African American Studies Under Attack in Florida

By Lisa Intrabartola, Senior Public Relations Specialist
Rutgers University
Special to The Truth

The College Board has updated an Advanced Placement (A.P.) African American
Studies course amid criticism from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who, with the
state board of education, banned it in state schools saying it violates a
law he championed.

Rutgers professor Leslie Kay Jones recently found herself at the center
of the controversy. Although her connection to the A.P. curriculum is
tangential – her scholarship and expertise in Black Lives Matter was
referenced as a potential resource for teachers who were reviewing the
early design of the course – she was singled out in an infographic
outlining Florida’s reason for rejecting the course.

Leslie Kay Jones, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Rutgers New Brunswick, specializing in social movements. She draws extensively on the fields of race and gender, critical race theory, and online social media in her study of collective mobilization. She teaches qualitative and computer assisted research methods, particularly digital ethnography and content analysis.

Lisa Intrabartola: What are the ramifications of the decision to prohibit teaching the course
in Florida schools and how does it affect students inside and outside of
the state?

Leslie Kay Jones: Not only is DeSantis testing out his legal standing for censoring African
American studies in K-12 schools, but he is laying the groundwork to
miscast African American scholars generally as unacademic, undemocratic and
divisive sources of ideas about the social world. Floridians and people in
other states following DeSantis’s model should be aware that African
American studies is the test case for using propaganda against different
academic fields to bar specific groups from participating in the public
market of ideas. The goal is to define even activism generally as immoral
behavior (see the objection to Robin D.G. Kelley in the Florida Department
of Education infographic [5]), even though the DeSantis administration is
itself engaged in political activism.

Intrabartola: What does this mean for the future of African American studies across all
grade levels?

Jones: In many ways, DeSantis is using an old playbook. Censorship of African
American studies is a tried-and-true political strategy for limiting
Americans’ ability to name and challenge politics of disenfranchisement.
Just as the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. has been reduced in most
educational programs to the repetition of a single speech that is often
taught piecemeal and misrepresented, DeSantis hopes to dictate the limits
of acceptable ideas emerging from political activism like the civil rights
movement. Reducing allowable citations in African American studies will
also have the effect of undercutting the rigor of the discipline, making it
increasingly possible to assert that African American studies has no
educational merit. Ultimately, we are looking at an effort to render the
greater population historically ignorant and susceptible to indoctrination
with ideologies of racial inferiority.

Intrabartola: What do you think are the reasons behind Florida’s rejection of the A.P.

Jones: The purpose is to justify an increasing program of censorship targeted at
the language and ideas we use to combat indoctrination into fascism. That
is why the focus is on misrepresenting work that explains how social
hierarchies work through the analysis of historical events.

Intrabartola: What was your reaction to being singled out by the Florida Department of

Jones: As a graduate of the Florida public education system, I was happy to know
that my work is viewed as useful in teaching students about racial
inequality. As a junior scholar, I was flattered to have my work named
among great scholars like Robin D.G. Kelley and bell hooks. I was
disappointed that the Florida Department of Education chose to cite an
“About Me” section from one of my social media pages rather than
engaging with my rigorous academic work, but I understand that the purpose
of the infographic was precisely to suggest that students would not be
engaged in rigorous work when taking the A.P. African American Studies


Courtesy: Andrea Alexander, Rutgers Today