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In face of midterm elections, Fla. GOP candidate’s words on slavery should scare everyone

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Ben Crump, Opinion contributor
Published 4:54 p.m. ET Oct. 26, 2018

Excuse of past wrongs not just about Constitution. Falls in line with attitude that hurts immigrants, minorities and shapes ideas about police duties.

As midterm elections loom, candidates’ every move (including their history) is being watched. It’s no shock, then, that former Rep. Ron DeSantis, the GOP candidate for Florida’s gubernatorial race, has been facing backlash this month for his 2011 book, “Dreams from our Founding Fathers: First Principles in the Age of Obama.”  

One of the book’s many racist rants centers on the argument that first black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, a highly esteemed intellectual, was mistaken in his claim that the Constitution was fundamentally flawed due to its silence on the abolition of slavery.

DeSantis criticizes Marshall’s castigation as one that “overshadows the numerous and long-lasting political achievements embodied in the structural foundations of the government that have nothing to do with the institution of slavery.”

But the Constitution, as a founding document that influences every aspect of how we live, should not be interpreted as a whole, but rather picked apart and scrutinized. It should be viewed through a lens that takes into account the social and political context of our time. An integral part of our history and progress as a nation is the ability to recognize past wrongs and atrocities, not excuse them.

Continuing to place people who hold outdated, racist beliefs in positions of power only perpetuates the collective amnesia that America suffers in regards to its racist history. Works like DeSantis’ book are modern-day propaganda, spinning the events of our country’s past to try to forge a sense of nationalism in the face of evil.

Books like DeSantis’ are dangerous to everyone.

With each one comes the resurgence of a vicious cycle in which those who are skeptical about the existence of racism are confirmed in their beliefs, feeling empowered to be ignorant in a world where ignorance can be one of the most dangerous forms of violence for minorities.

What message does it send to the rest of the country — especially the staggering number of women and people of color running for office — when we elect people who have shown us with their actions and words that they do not care about all of their constituents?

Though the argument could be made that DeSantis’ book is several years old and that the candidate may have changed, this is only one of several racially charged controversies DeSantis has been involved in leading up to and during his gubernatorial run. Less than 24 hours after clinching the Republican nomination, he warned voters not to “monkey this up” by choosing his opponent, Andrew Gillum, whose election would make him the first black governor of Florida.

DeSantis’ racially insensitive comments directly layer into the very platform he is running on — including his stance on immigration and sanctuary cities. He has made it publicly clear that he would punish any Florida city that adopts sanctuary policies preventing officers from cooperating with the federal government on immigration. He also strongly supports building a border wall. Ironically, had similar ideas been held by our country’s earlier legislators, DeSantis’ family would not have been able to immigrate.

DeSantis is keenly aware of the current political climate and the demographic of his voters. His selective ignorance about racism is a key strategy in his gubernatorial run. It depends on the votes of those who claim to be skeptical that racism exists to place him in a position of power — a position that would endanger minority communities across Florida.

The election of DeSantis would not only confirm the belief that racism isn’t real, it would also confirm that Florida is actively accepting and promoting bigotry with no consequences. This kind of environment further emphasizes that, so long as you’re a person of color, your voice will not be heard and you will likely never have a chance to make a change. It establishes a level of hostility that opens the gates for racism and hatred to fester like a disease, plaguing our country more and more each time bigotry is voted into office.

Pride in our country and the recognition that discrepancies in power and resources exist are not mutually exclusive ideas.

This election season, ask more of your fellow voters. Encourage those around you to elect candidates who will work in the best interests of all their constituents, not just the ones who are mirror images of themselves.

Ask that we, as a country, think critically about the entirety of America’s past and use that history as a stepping stone toward a more progressive, more equal future.

Ben Crump is a nationally known civil rights attorney and advocate and is the founder and principal of Ben Crump Law.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/policing/2018/10/26/desantis-gop-candidate-slavery-policing-usa/1764386002/

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