Conservative hysteria over critical race theory—the advanced academic framework examining how racist institutions in America's past, such as slavery and segregation, have influenced current inequities—continues to infect academic institutions.
In Tennessee, which passed a law last year banning the teaching of critical race theory, the Department of Education has floated fining school districts millions of dollars for so-called offenses. After Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas signed a similar bill banning critical race theory into law, the first Black principal of Colleyville Heritage High School—Dr. James Whitfield—lost his job on accusations from parents that he embraced critical race theory, accusations he insists are false. More recently, Virginia's new Republican Governor, Glenn Youngkin, issued an executive order banning critical race theory and announced a tipline for parents to report their child's educators.
And in Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has endorsed the "Stop WOKE Act," which would ban any elements of critical race theory not just from educational spaces but from employment nondiscrimination trainings as well. This McCarthy-esque crackdown on anything Republicans believe amounts to critical race theory has once again limited educational opportunities.
Professor J. Michael Butler was set to deliver a lecture to teachers of the Osceola County School District last week. The lecture, called The Long Civil Rights Movement posits that the civil rights movement wasn't limited to the 50s and 60s, but began decades earlier and may still not be over.
Just a day after the Judiciary Committee of Florida's GOP-led House of Representatives approved the Stop WOKE Act, Butler's lecture was unceremoniously canceled. The reason? Concerns that Butler's presentation would amount to critical race theory, according to Butler's Twitter thread on the matter.
In a phone interview with NBC, Butler said:
“There’s a climate of fear, an atmosphere created by Gov. Ron DeSantis, that has blurred the lines between scared and opportunistic. ... The victims of this censorship are history and the truth. ... The end game is they’re going to make teaching civil rights into ‘critical race theory,’ and it’s not."
Christina Pushaw, a spokesperson for DeSantis, dismissed these claims to NBC, saying that "Critical Race Theory and factual history are two different things. The endless attempts to gaslight Americans by conflating the two are as ineffective as they are tiresome."
But a closer look suggests otherwise.
Butler's lecture doesn't contain any elements of critical race theory, but that doesn't matter under the Stop WOKE Act. The bill doesn't even mention "critical race theory" by name, but the press release from Governor DeSantis' office announcing his support for the bill uses the phrase 15 times.
One of the bill's most sinister aspects is that illegal topics expand far more broadly than critical race theory, instead banning any teachings that cause an individual to feel "discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress" in regards to race. It's the latest instance of the anti-snowflake crowd believing any amount of discomfort for white people is the denial of freedom.
Writers and social media users, including 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones, said these were the earliest rumblings of what bills like the Stop WOKE Act were always meant to do.
And despite Pushaw's statement, many blamed DeSantis for the bill's increasing imminence.
DeSantis is considered one of the most formidable candidates for the Republican Party's 2024 presidential nomination.