By Norma Adams-Wade
Dear Gov. Ron DeSantis:
Earlier this year, you signed Florida’s HB 7 Individual Freedom Bill, said to be the nation’s first of its kind and commonly called the “Stop WOKE Act.” Media coverage has kept the public informed about raucous support and challenges to the bill, including a federal judge saying the bill may violate First Amendment rights to free speech.
Of course, the whole matter started with the volatile debate about teaching the controversial critical race theory and The New York Times’ 1619 Project in schools. Conservative backlash exploded, including influential research by activist Christopher Rufo of the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank.
Critical race theory is an academic framework dating to the 1970s that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that those institutions maintain the dominance of white people. The theory is a way of analyzing American history through the lens of racism. Critics say the it divides society by defining people as oppressors and oppressed based on their race.
They call it an attempt to rewrite American history and make white people believe they are inherently racist. I’m writing to tell you, Governor, about my own experiences as a Black student growing up in the Jim Crow South before and during the early stages of racial integration. I experienced much of what you seek to protect white students from, and from which I’m grateful that leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others fought to “free” me.
Many of the main eight concepts of your “Stop WOKE Act” sound reasonable enough. Yet, in your public comments, you speak against conditions that you have described as “revisionist history” and “woke indoctrination.” Could it be that these revisions are simply telling more truth? I take your use of “revisionist” to mean that it is wrong to revise American history that was taught to me as a youth. Also, that indoctrination only is wrong now and not when I experienced it many moons ago.
I clearly remember being indoctrinated with the often sappy and hard-to-believe lessons taught to me in history, civics and government classes: President George Washington’s cherry tree story — that as a boy, he never told a lie; that Christopher Columbus discovered America even though Native Americans were already here; that the law of separate but equal was just and equitable; and that enslaved Africans were “happy and content” in bondage because they had food and shelter.
Of course, we know now that there have been myriad revisions to those and hundreds of other supposedly historical “facts.” Your effort to protect white and other students from uncomfortable history may be noble, but it seems partisan.
When you signed the Individual Freedom Bill (aka “Stop WOKE Act”), you said: “There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.” Yet, indoctrination and discrimination were tenets of my civil rights era childhood education and life experience.of those experiences. We heard about mobs and the KKK lynching Black men without a trial — including the 1910 Allen Brooks lynching from the downtown Elks Arch in Dallas where I still live — and the hateful and still painfully memorable murders of mainly Black males, such as Emmett Till and Medgar Evers nearly a decade apart in Mississippi.
My childhood peers and I lived with knowing that we could not I grew up as a Black kid under “separate but equal” laws that were anything but equal. My peers and I had to hear and experience the tough lessons of a society that treated us differently. Yet I believe we were made stronger because try on clothes in downtown Dallas retail stores or drink from certain water fountains labeled “Whites Only.” Conversely, we were not taught that when the Fourth of July celebrations began in 1776, we African Americans still were enslaved and had no freedom to celebrate — not until 87 years later, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation; and here in Texas, Black enslavement lasted two more years.
Pre-1960s, I could only go to the State Fair of Texas on one day called “Negro Achievement Day.” As a pre-teen, when my family rode the streetcar from my segregated South Dallas neighborhood, we knew to look for the mobile demarcation marker clamped on a railing that showed Blacks how far to the back to sit so whites would have the front seats.
My school books, Governor, were hand-me-downs from the Dallas white schools. Some pages were torn out, and the tattered ones that remained often were filled with graffiti and someone else’s notes in the margins. Still, many of my peers and I went to college and thrived. As students, we were not given blindfolds to protect us from seeing the realities of life.
So why is “being woke” such a terrible thing? As I see it, being woke is simply looking truth in the face and walking away more informed; and yes, free to make your own final judgment. Indoctrination, as I see it, is knowing that historical “facts” in textbooks — more likely than not —have some history writer’s interpretation woven in. Yes, Rufo’s research does reasonably suggest that some educators’ and
employers’ critical race theory and 1619 Project interpretations are extreme and could be scaled back. But truth at some point must prevail.
“Woke” poet, author, film-maker and college professor M.K. Asante Jr. aced it, in my book, when he wrote the poem “Two Sets of Notes” about classroom teaching:
“I always take two sets of notes. … One set to ace the test and … One set I call the truth. … Black children … don’t let them fool you … With selective memory. … Always take two sets of notes.”
I defy you, Governor, to suggest that I do not love my country. My America is not perfect, but it is my country — warts and all. I will continue to do my part, striving ever to make it better.
Norma Adams-Wade, is a proud Dallas native, University of Texas at Austin journalism graduate and retired Dallas Morning News senior staff writer. She is a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists and was its first southwest regional director. She became The News’ first Black full-time reporter in 1974. email@example.com