There is a long history of right-wing forces fighting against progressive educational curricula. Now, scholars like Robin D. G. Kelley are working to level the playing field against the moneyed political interests behind the attacks.
Invoking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in mid-December, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced new legislation that allows parents to sue schools for teaching critical race theory. “You think about what MLK stood for. He said he didn’t want people judged on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character,” said DeSantis, a political ringleader in the latest chapter of the United States’ culture war. In using a quote from Dr. King to justify an attack on curricula that uplifts racial justice, the Republican governor inadvertently created a strong case for why critical thinking on the history of race and racism in the U.S. is necessary.
History professor Robin D. G. Kelley is all too familiar with the sort of contradictory statements like those DeSantis spouted. Kelley, who is the Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. History at the University of California, Los Angeles, explains that he “came into the profession at the height of a battleground over history, in the 1980s, with the war on political correctness.” And although he’s lived through decades of conservative-led attacks, like those by DeSantis, he describes the 2020s as “dangerous times.”