A new contentious bill in the Oklahoma state legislature would limit how slavery is taught in schools and prohibit teaching that “one race is the unique oppressor” or “victim” in the history of slavery.
Republican State Rep. Jim Olsen introduced House Bill 2988 earlier this month, and it has already sparked outrage among lawmakers and educators.
The bill prohibits state agencies and public school districts from blaming one race and teaching about it “that one race is the sole oppressor” or “another race is the sole victim” of the institution of slavery
Furthermore, the bills prohibit teaching that “America has more culpability, in general, than other nations for the establishment of slavery” or that the purpose of the founding of America was to establish slavery “the establishment and perpetuation of slavery.”
Another requirement of the bill is that teachers refrain from teaching that America “had slavery more extensively and for a longer period of time than other nations.”
It also forbids the use of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, a long-form journalism project that investigated slavery’s role in the founding of America.
On Twitter, journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who spearheaded the 1619 project, called the bill and others like it “anti-history memory laws” that are “opposed to truth.”
If public schools do not comply, the State Department of Education may withhold up to 5% of their monthly state funding, according to the bill. After a violation, funding would be restored if the entity complied.
Similarly, failure to comply could result in a 10% reduction in state funding for state-supported two-year and four-year higher education institutions.
If passed, the bill would go into effect on November 1, 2022. “It insists on teaching [slavery] in balance and context,” Olsen said of the bill.
“It does not prohibit anyone from teaching that slavery existed in America and that it was evil… “It doesn’t preclude teaching that we’re better off because we don’t have slavery,” Olsen explained.
Teachers in the state have reacted negatively to the bill.
In a statement, the University of Oklahoma Chapter of the American Association of University Professors called the bill “disturbing.”
“They’re churning out legislation faster than the courts can keep up with.” Meanwhile, we have no intention of deceiving our students or caving in to this assault on truth and academic freedom,” the statement said.
Oklahoma City state Rep. Forrest Bennett, a Democrat, called the bill “embarrassing” and a “waste of time.”
“This doesn’t help people. It does nothing to further the conversation about race and I think it’s an important one to have,” he said. “It also distracts from so many of the other issues that are facing Oklahoma today.”
Monroe Nichols, a Democratic state representative, tweeted: “There have been Holocaust deniers, 9/11 deniers, Sandy Hook deniers throughout history… Rep. Olsen should not be given too much credit for his denial and romanticization of American slavery.”
“He’s just joining an exclusive club of hatred and division that none of us want to be a part of,” he continued.
The bill comes at a time when there is a battle raging among school boards and local legislators across the United States over teaching critical race theory (the study of the relationship between race and laws and their impact on society) in schools.
This isn’t the first bill in Oklahoma addressing the teaching of race. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 1775 in May, making it illegal for public school teachers to teach that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.” A coalition of civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit against the state over the law, claiming that it violates students’ and teachers’ free speech rights and denies people of color, LGBTQ students, and girls the opportunity to learn about their heritage.
This week, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis introduced the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” which would allow parents to sue school districts if their children were taught critical race theory in school.