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While DeSantis gets headlines for whitewashing education curriculum, there are groups in West Michigan who are pushing the same anti-Black narrative

February 14, 2023

Over the past month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been making headlines for numerous far right actions, including his push to undermine education curriculum that provides a more honest view of US history, particularly about the Black experience and the Black Freedom struggle.

There are numerous other high profile reactionaries who have been attacking any and all education-centered material that rightly names that the US was essentially founded on two major atrocities – the genocide of Indigenous people and the mass enslavement of Black people. These attacks have been going on ever since BIPOC communities have been demanding a more honest investigation of US history, particularly at the college level. 

During the Trump administration, there was a renewed interest in undermining a more honest look at US history, such as the White House Conference on American History that was organized in September of 2020, which we wrote about. In fact, the Trump Administration endorsed the 1776 Project, which was crafted by educators with the far right Hillsdale College, in Hillsdale, Michigan. 

The 1776 Project was a direct response to the work being done by Nikole Hannah-Jones and the work she was doing with the 1619 Project. The 1619 Project began in 2019, and has been the target of numerous high profile far right ideologues, like DeSantis, but also from numerous organizations that are committed to maintaining a white-centered narrative about US history.

Just last month, the 1619 Project had released a 6-part documentary series on the streaming services known as Hulu, which has once again prompted a great deal of criticism from the far right sectors of the country, along with groups right here in West Michigan.

One group that has been openly opposed to the 1619 Project, is the far right think tank, the Acton Institute. The Acton Institute had initially done a podcast in August of 2020, inviting Phillip W. Magness, with the American Institute for Economic Research, who wrote a book entitled, The1619 Project: A Critique. On February 1st, the Acton Institute re-played that interview with Magness, with an updated introduction to the podcast. In that Acton Institute interview, their quests makes the claim that people simply have a hard time “accepting the complicated totality of US history.” 

A second example of someone in Grand Rapids that has openly attacked the 1619 Project, was a guest on the Doug DeVos podcast called Believe! DeVos invited Dr. Larry Arnn, the President of Hillsdale College to discuss the 1619 Project. The Hillsdale President does acknowledge slavery, but just in passing. Interestingly enough, Dr. Arnn then spends a great deal of time talking negatively about the 1619 Project, stating: 

You know, the New York Times has done that fright­ful 1619 Project. And they claim that the move­ment of the found­ing of Amer­i­ca from the colonies for­ward was in the direc­tion of per­pet­u­at­ing slav­ery. The President of Hillsdale College then cites Gordon Wood as the leading US Historian, so as to contradict the claims made by the 1619 Project. This theme is not really explored by DeVos or his guest, since both are not interested in a serious exploration of the more honest history that the 1619 Project explores, particularly as it related to the centuries long practice of systemic racism in the US and how it has impacted the Black community in particular. 

A third, and final example, comes from the pro-police Facebook group in Grand Rapids, Silent no More. Silent no More is a fairly recent creation, but appears to be some of the same people who host Stand With Schurr, the group that is defending the cop who murdered Patrick Lyoya last April. A few days ago, the group Silent no More posted a link on their FB page from the group, with the headline, “Hulu series based on 1619 Project Pushes ‘False History.’ One of the main objectives of the group, is to discredit Critical Race Theory. The fact that the pro-police group Silent no More posted this information only demonstrates that besides defending cops, they defend white-centered history and deny that structural racism has been a fundamental component of the political experiment called the United States. Groups that a police apologists tend to justify policing targeted towards BIPOC people, along with denying structural racism. 

While I am disgusted by the likes of Gov. DeSantis and his attacks on Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project, I am more interested in groups in West Michigan that are doing the same thing. If I want to do more than be aware, then working to oppose these groups in West Michigan seems way more important than simply spouting off against the likes of Gov. DeSantis. We can actively work to expose and confront this kind of misinformation in Grand Rapids, misinformation that is well funded. 

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