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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the “Stop WOKE Act” publicly, surrounded by a group of supporters.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the “Stop WOKE Act” on April 22, 2022. Image: Daniel A. Varela / AP Images

February 1, 2023

The Black Scholars Ron DeSantis Doesn’t Want Students to Read

Among them are Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Robin D. G. Kelley. You can read them here.

Last week the state of Florida made national headlines for rejecting a pilot Advanced Placement African American Studies high school course. Governor Ron DeSantis has since doubled down on the ban, calling the course a form of “indoctrination” and insisting that the College Board’s proposed curriculum violates the “Stop WOKE Act”—a bill DeSantis signed into law last year that restricts teaching about race in the classroom.

Explaining its decision, the state’s Department of Education cited numerous authors on the proposed course syllabus. Among them is UCLA Distinguished Professor of U.S. History and Boston Review contributing editor Robin D. G. Kelley, whose Boston Review forum essay “Black Study, Black Struggle” was singled out in a graphic released on Twitter by the state’s education commissioner. (In a clear instance of red baiting, one of the state’s “concerns” is simply the fact that “Kelley’s first book was a study of Black communists in Alabama.”)

Whether any of the Florida officials involved in the decision have read Kelley’s work is doubtful. As Kelley pointed out to the Los Angeles Times last week, one of the central arguments of his BR essay is that “reading Black experience through trauma can easily slip into thinking of ourselves as victims and objects rather than agents,” a point that politicians who frequently rail against the “culture of victimhood” ought to find congenial. Rather than victimization, Kelley emphasizes “how we have fought for justice not just for Black people but for the whole nation (yes, including struggling white people), despite the violence and oppression we have experienced.”

To kick off Black History Month, we compiled Boston Review  essays by the pioneering Black scholars Florida officials don’t want students to read. In addition to work by other authors the state cited in its decision—including legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, philosopher-activist Angela Davis, and the late feminist writer bell hooks—the list features several others on the proposed course syllabus: Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, social movement scholar and New Yorker contributor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, historian Nell Irvin Painter, Pulitzer Prize–winning Malcolm X biographer Manning Marable, political scientist Cathy Cohen, and scholar-filmmaker Henry Louis Gates, Jr. We also include David Theo Goldberg’s recent analysis of the right’s attack on critical race theory.

Update: The College Board has now released an updated curriculum, stripped of any reference to Crenshaw, Davis, hooks, and Kelley.

Robin D. G. Kelley

The university is not an engine of social transformation. Activism is.

Angela Y. Davis, Gina Dent, Erica R. Meiners, Beth E. Richie, & Nia T. Evans
The authors of Abolition. Feminism. Now. discuss why racialized state violence and gender-based violence have to be fought together.
Kimberlé W. Crenshaw

Black feminism and 2 Live Crew

Robin D. G. Kelley

Robin D. G. Kelley published his pathbreaking history of the Black radical imagination in 2002. Where are we two decades later?

David Theo Goldberg

Turning a blind eye to the realities of racial injustice, the highly orchestrated right-wing attacks cast a body of scholarship about race in the law as a great threat to American society.

Eugene F. Rivers III, Margaret A. Burnham, Henry Louis Gates, Jr, bell hooks, Glenn C. Loury, Cornel West, Anthony Appiah

A roundtable with bell hooks, Cornel West, and more.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, reduces racial inequality to a matter of psychological impairment that can be overcome through grit and grin.

Elizabeth Hinton, Robin D. G. Kelley, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Brandon M. Terry, Cornel West
A transcript of our panel discussion on the Black Lives Matter movement. 
Jonathan M. Square, Walter Johnson, Nell Painter
After retiring from Princeton, celebrated historian Nell Irvin Painter decided to go to art school. In this interview with Walter Johnson, she discusses what it’s like to be an old student, and how art lets her tell truths about history that she couldn’t as an academic.
Achal Prabhala, Binyavanga Wainaina
Celebrated writer Binyavanga Wainaina’s first piece of fiction was thought to be lost. Recently rediscovered, it appears here twenty-five years after it originally debuted.
Manning Marable

We need bottom up leadership—not top down.

Cathy J. Cohen

The black church has shied away from political empowerment.

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