Published with the generous permission of Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Read all of her outstanding writing in her Lucid newsletter.
By Ruth Ben-Ghiat
Did you know that "leftism" causes mental illness, and fossil fuels are the greenest form of energy? Are you aware that voter suppression is a myth, America is on the path to leftist totalitarianism, and teachers and professors are training students to become radical activists? I encountered these claims on the website of PragerU, an unaccredited right-wing propaganda company whose products have been approved for use in Florida classrooms.
PragerU delivers a steady flow of conspiracy theories, racism, homophobia, anti-feminism, and neoliberalism. This same toxic mix has supported many right-wing authoritarian states throughout history.
The revision of Black history curricula in Florida to further White supremacist goals is one outcome of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's crusade against "wokeness." Slavery is described as a system that benefitted the enslaved by allowing them to learn new skills. Opening the door to PragerU is another. PragerU CEO Marissa Streit contends that the left has hijacked schools. There is considerable overlap between the spirit and substance of PragerU's "edutainment" and the curricula mandated by Florida's 2022 Stop WOKE Act.
I was drawn to investigate PragerU after participating in an important conversation on MSNBC with host Jonathan Capehart and Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV). As Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Horsford has requested that the Department of Justice and the Department of Education investigate whether Florida schools are violating federal laws against racial discrimination.
These developments in educational policy are part of a larger Republican "war on Blackness," as Rep. Horsford terms it. Racialized voter suppression and bans on diversity and inclusion training in the workplace work in tandem with book bans and curricular changes. In Florida and elsewhere, the ambition is not just to silence Blacks and erase their history, but also increase White hostility to Blacks. PragerU's products are weapons in this crusade.
Take the video "Playing the Black Card," narrated by far-right ideologue Candace Owens. It contrasts "good Blacks" like Owens with those who use their skin color to "game the system." The Black Card "will confer upon you an entire history of oppression —even if you've never been oppressed," Owens tells us. "Play the Black Card expertly and you can win awards, make millions, all the while claiming that the people who got you there somehow hate you." Owens raises the specter of the Black imposter and trickster —both old racist stereotypes— while denying the legitimacy of the history of Black oppression: it's all an act to get ahead, the film says.
Then there's the 2023 documentary Unwoke, Inc.. Billed as an innocent journey of intellectual exploration about wokeness, it presents a sinister and violent world that preys on young and older Americans. "How did this cancer affect every other area of society?" the young Black female narrator Amala Ekpunobi wonders as she travels the country to understand how the disease of wokeness has metastasized.