Florida Department of Education's Black History Month Essay Contest Seems to Want Students to Write Things They're Not Allowed to Learn

It's kind of odd, really. I mean, I know that Florida Republicans would say that they're not opposed to students learning African American history and culture, even after their governor, Ron DeSantis, a man who always looks like he's looking forward to when he'll get to complain to the manager again, refused to allow an Advanced Placement course in African American Studies in Florida high schools. I know that Florida Republicans would say they're not racist, even as they attack any teaching of history that might make white people uncomfortable as "indoctrination" and "critical race theory," terms they neither understand nor care to understand.  

And I know that the Florida Department of Education would say that they support teaching African American history, even encouraging teachers to have "age-appropriate" discussions on "how the freedoms of persons have been infringed by sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination, including topics related to the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in sexism, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination, including how recognition of these freedoms have overturned these unjust laws." Of course, "classroom instruction and curriculum may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view inconsistent with the principles of this subsection or state academic standards."

And what are those standards? "No person is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex" is one. And "Meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are not racist but fundamental to the right to pursue happiness and be rewarded for industry." Not to mention "A person, 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." Oh, and the curriculum is now "Stories of Inspiration," about Americans who "demonstrate important life skills and the principles of individual freedom that enabled individuals to prosper even in the most difficult circumstances."

To go along with all that inspiration, the Florida DOE is sponsoring a Black History Month essay contest, open to all 4th-12th graders. Just 500 words long. It's actually called the "Governor Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis’ Black History Month Essay Contest," so irony's head is spinning. The subject? "In the contest, students are encouraged to write about an African American who has had a notable effect on their community. The subject of the essay should be an African American Floridian." Then they give examples of some of the potential subjects. And here's where it gets weird.

For instance, the website lists James Weldon Johnson and describes him as a "Writer, civil rights activist, and a leader of the NAACP. He wrote 'Lift Every Voice and Sing,' which is known as the black national anthem." Sure, none of that is a lie. But Johnson's major work is the 1912 Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, a novel about a biracial man in the post-Reconstruction period, living everywhere from Jacksonville to New York to Paris. And that book is about how whiteness is forced on Black people through legal, social, and cultural means, which, if you wanna get right down to it, is what critical race theory is about. Johnson writes, "I believe it to be a fact that the colored people of this country know and understand the white people better than the white people know and understand them." He also writes, "So far as racial differences go, the United States puts a greater premium on color, or, better, lack of color, than upon anything else in the world." 

The book also has a graphic description of a lynching, which was an issue that Johnson devoted a great deal of energy to. In 1917, in response to multiple lynching incidents, as well as the destruction of Black-owned homes and businesses and the murder of dozens of Black people by rioting whites in East St. Louis, Illinois, Johnson,  then a vice president in the NAACP, organized a protest of 10,000 Black people marching down 5th Avenue in New York City. The flyers for the event are critical of the white political and power structures that oppress Black people, including things like "We march because the growing consciousness and solidarity of race coupled with sorrow and discrimination have made us one." Another line is a confrontation: "Your hands are full of blood."

Johnson wrote articles about the American occupation of Haiti, decrying the rapes and murders committed by Marines and declaring in 1920, "The United States has absolutely failed in Haiti. It has failed to accomplish any results that justify its military Occupation of that country." And he lobbied Congress to pass a national anti-lynching law, which got through the House but failed in the Senate (and the nation had to wait until last year for any federal bill to be passed on lynching). 

So, yeah, a student could write an essay about James Weldon Johnson, but they'd be hard-pressed to write it in a way that didn't completely defy what Republicans believe should be how African American history should be told. Johnson didn't see a few bad white apples spoiled the bunch. He saw an entire race basing its power on hatred of another race and violently using that power repeatedly. Sorry if that makes white people feel the sads.

There are others on that list that are head-scratchers. Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs? Yes, during Reconstruction, he held positions like Secretary of State of Florida. He also was a strong abolitionist and minister who spoke the day after the Emancipation Proclamation was announced, saying, "It is for white men to show that they are equal to the demands of these times, by putting away their stupid prejudices.”

There's also the Florida Highwaymen, described as "a group of 26 African American landscape artists who painted from the 1950s to the 1980s. They became some of Florida’s most well-known painters and focused on images of the state’s natural treasures." What really happened is that segregation caused them to be locked out of galleries, so they were forced to travel around, selling their paintings. Indeed, since this was fairly recent, it's possible that a kid's grandparents were jerks to the artists.

Florida's Department of Education wants to have its cake and shovel it down its ignorant throat, too. Yes, you can learn the history of Black people in this country. Yes, you can write an essay on one of the "Stories of Inspiration." But you can't deal with what the reality of that history without saying that the reason those lives became inspiring is because they faced down systemic racism that was built into the United States and Florida. These aren't stories about overcoming individual obstacles on the way to success. They're not about how this mean white person or that misguided white person hindered them. They are about people who confronted an embedded evil, and it's not "indoctrination" to call the racist history of our country "evil." It's just true.


The End of Roe v Wade Is Part of the End of the United States

I can pretty much guarantee you a few things are going to happen in the near to not-too-distant future regarding abortion rights in the United States. I don't believe a national ban will happen unless the Supreme Court decides to force it. Instead, the insanity of our abortion policy in this country and the Christian extremism driving the legislatures of many states will lead to even more ludicrous and oppressive laws.

For example, laws will be passed that will punish anyone who helps someone living in an anti-abortion state to travel to another state to receive an abortion. Those laws will evolve to allow an anti-abortion state to seek the extradition of providers who perform abortions on women from that state. It will get crazy: when a doctor in New Mexico performs an abortion on a woman from Texas and someone alerts Texas authorities, that New Mexico doctor will have a warrant for their arrest, which New Mexico will ignore, causing greater tension between the states. And if the doctor happens to travel to Texas, they are open to being locked up and charged. By the way, this isn't a fantasy. It's already in bills being filed in Texas and other states. 

I think it will go much further. I think we're going to get to the point where, if someone informs on them, pregnant women will be blocked from leaving the state to get an abortion, perhaps even imprisoning them. Once fetal personhood laws pass, I don't see how this isn't an immediate consequence. 

We're already seeing the madness over abortion pills. Texas, ground zero for cruel and brutal treatment of pregnant people who don't want to be pregnant, is looking to get internet providers to block access to websites that sell the medication. The state is already a tangle of laws on abortion pills, with many women turning to Mexico or elsewhere to get them. Nationally, use of medication to end pregnancies has risen to over half of all abortions. Meanwhile, there's a case out of Texas (of course) which is before a Trump-appointed judge (of course) and could lead to a national injunction on the distribution of the pills. The case is nonsense (of course), but it challenges the FDA's approval of Mifepristone, which is taken with another medication, Misoprostol, to end a pregnancy.

It's really not hard to game out the post-Roe v. Wade landscape. Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision in June 2022 tossed Roe onto history's bloody ashcan, it's already become dystopian in many states, with doctors refusing to perform abortions on women who meet the standard for exceptions, like rape or severe fetal abnormalities, with women being forced to keep pregnancies until their health becomes so dire that they almost die, with doctors and medical professionals being scared of losing their jobs or being sued by some bounty hunter or, indeed, being prosecuted. In the last seven months, every state that could has done everything from tighten abortion restrictions to banning it outright, with virtually no exceptions. In the sane states, like New York or California or Michigan (yes, Michigan),  the legislatures and voters are expanding rights and making themselves sanctuary states for those seeking abortions from the crazy states. Indeed, even when voters say they don't want abortion outlawed, like in Kansas, woman-hating legislators are coming up with things like allowing localities to ban it and other ways of undoing the voice of the people. The will of the voter doesn't matter here; what makes you think it will be respected when they vote out those legislators who want to overturn their vote? 

This should be the 50th anniversary of a Supreme Court decision that stated, quite clearly, that the people of the United States should be treated equally, that the religious views of a vocal group of Christian extremists shouldn't take precedence over the bodily autonomy of half the population. With Roe gone, we have taken another step towards the dissolution of the idea of a United States. It's unsustainable that half the states allow a woman control over her reproduction choices and half the states do not. It's impossible to reconcile that, and it's inevitable that conflicts between the states will arise over this. For now, those conflicts will be legal ones. 

But look at the extremism of the anti-choice Christian right. If the right to an abortion gets codified at the national level, it's not out of the realm of possibility that, say, Mississippi will say it won't abide by the law. And then what? Troops keeping clinics open like back in the days of desegregation and schools? More states following? Or what if the out-of-control right-wing Supreme Court takes the next step and outlaws abortion completely? Do you really think California is going to listen? In my most pessimistic hours, I believe that this is ultimately the goal of the Christian nationalists: if not an outright one, then a de facto dissolution of the United States, where the states declare a 10th Amendment right or something to disobey the Supreme Court or Congress. I'm not going full Handmaid's Tale, but I'm sure saying that a whole lot of the country wouldn't mind it.

Does that sound crazy? So does a modern country allowing for the outlawing of abortion in half of its territory. So do states treating women like property in the 21st century, with the savagery and hatefulness of one side being taken out on women's bodies. One school of thought said that the end of Roe was a dog catching a car it was chasing. What's it going to do with it now? Well, the dogs of the Christian right now want to chew up the roads the cars are on.


Martin Luther King Would Still Fuck Our Shit Up (Coretta Scott King Edition)

On April 27, 1968, little more than three weeks after her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Coretta Scott King took his place as a speaker at an anti-Vietnam War rally in Central Park in New York City. She based the speech on notes she found in his pockets after his death. MLK had been speaking out against the bullshit war starting in 1967, and he was attacked mightily for it. CSK was continuing his work there as she was continuing his work in the civil rights movement. The Kings really saw no difference between the two.

After listing "Martin Luther King's ten commandments on Vietnam," which included "Thou shall not believe that the world supports the United States," CSK spoke on war and poverty in terms that are sadly still very real now, 55 years later:

"My husband always saw the problem of racism and poverty here at home and militarism abroad as two sides of the same coin. In fact, it is even very clear that our policy at home is to try to solve social problems through military means just as we have done abroad. The interrelatedness of domestic and foreign affairs is no longer questioned. The bombs we drop on the people of Vietnam continue to explode at home with all of their devastating potential...

"There is no reason why a nation as rich as ours should be blighted by poverty, disease, and illiteracy. It is plain that we don't care about our poor people except to exploit them as cheap labor and victimize them through excessive rents and consumer prices. Our Congress passes laws which subsidize corporation farms, oil companies, airlines, and houses for suburbia. But when they turn their attention to the poor, they suddenly become concerned about balancing the budget and cut back on the funds for Head Start, Medicare, and mental health appropriations."

Imagine being that strong and kicking that much ass after suffering such trauma. Imagine what it took for her, just four days after MLK's murder, to lead a silent march through Memphis in support of the striking sanitation workers, as Coretta Scott King did on April 8, 1968.

A couple of months later, Coretta Scott King stood in for her husband at another event that was scheduled prior to his death. It was the June 1968 commencement at Harvard University. CSK's speech here, like many of her husband's, made an explicit connection between the suffering of Black Americans and the perverse history of the country:

"For me, as for millions of black Americans, there is a special dimension to our national crisis. We are not only caught up in all the evils of contemporary society, we are its lowest and most deprived component. For most of us this is not a society of abundance but a society of want. We are not newly victimized by the loss of identity and alienation. We have suffered an imposed heritage of exclusion and frustration for generations. Our future is doubly bleak as we face the unabated racism and deepened deprivation reserved for Black Americans."

Black people in the United States, she explained, "live in squalor in slums, they are cheated in education, they cannot hope for normal married lives, and they can expect more diseases and earlier death than their white counterparts. To be Negro in the United States is to be the victim of a system of deprival in a context of personal humiliation. I do not speak impersonally. I was reared in second-class citizenship and have known the sting of humiliation in countless days of my life."

By the way, that's critical race theory. If you oppose it, you oppose Martin Luther King and if you're one of the right-wing pukes who use this day to talk about the "content of character," you should have his words slapped out of your racist pig mouth.

Martin Luther King would still fuck our shit up because his movement didn't die with him. Coretta Scott King stood firm and relied on her faith to keep fighting, led by the guiding principle that you had to fuck shit up, that no one was going to fuck it up for you, and that the world would get better because you fucked it up. And so much of what they both talked about hasn't changed or, perhaps, is moving backwards because we don't fuck shit up enough, to our eternal shame.


The Assholery Is the Point

In his brilliant 2018 essay about the dark heart of Trumpism, "The Cruelty Is the Point," Adam Serwer asserted that "This isn’t incoherent. It reflects a clear principle: Only the [former] president and his allies, his supporters, and their anointed are entitled to the rights and protections of the law, and if necessary, immunity from it." The book version expands the idea of that cruelty into policy, the legal system, and more, very clearly laying out the savage vision of America's slide into authoritarianism. It's all chilling and frighteningly prescient-feeling. 

There is another layer to this, though, one that is less invested in any principles or coherent ideology or, indeed, reality itself. In the post-Trump (for now) era, Republicans feel liberated to just be total assholes, reason be damned. The only guiding idea, if there is one, is doing shit that pisses off their imagined enemies. Yes, you can say it's an assertion for power for power's sake, but much of it is ludicrous, so insultingly dumb, that it really appears to be mostly being an asshole for the sake of being an asshole.

Take, for instance, House Republicans changing the rules so that smoking is now allowed on the House side of the Capitol. Members could smoke in their offices, but that wasn't assholish enough, so now fuckpigs like Tom Cole of Oklahoma can cocksuck on a stogie in the House Rules Committee room, with the stench permeating large areas of the House of Representatives. The rule first changed to ban smoking in all but personal offices in 2007, when Democrats took the House, but even squishy toy Paul Ryan and human chimney John Boehner didn't change it again. The Senate doesn't allow smoking at all. Republicans are literally endangering people around them with secondhand smoke (honestly, I don't give a fuck if it murders the GOP smokers) for something that gets Tucker Carlson all hard and throbbing since he really sets the GOP agenda these days.

And let's see how quickly they end up putting back the metal detectors, which the GOP also had removed from the House. 

Everywhere you look, you see Republicans just doing asshole things. Some of them are incoherently dumb, as if they read a post on Truth Toilet or Twitter and decided the way to get the likes and thumbs up and hearts is to do it. In Arkansas, new governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (forgot that happened, didn't you?) has issued an executive order banning the use of "Latinx" from official communications and documents. And it's not enough that they are doing the asshole move. They have to go all Joe McCarthy on everything. Part of the executive order is this: "All state offices, departments, and agencies shall submit a written report to the Governor detailing the findings of their review regarding the current use of the terms 'Latinx,' 'latinx,' 'Latinxs,' or 'latinxs.'" Why? Why the hell would that matter? The change in language (or, you know, "censorship") will happen regardless of how it was used in the past. It's pure intimidation; it's putting any state employees on notice. It's assholishness, through and through. 

By the way, Arkansas was last led by another Republican, Asa Hutchinson, for 8 years. That means that "Latinx" was being used under a conservative. Of course, Hutchinson was the wrong kind of conservative because sanity bubbled up in him every now and then. He was an asshole, sure, but he wasn't doing things just to be an asshole. Sanders, though, has the Fox "news" cred to think of. Sanders just dissolved the Covid working groups in her state, declaring that there will be no vaccine or mask mandates and that Arkansas has "prioritized COVID-19 disproportionally." Again, everything she's saying is bad is what a fellow Republican did. And if it means killing the people of her state, nothing will halt her asshole march.

These asshole actions often have consequences on real lives. Take, for instance, the uber-asshole of the moment, Florida Governor and future loser of 2024 presidential race Ron DeSantis, who always looks like he's angry that anyone would accuse him of farting even though he totally was the one who dealt it. While it's an asshole move for any governor to order the transport of asylum-seeking migrants from border areas to places like outside Vice President Harris's residence, DeSantis went the extra asshole mile by flying migrants in Texas to Martha's Vineyard, wasting government resources to show he's the biggest anus around. 

DeSantis is working on levels of assholery that are almost metaphysically assholish. There's his battle with anything he sees as "woke," which I guess means "shit that makes straight white guys feel like they don't have all the power." In addition to the "Don't Say 'Gay'" bill, which bans any discussion of gender identity or sexuality in most school settings, and the "Stop WOKE Act," which prevents teaching anything that makes anyone sad about history, DeSantis and the nutzoid Republican legislature are now demanding that all Florida colleges and universities that receive any state funds to "report costs associated with campus diversity, equity and inclusion programs," meaning any "staff, programs, and campus activities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and critical race theory." The memo requiring this was sent out on December 28. Everything was due this past Friday. They gave institutions of higher education two weeks to sort all this out, with the possibility of losing state funding if they didn't comply. On top of that fuckery, DeSantis is appointing completely unqualified right-wing and Christian extremists to the Board of Trustees of New College, a small liberal arts school. And let's not get into DeSantis's just fucking weird attack on Disney for daring to oppose the rampant homophobia of his administration. Who's fucking doing the canceling now, shitmonger? 

It's all assholery. On and on and on it goes. In Congress, the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government that the Republican-led House of Representatives just passed? Assholery. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which bravely says you can't kill babies and which passed the House before a sure doom in the Senate? Assholery.

Clearly, this is all just attention whoredom of the lowest order. Anything to get that sweet Tucker invite. Anything to make the other assholes tell you how awesome you are. But there is a real danger here, and it's different than the danger of the acts of wanton cruelty. Right now, all of these policies are based on completely invented issues. No one is murdering babies born after failed abortions. No one is trying to make your kids gay or transgender. No one is harmed by the use of "Latinx" and smoking is still fucking dangerous. And, yeah, people should feel fucking sad about our fucked up American history. That's what makes you change shit. That fantasy, though, drives people to behave in ways that prop up the fantasy. The death threats against teachers and hospital workers and anyone who doesn't join in the fantasy aren't going to stay just threats for long.

But the assholes don't care that it's all a fantasy. In fact, that's part of what makes it so much fucking fun. That shit drives us crazy. Yes, some people just want to watch the world burn, but some get off on making you watch it burn with them, whether you want to watch or not. And if you don't notice the fire, they'll fan the flames until the smoke suffocates you.


We Still Haven't Left January 6th

On January 7, 2021, one day after a plague of festering dickscabs swarmed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to halt the certification of the 2020 presidential election, I wrote the following: 

"Every single Republican who ever enabled Donald Trump, and that includes supporting his campaign, voting for his judges and his fucking bullshit wall, voting against his impeachment and removal from office, separating families and caging children, going along with and encouraging his denial about how deadly COVID-19 is, and so much more horrible shit, cannot be allowed to weasel out of their complicity. This didn't happen without Republicans rolling their eyes at and waving off Trump's extravagant fuckery. They made a deal with the Devil, and that spike-dicked motherfucker is ready to sodomize some souls. So I don't wanna hear about how brave and patriotic Mitch McConnell's speech was where he said that Biden won and Trump lost. I don't wanna hear how Lindsey Graham redeemed himself with his call to speak the truth to MAGA cretins. Even Republicans like Adam Kinzinger, who has been outspoken in his outrage at Trump's refusal to concede, don't get a pass when they spent their entire time in Congress helping Trump.  I don't wanna hear about the conscience that the now-resigning members of the administration have suddenly discovered like a long-lost, beat-up teddy bear. No, fuck all of you. This didn't happen without your blithe acceptance of every bowl of shit Trump fed you. You anonymously spoke against Trump while being too fucking cowardly to go on the record. You should all have a large 'Trump' carved into your foreheads so that for the rest of your lives, everyone will know where you stood when your country was falling the fuck apart."

I suppose the only thing I missed in that rant is that I didn't think they'd all carve "Trump" in their foreheads themselves and that they told the Devil, "Sodomize away" as they gleefully bent over, anxiously hoping for some spike-pricked action, blood and pain be damned. 

In so many ways, we've never left January 6, 2021 in this America, where we've been damned to watch the blatantly guilty run free and propagate their evil madness, acting as if their advocacy for and/or participation in an attempted coup is merely free speech and not an attempt to squelch and eliminate the purest expression of our free speech: voting. 

The insurrectionists try to compare themselves to the Founders and to the revolutionaries who legitimately risked everything to fight England. Of course, most of the Founders would have wanted the crazed mob fired upon and their leaders executed. It’s the blood of traitors that waters the tree of liberty. 

Of course, we pretend to be more civilized, and thus we have had two years of investigations with not a single coup leader indicted for anything close to activities related to, you know, doing a coup. Human-shaped facial scab Steve Bannon was indicted for contempt of Congress, but not for being a traitorous turdfucker. For the most part, they worst the people who tried to turn the country into a dictatorship have gotten is an uncomfortable interview or two with the January 6th Committee or Merrick Garland's Department of Law Enforcement Snails.

That’s on everyone involved in investigations. Barring some startling round of indictments, they’ve blown it. The lugubrious pace of the January 6th Committee and the Justice Department’s investigation has allowed those who took part in planning and propagating the coup attempt to emerge not only unscathed, but in the case of the House Republicans who couped the shit out of the Congress, emboldened by now being in the majority. And, as I have warned repeatedly, the stupidly named Freedom Caucus and its stupid, grunting whore members are threatening to use every means they have to hamstring or halt the prosecution of, well, fuck, any of themselves or anyone else like, you know, Trump.

This perverse idea that because we’ve never arrested and prosecuted a president, we must be extra super-duper careful is worthless. Just because you never did something before doesn’t mean that you proceed with so much caution that you end up not bothering to do it. The republic will not fall to pieces, no matter what the Chicken Littles of the punditocracy say. Indeed, it says something about the strength of a country if it can confidently prosecute a former leader for trying to steal an election.

Worst of all, they have allowed the small cabal of the maddest Trumpinistas to give the former president (that’s right – Donald Trump was once president of the United States. Fucks you up when you think about it, doesn’t it?) continued power. The timidity with which Trump has been handled would be laughable if it weren’t so dangerous. I mean, he held a rally at the US Capitol to protest the legitimacy of the election. He invited his idiot hordes to join him in marching on the Capitol. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it a thousand more: I will never understand why Trump wasn’t cuffed and dragged out of the White House on January 6, 2021. Or, if you're thinking, "They'd never arrest the president" (which is just sad), then howzabout on January 20, 2021, as soon as Biden took the oath. I will also never understand why the niceties of an impeachment took precedence over law enforcement when he so clearly broke the law. And you can say he has a First Amendment right to say the crazy shit he says, but, and I say this again for the fuckteenth time, the First Amendment is not a suicide pact. 

As demonstrated by delirious debacle of voting pudding-brained Kevin McCarthy in as Speaker of the House on the 15th attempt, the newly emboldened House Nutzoid Caucus, promised everything from Marjorie Taylor Greene getting her toys licked by McCarthy to Matt Gaetz getting to watch when McCarthy blows Nestor to Lauren Boebert getting to ream McCarthy out with her rifle, are going to attempt to destroy shit because that’s all they know how to do. And no one has made them pay a price. 

So we all pay the price in watching those we know should have been arrested two years ago flaunting their freedom in our flustered faces. It will never not be January 6, 2021 until they pay.