Ohio Races…to the Back of the Line

“Amid the tidal wave of proposals across the country that would eliminate diversity efforts at public colleges, Ohio’s Senate Bill 83 stands out.” That’s the lead to a recent article by Kate Marijolovic in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The American Historical Association warns that the Ohio bill’s “unwieldy omnibus of contradictory mandates would not only enable but even require classroom-level intervention by state officials.”

I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that I’ve grown numb to the flood of Republican  attempts to tell students what they can’t study, administrators what they are not allowed to support, librarians what they are prohibited from putting on their shelves, women what parts of their anatomies they no longer control, the trans community who they are not permitted to be, LGBTQ+ young people what they must never talk about, Disney (Disney!) what the company can’t challenge

Just a hot minute ago, these same legislators were denouncing the Big Brother state for dictating what you could and couldn’t do. Remember the Right’s outrage when Michelle Obama encouraged food companies to market healthier food to children? “This is none of her business,” Rush Limbaugh puffed. “The free market takes care of this stuff…We believe in people having choice, to live their life as they choose. Coca-Cola, Twinkies, don’t kill anybody.”  And then there’s Representative Gary Palmer (R-Alabama) who, in response to the research linking gas stoves to pollutants that harm both human health and the environment, tweeted: “It is time to rein in the Biden administration and their continual desire to control American’s lives and decisions.”

The same folks who ridiculed “snowflake” students for not being able to handle the most trivial inconvenience without suffering a nervous breakdown, are now clutching their conservative pearls because school students might be “uncomfortable” were they to glance at the famous Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby Bridges being protected from an angry segregationist mob as she attempted to integrate an elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. A Tennessee law makes lesson plans illegal if students “feel discomfort, guilt, or anguish.” A proposed law in South Carolina prohibits teachers from discussing any topic that creates “discomfort, guilt or anguish” on the basis of political belief. And, of course, there’s Florida, where legislation forbids lessons that could cause individuals to experience discomfort, guilt or another form of “psychological distress” based on actions committed in the past by members of the same race, color, sex or national origin. The assumptions behind these prohibitions are dismaying, Imani Perry, Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, recently argued, as they presume that “white children won’t identify with Black people and people of color. It presumes cutting off the moral imagination of white children so that they can’t imagine themselves as being any kind of actor in history…We, none of us, are bound by our genealogy. We’re bound by our values.”

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