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OPINION

Ron DeSantis — white supremacy’s helicopter parent

Why stop at banning American history? Florida governor Ron DeSantis now wants to outlaw white ‘discomfort’ and ‘guilt.’

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida knows a primary rule of demagoguery — fuel irrational fears as a means of domination.Joe Burbank/Associated Press

On the night he was narrowly elected Florida’s governor, in 2018, Ron DeSantis said that while the “rough business” of political campaigns can “too often spiral into outright demagoguery,” governing “is different. Governing is about getting things done on behalf of the people of Florida.”

Nearly four years later, outright demagoguery isn’t just DeSantis’s governing style. He is white supremacy’s helicopter parent.

Like an obsessive guardian, DeSantis never stops concocting new foolishness to protect white sensibilities. Last month, he introduced the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, “that will give businesses, employees, children and families tools to fight back against woke indoctrination.”

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“We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other,” DeSantis said in a statement. “We also have a responsibility to ensure that parents have the means to vindicate their rights when it comes to enforcing state standards. Finally, we must protect Florida workers against the hostile work environment that is created when large corporations force their employees to endure CRT-inspired ‘training’ and indoctrination.”

This is not a “Saturday Night Live” skit. This is the governor of the nation’s third-largest state.

CRT, of course, is critical race theory. According to Kimberlé Crenshaw, the UCLA and Columbia University law professor who coined the term more than 30 years ago, CRT examines the “ways that racial inequality is facilitated, and the ways that our history has created these inequalities that now can be almost effortlessly reproduced unless we attend to the existence of these inequalities.”

Critical race theory is not taught in elementary or secondary schools. It is not anti-white. It does not teach white people to hate themselves or their country. Neither do workplace diversity training sessions, which are also on the Florida GOP’s growing enemies list. Yet DeSantis knows a primary rule of demagoguery — fuel irrational fears as a means of domination. Last week, a day-long seminar on the civil rights movement for elementary school teachers in Florida was abruptly canceled by district officials worried that certain materials might promote “critical race theory.”

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This is what it means to sand away history’s jagged edges. DeSantis wants to bury the Middle Passage, Trail of Tears, Chinese Exclusion Act, and Jim Crow to shield the veneration of whiteness that sustains its sense of supremacy. When he spoke of “promoting public safety” in his victory speech, few might have guessed that would lead to an “Individual Freedom” bill that would ban Florida’s public schools and private businesses from making people feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.”

It doesn’t stop there. Last week, a Florida House committee passed the Parental Rights in Education bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It would ban class discussions of LGBTQ issues that are not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” Parents would also be allowed to take legal action if they believed their “fundamental right to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children” has been undermined by their child’s school.

Florida already banned trans kids from participating on school teams that correspond with their gender identity.

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Devoid of ideas beyond control and power, the GOP is all-in on a platform of culture wars that coddles white fragility at the expense of truth and facts. In contorting himself to out-Trump former president Donald Trump by equating Americanness with whiteness, DeSantis believes he’s giving his base what it wants.

That poses a grim outlook for anyone who believes in education, frank discussions about history, and a nation where teachers won’t get in hot water for talking about the impact of James Baldwin’s sexuality on his writing. It’s no coincidence that current calls for “parents’ rights” echo 19th-century cries of “states’ rights” to protect slavery. Racism is America’s original remix.

Understanding the past demands present-day action. Without it, another generation can ignore the repair and change this nation desperately needs. As DeSantis hovers as white supremacy’s defender, what’s happening in Florida isn’t staying in Florida. And with this unnerving fact, DeSantis has finally found history he can gleefully embrace — to be yet another Republican employing racial division, marginalization, and white panic as a pathway to the White House.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.