As It Happens

Florida bill would ban making white people feel 'discomfort' about racist history

A Florida state senator is pushing back on a bill aimed at protecting white people from feeling “discomfort” or “guilt” while learning about racism in the nation’s past.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones says the bill will prevent Americans from learning the truth of their past

Florida State Sen. Shevrin Jones is speaking out against a bill that would limit how public schools and private companies teach and conduct training around race and history. (Steve Cannon/The Associated Press)

Story Transcript

A Florida state senator is pushing back on a bill aimed at protecting white people from feeling "discomfort" or "guilt" while learning about racism in the nation's past.

The Republican bill — called "Individual Freedom" — would prohibit private businesses and public schools from training staff or students about racism in U.S. history in a way that makes them feel "discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race."

"What worries me the most is us not telling the truth in American history — Black history, at that — and shielding students from the civil rights movement, from slavery, from redlining and things that happened, and to ensure that we don't go back to those times," state Sen. Shevrin Jones, who is Black, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"If we don't teach it, we're bound to go back to those days."

Taking aim at 'critical race theory'

Jones says the bill, which was approved by the Senate education committee on Tuesday, takes aim at critical race theory — even though it doesn't explicitly mention that term. 

Critical race theory is a way of thinking about American history through the lens of racism. Developed by scholars in the '70s and '80s, it proposes that racism is systemic in the nation's institutions, and that those institutions function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.

Once purely an academic framework relegated to textbooks and university classrooms, it has become a divisive talking point in the U.S. Conservative pundits and politicians decry it as an attempt to rewrite American history and make white people believe they are inherently racist.

There are currently more than a dozen bills at various stages of approval across the country aimed at quashing critical race theory in schools and diversity training programs.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is championing the 'Individual Freedom' bill, saying that critical race theory is 'crap' and parents and employees should be able to sue if they are subject to its teachings. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis, a Republican who is championing the bill, held a news conference last month in which he called critical race theory "crap," and said he would seek legislation that would allow parents to sue schools and employees to sue employers if they were subject to its teachings.

But Jones says critical race theory is a "non-issue" in Florida, and that history is all about owning up to uncomfortable truths.

"There's nothing comfortable about history. They're nothing comfortable about Black history. There's nothing comfortable about Jewish-American history. There's nothing comfortable about Indigenous history," Jones said. 

"And so, of course, individuals will be uncomfortable about how these things have happened in the past. But the only way we're going to be able to move forward is we have to have these uncomfortable conversations."

Jones says bill is 'racist on its surface'

Republican Sen. Manny Diaz, the bill's 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."

What's inherently racist, says Jones, is the text of the bill. 

"I'm not one to throw the word 'racist' out like that. I'm just not. But when I see it, I call it out," he said.

"Because when you create policies that's based on whitewashing history, the history of a group of people who have been oppressed in this country for over 400 years, but yet still, you don't want to teach the truth behind it, that is racist on its surface."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Shevrin Jones produced by Chris Harbord. 


  • This story has been updated to correct the attribution of the quote in the 14th paragraph to Sen. Manny Diaz.
    Jan 31, 2022 2:59 PM ET

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