State Sen. Bobby Powell. Credit: Screenshot, Florida Channel.
The Florida Senate on Thursday approved a culture-war bill that would limit certain conversations about racism and sexism in schools and workplaces.
The legislation, which has resonated across the country, now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for his consideration. It was one of the governor’s signature bills pushed through in the two-month legislative session in 2022.
Despite Democrats’ attempts to stop HB 7, sometimes called “Stop Woke”, or “Intellectual Freedom,” on the GOP’s side, the bill passed with a vote of 24 to 15 in the waning days of the session. The House had earlier approved the bill.
Several Democrats told moving stories and argued about how Florida is on the wrong side of history.
State Sen. Bobby Powell, of Palm Beach County, said: “This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. But the land of the free is still the home of the slaves.”
Powell is chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.
“Censoring these stories won’t make us stronger it will hurt us—the only way to move forward is looking backward,” Sen. Loranne Ausley, who represents several North Florida counties.
HB 7 posits a handful of principles that students may not be subjected to in public school classrooms. The bill also applies to employees and the workplace.
Such principles include:
/”A person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
/”A person’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex.”
/”An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.
HB 7 also raises questions on the impact of classroom discussions about America’s racist past.
“This is a continuation of a national issue to whitewash black history,” said Sen. Shevrin Jones, who represents part of Broward County. “No one anywhere has ever said that any white person is responsible for what happened in past history…don’t tell me this bill does not have to do with African Americans when it’s the underlying issue.”
Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, of Central Florida, was one of the few GOP senators who spoke in the Senate Thursday about the bill. “This bill is not saying we are erasing history. We are going to teach it in an honest way,” Stargel said. “We weren’t there, so how are we going to speak on it? We need to learn that we can do better. This bill aims toward that.”
Bill sponsor Manny Diaz, Jr., in closing remarks, said that all of us come here with different perspectives.
“All of us are created equal. No one is trying to wash up or erase history. Much has been said, but I can tell you my intention is to improve the lessons taught in our classrooms,” Diaz said.
“We are human beings. We need to get to treating each other as human beings.”
That said, critics are livid about HB 7.
“This bill is a vile attempt to erase our country’s history, censor businesses and schools, and whitewash history,” Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said in a statement Thursday. “It’s unconstitutional and racist. This is just more state-sanctioned hatred and censorship coming from Governor DeSantis and Republicans in the Legislature.”
Fried is an elected member of the Florida Cabinet and a gubernatorial candidate in the 2022 elections.
Following the vote, Sen. Powell provided a statement on Thursday:
“We hear the word ‘freedom’ tossed around a lot these days. But this bill, like others we’ve seen this session, not only strips freedom from the classroom, but takes direct aim at the history of people of color.
“You cannot discuss Robert E. Lee, or George Wallace, or Selma or Charlottesville without context. You cannot discuss Rosewood, or Harry T. Moore, or Ocoee in a vacuum. Slavery happened. Hangings happened, Burnings happened. Massacres happened. Jim Crow happened. George Floyd happened. And no amount of legislative banishments can erase those uncomfortable facts. Not even what I call the “We Hope It Teaches Everyone” legislation, now heading to the governor’s desk.
“HB 7 was cooked up by Governor DeSantis following the 8 minutes and 46 seconds during which a police officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck, sparking a powerful wave of protests throughout the nation over his death and the long line of unarmed Blacks who had died at the hands of law enforcement.
“But HB 7 is not about ‘individual freedom.’ HB 7 doesn’t even come close.”
The bill expands language about the history of African Americans, stating:
“The history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition, and the history and contributions of Americans of the African diaspora to society.
“Students shall develop an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping on individual freedoms, and examine what it means to be a responsible and respectful person, for the purpose of encouraging tolerance of diversity in a pluralistic society and for nurturing and protecting democratic values and institutions.
“Instruction shall include the roles and contributions of individuals from all walks of life and their endeavors to learn and thrive throughout history as artists, scientists, educators, businesspeople, influential thinkers, members of the faith community, and political and governmental leaders and the courageous steps they took to fulfill the promise of democracy and unite the nation.
“Instructional materials shall include the vital contributions of African Americans to build and strengthen American society and celebrate the inspirational stories of African Americans who prospered, even in the most difficult circumstances.
“Instructional personnel may facilitate discussions and use curricula to address, in an age-appropriate manner, how the individual freedoms of persons have been infringed by slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination, as well as topics relating to the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination and how recognition of these freedoms has overturned these unjust laws.
“However, classroom instruction and curriculum may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view inconsistent with the principles enumerated in subsection (3) or the state academic standards. The department shall prepare and offer standards and curriculum for the instruction required by this paragraph and may seek input from the Commissioner of Education’s African American History Task Force.”
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