PerspectivesNikesha Elise Williams Jacksonville Today Contributor
Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of civil rights pioneer Ida B. Wells, speaks after President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act in the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris looks on at left. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

OPINION | A tale of 2 bill signings 

Published on April 4, 2022 at 9:34 pm
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The divisions in our country are often lamented as a deep and complex moral crisis. The right-versus-left partisan politicking, as some Star Wars-level epic fight between good and evil. 

I believe most squabbles could be resolved if leaders legislated by listening to the people they represent and paid attention to the facts as laid out by experts who study the existential crises facing us. However, the voices that are most dominant in our political ecosystem—local, state, and national—are the ones who can pull open their pursestrings. 

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That’s why we see credence and validation given to the most fringe ideas, forcing us all to substantiate these beliefs and find a place for them in our democracy. 

That is what I believe has happened in Florida with the Parental Rights in Education (“Don’t Say Gay”) bill that was recently signed into law and the forthcoming signing of the Individual Freedom (“Stop W.O.K.E.” Act). 

These new Florida laws are neatly juxtaposed to what’s happening on the federal level. The U.S. House of Representatives passed The C.R.O.W.N. Act to make it illegal to discriminate against employees for wearing natural hair styles, and President Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Bill into law. 

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In Florida, our leaders are intentionally proposing, passing, and signing laws that can lead to the willful harm and violence against the LGBTQ+ community, the erasure of the contributions of the Black community, and the legalized control of birthing persons. And while yes, we can elect a new governor, we can elect different state representatives and senators, I wonder, how many election cycles will we have to go through before we have the right mix and balance of people with power and political capital to spend to undo someone else’s wrongs? 

The first time an anti-lynching bill was introduced in Congress was in 1900. It took 122 years to recognize that vigilante violence (Emmett Till, Ahmaud Arbery) or state-sanctioned violence (George Floyd) is not only wrong, not only immoral, but illegal. Do we in Florida really have 122 years to wait to right the wrongs of the Parental Rights in Education or the Individual Freedom acts? 

Furthermore, neither critical race theory nor discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity are currently taught in Florida schools. “Critical race theory” was coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw (who also coined the term “intersectionality”) as a way to look at the criminal justice system. This particular school of thought is not even taught in all law schools. Critical race theory is not synonymous with teaching African American history or African American literature. 

Likewise, lovingly embracing children who identify as LGBTQ+ and letting them know that there is safety, compassion, and protection in the places and spaces we hold open for them is not taking away a parent’s right to raise their children. It is letting all children know there is room for them to belong. 

In watching the bill signings last week, I was struck by the joyousness of one compared to the somber tone of the other and I wondered, How long will it take for Florida to realize that the celebration was for naught? 

Parents don’t need this level of control over their children’s education if they want them to continue in public schools. Home schooling is always an option. Furthermore, in suppressing speech and literature and, in a way, criminalizing identity we are embodying the greatest fears of our most vulnerable population. 

How long, how many years will it take for us to return to a bill signing day sour faced and with hat in hand to undo the destruction begun in 2022? 

Hopefully not another 122 years. 

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Nikesha Elise Williams is an Emmy-winning TV producer, award-winning novelist (Beyond Bourbon Street and Four Women) and the host/producer of the Black & Published podcast. Her bylines include The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and Vox. She lives in Jacksonville with her family.

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