In yet another attempt to stifle progress towards a more equitable United States, Governor Ron De Santis of Florida has introduced multiple pieces of legislation that threaten identity and equality within schools. SB 148 and HB 7—titled the Stop W.O.K.E. Act and the White Discomfort bill, respectively—aim to undermine efforts made by progressive activists to create change from the bottom up, which begins with reforming how we educate our children. The bills would extend the rights of parents giving them the ability to sue teachers and schools on the grounds of certain lessons making their children ‘uncomfortable’, with parental discomfort often being a euphemism for unchecked white rage. The legislation would simultaneously bar employers from requiring training on racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression by increasing the rights of employees to sue based on discrimination claims. As HB 7 and SB 148 gain traction and edge closer to being enacted into law, I urge you to ask whose individual freedoms these bills protect because it is clear that only some get to reap the malicious benefits.
There is no question that bills such as these arise out of hate, privilege, and vicious disregard for the children and adults alike who do not identify with the white heteronormative narrative that this legislation protects. Florida’s House of Representatives passed SB 148, the shorter and less comprehensive bill on Thursday, February 24th. The bill now heads to Ron DeSantis’ desk, who has demonstrated unwavering support for the act. Dubbed the “Stop W.O.KE. Act” which stands for wrongs to our kids and employees, the bill strengthens the ban on Critical Race Theory, limits protected speech in workplaces, and extinguishes DEI training on the grounds that it promotes discrimination and division.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a school of thought that aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of the systemic disadvantages faced by marginalized groups in an American society that was created with race as its basis. DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion, which encompasses training and lessons directed at reforming our public spaces to be more inclusive and cognizant of the different challenges that certain identities face. The bill is seen as the harshest attack on what conservatives deem “corporate wokeness” and CRT in schools, developed under the misguided belief that families, employees, and children lacked the tools to fight back against indoctrination. SB 148 arose out of a foolishly ‘heroic’ attempt by DeSantis to protect his people against the villainous state-sanctioned ‘racism’ that is diversity, equity, and inclusion training, opting for the more comfortable normalcy of white supremacist workplaces and schooling systems.
HB 7 raised the bar on heinously discriminatory legislation the second it was proposed and filed on January 11th, 2022. Officially titled the Individual Freedom bill as a facade for its true intentions, the content of the White Discomfort bill disregards and weaponizes white privilege as an unnecessary ill to the white victim. The more comprehensive of the two bills, it furthers the removal of DEI training from the workplace, discussions of race in classrooms, acknowledgment of white privilege, and falsifies structural racism. The bill states that it would be unlawful to teach that an individual’s identity in regard to a certain race, sex, or sexuality contributes to their privileged status. This, in conjunction with the direct outlawing of lessons revolving around falsely characterized “psychological distress” (in reference to white guilt) would effectively eliminate all discussion of white privilege.
HB 7 goes even further to stop practices that aim to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion under the miscategorization of such actions as discrimination, while also upholding the false notion that America is an equal opportunity meritocracy. I draw another issue with the use of identity language in the bill, particularly the replacement of the word ethnicity with “color”. The connotation of the word ‘color’ to describe a certain culture a person may identify with disregards the experiences of those who do not fit whatever stereotypical notion may be held by the majority.
HB 7 did not stop after its attacks on equity training and the fight against racism, redirecting its destruction to the discussion on gender issues and mental health. The bill, which solely uses the term ‘sex’ rather than ‘gender’ establishes that students must be separated based on their sex and not their gender for sports and sex education. While harmful in and of itself because of the discrepancies that already occur in sex education, the use of sex as the determining characteristic entirely disregards a child’s gender identity and simply relies on heteronormative standards as the moral beacon. The bill removes all use of the word ‘gender’ thus directly erasing the importance of accepting and catering to the needs of children who are not cisgender or who rely on school as their space to explore their identity. These moves in addition to the destructive hate being spread by Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill” move the rights of LGBTQ+ children 1,000 steps in the wrong direction. Aside from the pointed attack on the rights of LGBTQ+ children, the bill also aims to strip topics of mental and emotional health from the health education curriculum. The utter apathy with which legislators conduct themselves will harm children and ultimately proliferate injustice and hate.
HB 7 and SB 148 provide the conservative movement with the ammunition necessary to stifle the long-awaited justice that aims to sweep the nation. There are few limitations to the harm these bills can do. Already teachers have expressed concerns about how history will be whitewashed and glamorized to uphold the pristine reputation of white civilization that aligns with what the few in power deem acceptable. Teachers are already instructed that their job does not include ‘taking sides’ (with the sides being racist or antiracist). The beliefs behind these bills plunge us deeper into a state that cannot escape white privilege and supremacy. The recurring urgency with which lawmakers stated that our children do not deserve to feel uncomfortable in school begs the question: which children are included in this statement? These bills prey on the stereotypical innocence of children and the societal urge to protect them, but it is only the white cis-gender children who are looked after. Veiled as an attempt to increase the autonomy of Floridians in regards to deciding what they believe to be appropriate in schools and the workplace, these pieces of legislation are a poignant reminder of the impetuous threat that the misinformed conservative movement poses to justice everywhere.