Commentary

To conservatives, history is bunk. ‘All that’s in the past: Why bring it up’?

July 12, 2021 7:00 am

The site of Fort Gadsden, where in 1816 troops under Andrew Jackson caused an explosion that killed hundreds of Native Americans and refugee African Americans. Credit: Public domain

Ron DeSantis hates our freedoms — and rightfully so.

Why should Florida allow eggheads like me to go around teaching impressionable students about, say, the Rosewood Massacre in 1923, when dozens of Black people were tortured and murdered by a white mob in Levy County while law enforcement turned a blind eye.

Andrew Jackson. Credit: State Library and Archives of Florida

Or maybe that episode when Andrew Jackson (our first territorial governor!) ordered Fort Gadsden, called the “Negro Fort,” on the Apalachicola River blown up. At least 100 women and children were in there, Seminoles and runaway slaves, ungratefully trying to assert their rights as free people instead of being exiled to “Indian Territory” or sent back to the plantations of Georgia and South Carolina.

And what about the Groveland case, the one when Willis McCall, sheriff of Lake County, murdered two suspects in his custody, tortured two others, and pushed the false story that four Black men raped a white woman in 1949?

A few people got upset, sure, but Sheriff McCall won re-election every year until 1972. (To be fair, Gov. DeSantis did realize the case was a complete disaster and approved pardons for the Groveland Four. He did not, however, exonerate them.)

Of course, I’d never mention any of this, “academic freedom” or no “academic freedom.” I’d never want to make my pupils question the inherent virtue of their whiteness.

This is why the state of Florida needs to “survey” all of us in the state’s colleges and universities in case profs like me are terrorizing young conservatives by making them read “woke” texts such as “Moby-Dick” (anti-slavery, pro-gay, morally ambivalent about Caucasian cetaceans) or “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (sex-positive, feminist, anti-Big Sugar), and cruelly shooting down their ideas about deregulating the whaling industry and the character-building value of cane-cutting 14 hours a day.

Under Gov. DeSantis’ new dictate, students can now record their professors in class to see if any untoward anti-racism intrudes into the academic setting.

That’ll teach us.

In Texas, Old Glory-loving Republicans are determined that, despite a slew of evidence to the contrary, young ’uns must continue to buy what John Wayne was selling — that the defenders of the Alamo were (white) heroes fighting for (white, English-speaking) freedom from (brown, foreign-speaking) Mexican oppressors.

In his capacity as a member of the State Preservation Board, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick recently ordered the cancellation of an event at the Texas State History Museum to promote “Forget the Alamo,” a book of, you know, history, but which points out that James Bowie and Davy Crockett owned slaves.

So rude.

The book also demonstrates that Stephen Austin declared that Texas must be a slave territory — which makes sense, given that you couldn’t make a decent profit in cotton without free labor. Still, white Texans feel it’s tacky to talk about it.

Dred Scott: Credit: Public domain

As y’all can see, we need to keep a tight grip on some of the messier parts of our national story, little problems such as your ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples, your slavery, your Chinese Exclusion Act, your Dred Scott decision, your Jim Crow laws, your lynchings, your redlining, your support of dictators from Mobutu Sese Seko in Congo to Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and so on.

All that’s in the past: Why bring it up?

The Critical Race Theory crowd I may or may not hang around with claim the arc of America’s story might suggest a certain amount of institutional racism.

But that doesn’t mean that our Founding Fathers weren’t the most liberty-loving, tax-hating, gun-toting, God-honoring gents the world had ever seen.

Anyway: If George Washington hadn’t owned slaves, he would have had to farm his fields himself and thus would not have had time to found the finest nation ever to exist on the planet.

So I completely understand why the governor and the state Board of Education must quash schools’ freedom to teach facts that might make the children of Karen and Kyle feel bad about themselves. The First Amendment doesn’t mean you can shout “Fire!” in a crowded white nationalist insurrection and, in Florida, teachers will not be allowed to portray our origin story “as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”

And before you smart-asses pipe up with your little factoids like the “all men are created equal” stuff meant white men only (no women, no Black folks, no Native Americans), remember that Thomas Jefferson was a visionary, a literary genius, and a great man who might have had some babies with a teenaged girl he happened to own (but how do we know she wasn’t totally into it?)

Gov. DeSantis knows that Critical Race Theory, which is anti-white, sinful, and only a theory anyway (like evolution and the Big Bang), rots the minds of our youth faster than a golf ball-sized snort of crystal meth chased by a quart of Everclear 190.

As he has remarked, “There is no room in our classrooms for things like critical race theory. Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money.”

I mean, what if our military decides to hate America, what with them learning that critical race theory stuff?

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz. Credit: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images

Rep. Matt “Swear to God, she was 18!” Gaetz took a dim view at a congressional hearing when Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said he thought soldiers should learn as much as they can about how race rage works: “What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out.”

Well, general: isn’t it obvious? Patriotism caused it. Pure patriotism. Only the deepest love of country, the kind Gov. DeSantis and other great Americans such as Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Louis Gohmert, and Madison Cawthorn (so cruelly accused of sexual harassment and lying), as well as Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson exhibit on a daily basis, can defend this nation against the dangerous excesses of knowledge and other socialist plots against the land we love.

I blame books. Instead of just saying “God likes America best” and “we are the finest nation on earth, ever,” they complicate things. They make us think tricky thoughts.

When he becomes U.S. President-for-Life, maybe our governor will ban libraries, making everything much, much simpler and more comfortable.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

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