Educator and community activist Ted Victor was outraged when he learned Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had decided an Advanced Placement African American studies course his daughter planned to take “significantly lacks educational value.”
“No educational value, like something you can discard, something you can just throw away, something that says you are not as important as other people,” said Victor, who is Afro Latino and has taught for 25 years at the middle and high school level, and college.
The son of a Cuban father and an Asian mother, Victor was a 17-year-old in college before he understood that he was part of the Black diaspora. Learning this from another college classmate led him to switch his undergraduate major from math and computer science to African American studies.
“How can you label a people and their history of no value?… How is it my daughter can take world history, U.S. history, European history and there is no question? In other words, she can study your ancestry, but my ancestry, her ancestry has no academic value?” he asked.
DeSantis’ crusade on diversity and race comes in a state, colonized by the Spanish, where the intersections of Black, Latino and Indigenous culture and history abound. The first Generation Z member of the U.S. Congress, Rep. Maxwell Frost, is a Florida Democrat who identifies as Afro Cuban.
It’s also a state where, like elsewhere in the U.S., Afro Latinos still struggle for recognition of their place in American history and culture, while grappling with discrimination — even within the Latino community.
In prohibiting the AP African American studies course, DeSantis’ said it was not education but indoctrination. He said the course’s segments on intersectionality — the understanding of how race, gender, class, sexual orientation, for example, can marginalize people — reparations, mass incarceration and the role of Black queer theory were a political agenda and not education.
DeSantis pushed back on criticism that his rejection of the course prevents the study of Africa American history.
The state already requires the teaching of African American history, “all the important things,” DeSantis said last month at a news conference.
But the AP course is not African American history, it is African studies, which touches on culture and intersections of identities, said Brandt Robinson, who holds a master’s degree in African American studies and is in his 26th year of teaching.
“A lot of the people in Florida who are Latino, are Afro Latino. For a lot of people who are Latino, that is intersectionality — he’s demonizing a term that is quite descriptive of a lot of Americans,” Robinson, who is white, said of DeSantis.
“It just reveals that what we really need is to do a better job in our education system,” he said.
Paul Ortiz, who wrote the textbook “An African American and Latinx History of the United States” and is a University of Florida history professor, noted that this month 28 Florida state college presidents issued a statement saying they’d eliminate any academic requirement that “compels belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality.
“What an insult,” Ortiz said. “If you’re an Afro Latino, your entire life has been intersectional. You live, you bridge, culturally, visibly these different worlds.”
Desantis’ office referred NBC News’ request for comment to the Department of Education, which had not responded by late Friday afternoon.
The College Board released a revised version of the course, stating the changes had been planned long before DeSantis’ criticism. The changes were in the areas DeSantis had blasted, including the section on intersectionality, the Black Lives Matter movement and reparations; they are now optional study materials.
Fordham University law professor Tanya K. Hernández, author of the book “Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias and the Struggle for Equality,” called DeSantis’ recent moves “an attack on racial literacy.”
Hernández, whose book uses legal cases to show the persistence of Latino racism against Black Latinos and its impact in areas such as education, housing and employment, disagreed with the College Board’s revisions, which made some of the contemporary topics optional.
“Censoring out some of the most important issues we confront as a society also impedes the ability to understand the great extent to which entrenched racial disparities result from systemic barriers and not the presumed moral failings of subordinated racial and ethnic groups,” said Hernandez, who is Afro Latina.
“Impeding the ability of students to understand the racialized world they live in undermines their ability to gain the knowledge required for making our world truly inclusive and just,” she said.
Usually, students who have scored well on standardized tests take the AP courses that give those who complete them exposure to college level instruction and college credit they can take with them to a higher education institution, said Christopher Busey, a University of Florida associate professor in the Teachers, Schools and Society program and a faculty member of the Latin American studies and African American studies programs.
In his research, Busey, who is Black and whose children are Afro Latino, has called for better treatment of Afro Latinos in the K-12 curriculum. He wrote in a 2017 analysis of U.S. high school world history textbooks that educators could no longer allow for history textbooks and other social studies materials to limit Afro Latino representation to race mixing, racial hierarchy and enslavement. Afro Latino history is complex and multilayered, he wrote, and warrants extensive treatment in kindergarten through 12 grade narratives.
Stanford University research has found that even non-AP ethnic studies courses have had positive effects on students, including those at risk of dropping out.
As Republicans like DeSantis have sought to restrict instruction on race and diversity, academics and teachers like Busey and Robinson have felt the backlash.
Busey said he has been avoiding speaking to the media, while Robinson said he had to submit all his teaching materials to his school board when a parent accused him of being a Marxist, alleging a book he was using was aligned with the 1619 Project because it had the year 1619 in its title. A review committee cleared him.
DeSantis recently announced that he plans to block state colleges from having programs on diversity, equity and inclusion, and on critical race theory.
José Vilson, executive director and co-founder of EduColor, an organization dedicated to race and social justice issues in education, said DeSantis’ criticism and rejection of the AP course provides a template on how other class standards can be “pushed down,” creating a chilling effect on other race studies classes.
“If you can go after AP African American studies you can go after that whole standard more generally,” he said. “This isn’t just for Black, Latino or Afro Latinx people, this is for everybody, because our white students also need to learn this rich history, especially because of the density of Cubans and Americans and Puerto Ricans (in Florida) — many of whom adhere to their African ancestry,” he said.
Nancy Raquel Mirabal, an associate professor in the American Studies program at the University of Maryland, has published research on the Afro Cuban Community that migrated to Ybor City and Tampa, Florida, to work in cigar factories at the same time that the American Revolution and the writing of the Constitution was taking place in the U.S. colonies.
“Black Cubans as early migrants worked with white Cubans because of the language, because of the shared experiences. But as time goes on white Cubans separate themselves from Black Cubans,” she said. The segregation then leads Black Cubans to create a more African American diasporic identity, said Mirabal, a daughter of Dominican immigrants.
“Florida does such a massive disservice because it has such a large Latinx and Black community there. This idea that their history is not important is a slap in the face to its early migrants,” said Mirabal.