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Tim Scott slams Florida’s Black history curriculum: “There is no silver lining” in slavery

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, a Republican presidential candidate, on Thursday rebuked his opponent, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and his state over its controversial new standards on how Black history is taught in middle school, which includes instruction on how “slaves developed skills” that “could be applied for their personal benefit.”

“There is no silver lining” in slavery, Scott responded when asked by a reporter following a town hall in suburban Des Moines about that element of Florida’s new curriculum. 

“What slavery was really about [was] separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives,” said Scott, who is the Senate’s only Black Republican, and the only Black presidential candidate. “It was just devastating. So, I would hope that every person in our country — and certainly running for president — would appreciate that.” 

He also suggested that Florida’s Black history standard represents a question that will and should come up again on the campaign trail. 

“Listen, people have bad days. Sometimes they regret what they say,” Scott said. “And we should ask them again to clarify their positions.” 

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DeSantis’ initial response to the uproar over the new standard was to back away from it. 

“I didn’t do it. And I wasn’t involved in it,” he told reporters last Friday. He added, “I think that they’re probably going to show — some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life.”

Another GOP presidential opponent, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, told “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan Sunday that words like “I didn’t do it” “are not the words of leadership.” 

“From listening and watching [DeSantis’] comments, he’s obviously uncomfortable,” Christie said. 

GOP Rep. Byron Donalds, the sole Black member of Florida’s congressional delegation, has faced a strong backlash from DeSantis’ campaign and Florida officials over his gentle criticism of the standard, which was tucked into a comment that overall praised the state Education Department’s curriculum. 

“The new African-American standards in FL are good, robust, & accurate. That being said, the attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong & needs to be adjusted. That obviously wasn’t the goal & I have faith that FLDOE will correct this,” he posted on social media Wednesday morning

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But DeSantis allies were soon trying to tie him to Vice President Kamala Harris, who recently criticized the standards during a speech in Jacksonville, Florida.

“How is it that anyone could suggest that amidst these atrocities [of slavery], there was any ‘benefit’ to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?” Harris said last Sunday.

Manny Diaz Jr., Florida’s education commissioner, questioned Donalds’ conservatism, lumping him in with Democrats who have lambasted the standards. 

“We will not back down from teaching our nation’s true history at the behest of a woke @WhiteHouse, nor at the behest of a supposedly conservative congressman,” Diaz tweeted

And DeSantis press secretary Jeremy Redfern tweeted, “Florida isn’t going to hide the truth for political convenience. Maybe the congressman shouldn’t swing for the liberal media fences like @VP.”

In Iowa on Thursday, DeSantis spoke with reporters and defended the creation of the new standards, arguing that Harris was trying to “demagogue” the issue. He then compared the line in the new standards to language in the framework of an AP African American Studies course, which Florida initially rejected, about how enslaved people “learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians and healers in the North and South.” 

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“Once free, African Americans used these skills to provide for themselves and others,” the AP African American Studies course framework says. 

On Wednesday night, Donalds, a former DeSantis ally who has endorsed former President Donald Trump, tweeted, “Anyone who can’t accurately interpret what I said is disingenuous and is desperately attempting to score political points.”

In an interview with CBS News Thursday, DeSantis denied he’s picking a fight with Donalds. 

“You had nobody raising a ruckus about this until it became convenient to try to do it, so I would just say, you know, I’d ask all my colleagues in Florida, stand up for your state, don’t side with Kamala Harris,” he said. 

— Aaron Navarro, Musadiq Bidar and Laura Garrison contributed to this report.

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