Opinion
Equity & Diversity Opinion

‘Hate Is Taught’: The Lesson for Schools From the Racist Jacksonville Killings

Anti-Black education policies have allowed hate and violence flourish
By Tyrone C. Howard — August 30, 2023 4 min read
Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a prayer vigil the day after three Black people were shot to death Aug. 26 in Jacksonville, Fla.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The recent shooting in Jacksonville, Fla., represented yet another act of anti-Black violence that resulted in the senseless deaths of three Black people.

Reporting on the shooting, the Jacksonville sheriff stated that the gunman’s motives outlined in several manifestos was quite clear: “He hated Black people.”

Let’s be unapologetically clear: Hate is taught. Hate is learned. Hating Black people specifically is learned somewhere, and somewhere this gunman learned it.

Schools can play a role in helping to minimize the radicalization of young people by replacing hate with truth, teaching empathy and compassion instead of prejudice and violence. Creating more inclusive classrooms that honor and recognize diversity and belonging is key to reducing violence and hate.

The fact that this tragedy occurred in Florida, a state where Gov. Ron DeSantis has engaged in anti-Black actions and rhetoric, has ramifications for schools.

DeSantis’ reception to a chorus of boos at the vigil for the slain victims says a lot about how many Black Americans in Florida feel about his leadership. He has a troubling history when it comes to anti-Blackness.

Consider his controversial redistricting map, which carved up one majority-Black district and watered down the state’s Black voting power. Or look at his push for legislation targeting protesters in the wake of widespread Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd.

Look at his efforts to ban colleges and universities from offering diversity, equity, and inclusion programs; his ongoing attacks on critical race theory; his administration’s restrictions on the instruction of race relations in classrooms; and his rejection of the College Board course on Advanced Placement African American Studies.

Such policies make Florida a sanctuary state for hate and violence.

In their new book, Anti-Blackness at Schools: Creating Affirming Educational Spaces for African American Students, professors Joi A. Spencer and Kerri Ullucci document how anti-Blackness is everywhere in schools and is more pernicious than school officials want to acknowledge. They argue that anti-Blackness is present in school policies, practices, curriculum, and ideology. It manifests in the absence of school curriculum focused on Black history and experiences. Many American schools have harmed Black children or been silent in the face of their struggles, they contend.

Such policies make Florida a sanctuary state for hate and violence.

The Anti-Defamation League recorded more than 6,700 incidents of white supremacist propaganda distribution and events across the country last year, a tally the organization characterized as an “all-time high,” according to a report released in March. The group found that antisemitic, racist, and anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda was reported in every state but Hawaii.

Students do better when they are introduced to the experiences, histories, and contribution of all ethnic groups. Yes, some of these realities are hard to teach and difficult to digest, but imagine how much harder it is for groups to have experienced those realities firsthand.

Classes like AP African American Studies that DeSantis, a Republican, has criticized can help to reduce the very type of hate that led to the recent shootings.

AP African American Studies aims to equip students with the analytical and critical-thinking skills to understand the African American experience. Among the units that the course explores are Origins of the African Diaspora, The Practice of Freedom, and Movements and Debates. Each of these topics is crucial to learning about the experiences, contributions, triumphs, and tragedies of the Black experience.

Increasing awareness of what Black Americans have endured in their quest to be seen as full citizens can reduce prejudice and can eradicate stereotypes. In his famous book The Nature of Prejudice, psychologist Gordon Allport tracked how ethnic stereotypes persist through misinformation or the absence of information about those groups. Moreover, he explained that when stereotypes persist, prejudice escalates, which can lead to avoidance, discrimination, and to outright violence.

I am not arguing that the gunman in Jacksonville would not have committed such a heinous crime if only he had taken such a course as AP African American Studies. However, the ignorance that motivated him flourishes in the absence of critical perspectives on the experiences of African American people. When facts are replaced with misinformation, the seeds of hate are allowed to grow.

DeSantis must recognize that while he claims to reject the murders committed by the gunman in Jacksonville, his policies, and ideologies around anti-wokeness play a role in the perpetuation of anti-Blackness in schools. To be clear, racism is not a mental health issue. Schools can and should play an important role in speaking out about the way racism and hate harm everyone and there should be no tolerance for it. But it helps if our politicians would not add fuel to the hate fire.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity States Have Restricted Teaching on Social Justice. Is Teacher Preparation Next?
A new Florida law will restrict what teacher-preparation programs can teach about racism and sexism.
5 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media, March 7, 2023, at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. DeSantis signed legislation earlier this month that would restrict teacher training and educator preparation institutes from teaching on social justice.
Phil Sears/AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years After 'Brown,' Schools Are Still Separate and Unequal
The legal strategy to prioritize school integration has had some unforeseen consequences in the decades since.
4 min read
A hand holds a scale weighing integration against resource allocation in observation of the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case.
Noelle Rx for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How a DEI Rebrand Is Playing Out in K-12 Schools
School districts continue to advance DEI initiatives, though the focus is more on general inclusion and belonging for all.
9 min read
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Ahenewa El-Amin speaks with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024. State leaders in Kentucky are pushing the message of making sure all students feel they belong in school including by offering ethnic studies courses.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion 70 Years of Abandonment: The Failed Promise of 'Brown v. Board'
If the nation is going to refuse integration, Black people must demand we revisit the separate but equal doctrine, writes Bettina L. Love.
4 min read
A Black student is isolated from their classmates by an aisle in the classroom.
Xia Gordon for Education Week