The bill seeks to prevent white people from feeling guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.
A Senate committee in Florida has approved a bill to shield white people from feeling 'discomfort' over the history of racism and atrocities committed by their ancestors against Black and other Indigenous people.
The bill, pushed by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, would prohibit public schools and private businesses from making white people feel “guilty” when they teach students or train employees about discrimination in the nation’s past.
Democrats argued the bill isn’t needed as it would lead to frivolous lawsuits and would amount to censorship in schools. They asked, without success, for real-life examples of teachers or businesses telling students or employees that they are racist because of their race.
“This was directed to make whites not feel bad about what happened years ago,” said state Sen. Shevrin Jones, the committee's vice chair and its only Black member. “At no point did anyone say white people should be held responsible for what happened, but what I would ask my white counterparts is, are you an enabler of what happened or are you going to say we must talk about history?”
Ban on Black history
Jones told CNN that the bill is an attempt to revise history and keep white people from feeling uncomfortable.
"This isn't even a ban on Critical Race Theory, this is a ban on Black history," he said. "They are talking about not wanting white people to feel uncomfortable? Let's talk about being uncomfortable. My ancestors were uncomfortable when they were stripped away from their children."
“No place for discrimination”
DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw said the governor's position was that "discrimination based on race, colour, sex, and national origin" had no place in Florida.
“[The bill] makes clear that no Floridian — student, worker, or anyone else — should be subjected to discriminatory content and rhetoric," she wrote.
"Every Floridian deserves an equal shot at success, regardless of skin colour. This means considering each person as an individual with unique attributes, experiences, and aspirations, rather than stereotyping them as a member of this or that identity group," she said.
Pushaw added: "It is frankly disturbing that anyone would find these ideas controversial in the year 2022."
The bill reads in part: “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. 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.”
The bill is called “Individual Freedom”. Republican Sen. Manny Diaz, its sponsor, said it is not about ignoring the “dark” parts of American history, but rather ensuring that people are not blamed for sins of the past.
“No individual is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, solely by the virtue of his or her race or sex,” Diaz said. “No race is inherently superior to another race.”
It’s the latest in a rash of reactionary legislation targeting critical race theory, a previously obscure theory about interpreting the law through the lens of racism.
Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. It was developed during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what scholars viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.
It focuses on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
Conservatives reject it, saying it is a world view derived from Marxism that 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.
Critics of the “Individual Freedom” bill say it’s meant to censor conversations about race and gender in schools and workplaces. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Florida chapter called it “a blatant attempt to suppress speech DeSantis and certain legislators do not like”.
“Students and employees deserve to have a free and open exchange about our history and its impact on our communities,” the ACLU said in a statement. “Legislators should not interfere with a student or employee’s right to receive an inclusive education just because certain aspects of our history make some people uncomfortable.”
State Sen. Tina Scott Polsky, one of the committee’s three Democratic members, told WTSP that the bill could also open up schools and employers to lawsuits.
“Now we're telling a company if they want to teach anti-discrimination, they want to teach diversity, they want to teach unconscious bias, which is a course in the Florida Senate, that they are potentially creating a cause of action from a disgruntled employee,” Polsky told the committee.