racism that motivates it.
Responses of outrage on this matter should be bi-partisan. They should transcend the culture wars mania that occupies so much of our national political discourse. Part of the problem is that the views of DeSantis and others on this mirror the teachings of Christian nationalism (by which they mean white Christian nationalism). In this world, white privilege is a given. It’s simply taken for granted.
The radical egalitarianism of the Apostle Paul. A Christian response to this controversy is revealed in the radical egalitarianism of the Apostle Paul. When Paul talks about slavery, he envisions what he says to the Galatians in 3:28:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
In support of Paul’s radical social justice passions, and to modernize Paul, we should add no longer gay or straight and no longer rich or poor. To Paul’s mind, In Christ, and him crucified, these divisions are no longer possible. They are transcended. In short, this is what being a Christian is about.
At no point does Paul resort to a revisionist history on the conditions of slavery. He doesn’t seek to whitewash the ugly reality that slavery is still a condition in the larger Roman society. Rather, he seeks to lift slaves out of slavery and, through baptism, totally include them in the Christian assemblies of his day.
Building up, not tearing down. If DeSantis and his cohorts want to serve the wider public (which they’re elected to do), why don’t they devote their efforts to the wider inclusion of African Americans in American society? Why don’t they seek to make the lives of these descendants of former slaves better? Why don’t they work to improve their educational opportunities and health care? Why don’t they endeavor to make it easier, not harder, for them to vote? Why don’t they do something constructive, something to build up rather than tear down?
Why don’t Ron DeSantis and his state board of education seek to raise African Americans up–along with other oppressed groups? In this way, future historians would be able to write that the 2020s were times when African Americans made significant strides due to the benevolent efforts of elected officials whose clear purpose was to level the playing field of opportunity in an attempt to build a more perfect union.