Florida continues to be a very reasonable and sane state, as a Ron DeSantis-backed bill to prohibit public schools and private businesses from making white people feel “discomfort” has been approved by the state Senate Education Committee. If enacted, educators and employers could face a barrage of lawsuits should they deign to teach students or train employees about issues like discrimination, or really almost anything from our nation’s, uh, totally un-racist history.
The bill, called “Individual Freedom” (lol), specifically targets what Republicans have taken to calling “critical race theory,” which, in their mind, is any acknowledgement of race or racism. In reality, critical race theory is a multilayered framework often taught in law schools that considers all of the often coded ways that racism remains embedded in American laws and systems.
Since the bill’s introduction, the usual brain cell-killing, soul-draining debates across party lines have ensued in Florida’s state legislature. But the real kicker here is how Gov. DeSantis and his office are justifying the bill. In response to the Associated Press’s request for comment from DeSantis about “Individual Freedom,” as well as a Democratic legislator’s statement of fact that the bill is racist, the governor’s spokesperson simply cited DeSantis’s December remarks about Martin Luther King, Jr.: “You think about what MLK stood for, he said he didn’t want people judged on the color of their skin but on the content of their character. You listen to some of these people nowadays, they don’t talk about that.”
It feels a lot like beating a dead horse by now to point out that Republicans have spent the last few years decrying “cancel culture,” trigger warnings, “conservative censorship,” or having their First Amendment rights tragically violated by GoDaddy.com. But despite criticisms of conservatives like DeSantis for supposedly being hypocritical, Florida’s anti-white discomfort bill actually draws a throughline connecting Republicans’ seemingly contradictory disdain for cancelation and its efforts to censor anti-racist or even just vaguely accurate teaching. More than being hypocritical, they’re consistently opposed to anything that makes them or any white people feel uncomfortable.
The “Individual Freedom” bill states that “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,” and “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.” There are a lot of opponents of the bill who are pointing out that no prominent institutions have actually said that individuals “bear responsibility” for history or should feel “psychological distress,” but at the risk of causing white discomfort, I would actually argue we should all look to history and feel some level of responsibility, and certainly some discomfort — like, a lot of discomfort, really.
As a number of white people have argued, perhaps white people actually should reflect on how many of them owe generational wealth, or even just economic security to their ancestors’ participation in slavery, and take action in support of reparations. And we should all feel uncomfortable living on stolen land, perhaps listen to the demands of Indigenous activists, and support meaningful investments in Indigenous communities.
Discomfort is necessary for growth and education; DeSantis and his ilk obviously know this, and are purposefully waging war on collective memory, or really just having thoughts, period. It’s useless at this point to argue with conservatives about so-called critical race theory in good faith. But at some point, as CRT increasingly becomes the culture war du jour on which Republicans across the country are running and winning elections, Democrats will have to figure out a strategy on how to effectively respond — hopefully, not with another Hamilton performance.