The NAACP has advised Black people to take precautions when traveling to Florida. In a move typically reserved for places experiencing war, social unrest or natural disasters, the group said that it was issuing the Florida advisory in direct response to “Governor Ron DeSantis’ aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools”.
“Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color,” the NAACP wrote in a press release issued last week.
It’s one of many public rebukes of Florida’s current war against inclusion, in which schools have inevitably become a battleground. Along with slashing funds for diversity and inclusion initiatives at institutions of higher education, DeSantis also recently blocked a new high school AP African American studies class, calling it “a political agenda” and “woke indoctrination”. Some of the offending topics in the course outline included intersectionality, the Black Lives Matter movement, reparations and prison abolition.
The NAACP’s warning is important because it’s a stark reminder of how Black erasure is weaponized in the project of white supremacy. History has taught us that any attempt to assert the dominance of whiteness necessarily involves the subjugation, destruction and erasure of Black people. Whether it’s preventing Black people from voting, or blocking access to vital educational material that would teach kids why Black people once couldn’t vote, Black struggle has always gone hand in hand with its own un-remembering.
Still, DeSantis’s war against “wokeness” is operating alongside a larger effort to make Black people feel unwelcome, their identities inherently un-American. And in a country where white victimhood has become a powerful motivator, and where misinformation is regularly used to further the cause of white supremacy, it’s not difficult to see how dangerous it is to implicate children and young people in that system of ignorance.
Excising Black Americans and their historical struggles from the larger story of the US also lets the country off the hook for the ways it continues to owe an immeasurable debt to its Black people. Yet as the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates highlights in his 2014 essay The Case for Reparations, for every noble effort to figure out how the US can right its wrongs, there have been forces waiting to explain why reparations for Black people are either impossible to achieve or unnecessary to even attempt. Erasing the very knowledge base that helps us remember why these reparations are important only helps further that agenda.
Unsurprisingly, rightwing white Americans are responding with jest to news of the NAACP advisory. “Maybe they had a travel advisory because of the humidity, I know that it gets frizzy,” podcast host Steven Crowder said on his show on Monday, apparently referring to the tendency for Black people’s hair to respond to humidity.
He and his co-hosts lobbed racist jokes back and forth before Crowder finally said the quiet part out loud: “After the advisory went up, 49 governors called the NAACP asking if they could be added to the list.”
This banter is disturbing not because of how uninspired it is as far as “comedy” goes, but because of just how close to reality their jokes come. DeSantis is, after all, launching his presidential bid.
The US has never been fully safe for Black people, and as the country shifts toward a very frightening time in its history, it’s taking specific aim at the very people upon whose backs the country was built.
Tayo Bero is a freelance writer