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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/15/23

America Isn't Sweet Home, DeSantis!

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Dr. Lenore Daniels
Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

In The 1619 Project , in the chapter entitled, "Fear," Leslie Alexander and Michelle Alexander discuss the objective of "know-your-place aggression." And that objective is intended to quell any hope of "Black freedom dreams." The authors write, "white vigilante violence and 'know-your-place aggression have histories rooted in fear""not merely of Black crime or Black people but of Black liberation." The authors continue, "nothing has proved more threatening to our democracy, or more devastating to Black communities, than white fear of Black freedom dreams."

*

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is familiar with enough American history to know all about Black freedom dreams. What else would account for his fascist laws targeting women and their reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and Black freedom dreams? DeSantis exerts his power as governor to act on his fear of a democratic society. He wants white supremacy and feels powerful suppressing the freedom of all citizens in Florida rather than see Black Americans free of the "know-your-place aggression.


DeSantis envisions a Florida where empathy goes to die if his goal of suppressing Black freedom dreams is to succeed. And if the Florida governor is familiar with Toni Morrison's Beloved, then, no doubt, he would identify with the structural legacy of racism, one that cruelly insists on subjugating, at every turn, the rights and freedom of Black Americans. He would identify with the sadistic slaveholder, Schoolteacher, and Schoolteacher's rights and freedom to maintain law and order on his plantation, Sweet Home, where a Mr. Rooster, resides, free to strut about while enslaved Blacks, subject to toil on the land, extracting wealth to maintain a system of racial hierarchy.


Beloved is one of those novels DeSantis fear white children might understand and come to recognize something not so innocent about race relations in America. Worse, white children might identify with Sethe's desire for freedom. After all, fascists do fascism. In the case of DeSantis, he produces propaganda suggesting that the fears of Black people aren't real. Trans children, Asian children, Black children must adopt a way of life that has the interests of white children front and center. In Morrison's novel, on the contrary, the author presents a Black women whose fears are very real. She fears , and rightly so, since her fears aren't imaginary, the life ahead for her daughter and two sons. A grim life, one in which autonomy over their bodies will be forbidden, as they, like her, are no more that the property of Schoolteacher.


Sethe lives with the memories of her fears, even in Ohio. She remembers Halle, the father of her children, as the man she believed abandoned plans to escape with her and the children. Bad enough, until Paul D replaces that memory with another: last seen by him, Halle was sitting near the churn with "butter all over his face." It broke him , Paul D tells Sethe. It broke him because his fear of the consequences of stepping out of place was too strong. Overwhelming. A witness to Schoolteacher's abuse of his wife, Halle becomes a tragedy of white rage and hate. As Baby Suggs taught the community of escaped free Blacks in Ohio, "freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another."


Halle couldn't escape the hate know-your-place aggression held over him. Covering his face in butter, he no longer recognized himself as human, and, therefore, imbued, contrary to George Washington's views on Black American's relation to the idea of freedom, with the spirit to be free. Beloved, after all, is a novel about love . Love in the midst of cruelty. Love for freedom, love for one's children. A love that doesn't impose on the rights and freedom of others, even if the others are different.


When DeSantis speaks of creating a "safe space" for white Americans to come to""and, he insists, they are walking, driving, flying into Florida in droves""he means he's working to create a Sweet Home environment. But, as Morrison shows in Beloved , love and cruelty are in battle there. Schoolteacher would claim to love his nephews, wanting to educate them and teach them how to be a man""plantation style, where is commonplace and women, all, know their place.


Yet, however much Schoolteacher grooms and indoctrinates his pupils in the ways of love, evidently, for the power of whiteness and his version of freedom, he and those pupils are on the side of hate. To echo Faulkner, it's not about love! In fact, Schoolteacher and his fellow slaveholders and those who believe in the inferiority of Black people are cruel. Schoolteacher is his cruelest when he empowers his nephews to practice being men with Sethe.

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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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