We don't need to be protected against "white fragility"

posted by Jeff | Thursday, January 20, 2022, 5:36 PM | comments: 0

From the party that brought you "fuck your feelings" T-shirts at Trump rallies comes a Florida bill designed to keep white people from feeling guilty or uncomfortable about America's history of racism. This is actually a thing. I can't believe it, but this is why I call it "Flori-duh."

If you haven't been paying attention, the white grievance movement (that's really a thing, too) has been fixated on something call "critical race theory." If you've never heard of that, it's because it's not really at thing. Or at least, it's not a thing outside of a specific area of law school education that deals with identifying systemic racism and reversing it by way of the courts. It isn't a part of K-12 curriculums anywhere. What you will find, everywhere, is at least some history around the fact that there was a civil war, and it was around the issue of slavery. It also likely includes history about the civil rights movement, Jim Crow laws and the like. It was part of my public school education nearly 40 years ago, and it's not new or novel in any way.

So what is this law for? Beats me. The text of it is onerous at best, and I don't know how you could possibly enforce it if it's about people's feelings, which you can't control. Take this gem:

“An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex... An individual should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.”

You can't prove intent to make people feel bad. This bill literally says no one should get their feelings hurt. As someone who has been accused of being a "snowflake" by people aligned with the folks that wrote this bill, I would find it ironic and hilarious, if it weren't for the fact that it's probably going to be the law until it's challenged in court. This part is the worst:

...classroom instruction and curriculum may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view...

That there was racism and slavery is not a point of view. It actually happened, and it happened because of the white people in power at the time.

It's worse than that though, because it also requires that "patriotic" historical wins be taught. For example:

Members of the instructional staff of the public schools... shall teach efficiently and faithfully... The history and content of the Declaration of Independence, including national sovereignty, natural law, self evident truth, equality of all persons, limited government, popular sovereignty, and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property, and how they form the philosophical foundation of our government.

This should ring a bell, because it's one of the core tenets of fascism, to emphasize only the glory of a perfect nation, never its flaws.

To be clear, we should learn all of these things, but a real part of our history is our inability to deliver on the founding ideals. I often recall the Mark Twain line in the Epcot attraction The American Experience, who says, "We still had some things to learn the hard way. It seems a whole bunch of folks found out 'We the people' didn't yet mean all the people." American history is intertwined with its original sin.

As a white heterosexual male raised Christian and born late in the 20th century, it's true that I had nothing to do with slavery. It's also true that I am not necessarily racist at heart. That said, the people on the wrong end of racism, which is objectively embedded in our institutions, can't fix the problem alone. It isn't enough to not be racist, we have to be anti-racist. I realize that may make white people uncomfortable. That's OK. The BLM protests of 2020 put a bright light on the topic, and I spent a fair amount of time reflecting on whether or not I was helping fix the problems or allowing them to persist.

So here we are, in 2021 in Florida, with a legislature and governor, led by conservative Republicans, who are trying to make not hurting your feelings the law. It's completely absurd. Here's the thing: There is no moral equivalence between the actual continued discrimination against people of color and white people who feel uncomfortable because that discrimination exists. If it makes you uncomfortable, then get on board to change it. This should be a solved problem, but to deny that it isn't is to invalidate the legitimate call for change.


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