In 2017 former President Donald Trump gathered with African-American supporters to kick off Black History Month. In his remarks Trump referenced Frederick Douglass as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more.” We are once again being reminded of Douglass’s importance. This time from a Republican lawmaker in Virginia.
Wren Williams, a Republican delegate in the General Assembly of Virginia, wants to make sure that Virginia students are exposed to the 19th century abolitionist through an amendment to the Code of Virginia to strengthen “student citizenship skills. Unfortunately, this is more of the same rhetoric and political posturing that we have come to expect from Republican lawmakers looking to exercise tight control over how American history is taught.
As used in this section, “divisive concept” means the concept that (i) one race, religion, ethnicity, or sex is inherently superior to another race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (ii) an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race, religion, ethnicity, or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (iii) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (iv) members of one race, religion, ethnicity, or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (v) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by the individual’s race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (vi) an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race, religion, ethnicity, or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (vii) an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race, religion, ethnicity, or sex; (viii) meritocracy, punctuality, proper language usage, free markets, and traits such as strong work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race; (ix) the ideology of equity of outcomes is superior to the ideology of equality, a concept enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, of opportunities; (x) mathematics and scientific empiricism are products of western civilization and thus are rooted in racism; (xi) the Commonwealth or the United States is fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist; or (xii) capitalism, free markets, free industry, and other related economic systems are inherently racist.
Of course, none of this language is reflected in the current Virginia Standards Of Learning. It’s little more than fear mongering coupled with some really bad history. Williams’s grasp of the Constitution is flawed as well as his understanding of Critical Race Theory. In fact, early Virginia history is a case study in the ways that racism and white supremacy became infused in society through the law. Start with Edmund Morgan’s classic study, American Slavery-American Freedom.
Finally, Williams offers a shortlist of “founding documents” that he believes every Virginia student should study.
The founding documents of the United States, including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers, including Essays 10 and 51, excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, and the writings of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Yes, you read that correctly. He mixed up Frederick Douglass with Stephen Douglas. This is almost as bad as Virginia fourth graders having to read a textbook with references to thousands of Black Confederate soldiers fighting with Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley.
It’s hard to take Republican lawmakers like Williams and others across the country who want to legislate how history should be taught when they can’t even get the basic facts straight.