Let Ron be Ron: Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis makes shocking claims about slavery

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Updated Nov 6, 2023 at 08:44 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

On Friday 21 July 2023, during a press conference, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made an overtly offensive and insulting statement that left many people in complete shock. The Republican politician suggested that Black people had actually benefited from slavery, due to the fact that they’d learned certain skills such as being a blacksmith, as reported by Business Insider.

Yes, you read that correctly, this is not some sick joke or punchline from an old episode of The Simpsons, this is the political reality of the United States right now. What’s even more shocking is that currently, DeSantis is one of the frontrunners for the 2024 Presidential elections.

DeSantis made the controversial claims while speaking to reporters in front of a predominantly white audience. His assertions regarding the so-called “skills” Black people may’ve gained from slavery have drawn sharp rebukes from educators, civil rights leaders, and even members of his own party.

Former US Representative Will Hurd from Texas, who is also running for the Republican nomination, vehemently rejected the idea that slavery had any beneficial aspects, stating that it was a dehumanising and oppressive institution.

This isn’t the first time DeSantis has made inflammatory comments regarding the US’ relationship with race and racial history. Earlier this year, the right-wing politician faced criticism after stating that he was planning on banning African American studies—a move which has further fuelled the conservative fire against critical race theory.

Moreover, DeSantis has helped push through a new set of standards wherein teachers will be instructed to give their students information about the “personal benefits” of slavery to Black people.

Despite the ongoing criticism, DeSantis is standing by the new curriculum. The Governor has asserted that while he was not involved in writing the materials, he’s deemed this new series of courses the most comprehensive African American history standards in the country.

DeSantis’ words carry a much deeper weight as a prominent presidential candidate for the 2024 elections. His stance on this matter is not only an ignorant depiction of a significant historical event but also downplays the immense suffering and dehumanisation endured by millions of enslaved individuals. This doesn’t even touch upon the harm he is inflicting now on Black individuals in the country.

The curriculum change has come in the wake of the Stop WOKE Act, a piece of legislation which Governor DeSantis signed into law in 2022. The act was designed to prohibit the teaching of any materials that might make students in public schools feel shamed because of their race.

According to Politico, Nick Iarossi, a Florida-based lobbyist and fundraiser who’s been one of DeSantis’ most prominent supporters, confidently declared: “Let Ron be Ron. ” There have allegedly been concerns within base camp regarding the politician’s local and national polling. So, it seems their embrace of DeSantis’ most controversial claims is part of a new strategy to mobilise the Governor’s most far-right supporters. The team is returning to its foundational principles, embracing DeSantis’ leadership style, which helped shape his identity as a leader in Florida.

Vice President Kamala Harris, on a visit to Florida, strongly criticised DeSantis’ curriculum and emphasised the heinous nature of slavery, which involved rape, torture, and stripping people of their humanity.

As reported by The Guardian, Harris stated: “Today’s actions by the Florida state government are an attempt to bring our country back to a 19th-century America where Black life was not valued, nor our rights protected. Our children deserve nothing less than truth, justice and the equity our ancestors shed blood, sweat and tears for.”

Florida State Representative Fentrice Driskell, the first Black woman to become House Democratic Leader, described DeSantis’ remarks as an assault on Black history. She challenged the idea that any trade skill obtained through enslavement could outweigh the immense horrors and dehumanisation experienced by enslaved individuals.

Some conservatives have come to DeSantis’ defense, arguing that the proposed new curriculum aims to teach how enslaved Black people developed skills, not that they benefited from slavery itself—not entirely sure how they think that argument sits any better, but nothing is off-limits when it comes to the American far-right.

In the midst of criticisms and debates, DeSantis’ argument will undoubtedly further alienate Black voters, a crucial voting bloc in the US that the GOP has attempted to attract. His remarks have added to the polarisation in the country, emphasising the importance of thoughtful and inclusive discussions in education.

DeSantis’ defence of the new controversial curriculum has raised serious concerns about historical accuracy, sensitivity, and the need for a comprehensive understanding of the impacts of slavery.

As citizens, engaging in informed conversations and rejecting extremely ignorant and inaccurate narratives is crucial, while acknowledging the importance of learning from history to build a more equitable and prosperous future.

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