Statement on the TAAF Grant Read

On the Need to Teach Black Studies alongside Asian American Studies

The executive board of the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS), the largest and oldest organization on the study of Asian American history and culture, denounces the restrictions on academic freedom and education in the state of Florida. On May 9th, 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law House Bill 1537 mandating the inclusion of Asian American and Pacific Islander history into the state’s K-12 curriculum. While seemingly promising, this problematically comes in the wake of criticisms of Critical Race Theory, and after the Florida Department of Education’s rejection of African American history as an Advanced Placement course, which AAAS has already critiqued

There can be no truly representative or accurate teaching of Asian American and Pacific Islander history without African American history. Doing so would only offer a diluted picture of historical reality. Dozens of scholars in AAAS have produced pathbreaking work demonstrating the intimate connections between these communities, and no serious curriculum that attempts to portray Asian American and Pacific Islander experiences can ignore the contributions of Black people in the United States. 

The history of the Asian American political movement in the 1960s and 1970s modeled itself after Civil Rights struggles championed by Black Americans, and international injustices connected with these domestic struggles. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s political and social analysis of racism, militarism, and economic inequality was grounded foundationally in his stance against the Vietnam War. King once reflected on the irony of the war “taking… young black men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem.” This is a version of King that is often forgotten. He is instead whitewashed as a convenient rhetorical device to suit political agendas against the inclusion of the very history that honors his work and others. And it will likely be the kind of paradigm that informs the teaching of Asian American and Pacific Islander history in Florida primary and secondary schools. Like the internationalist ethos of the civil rights movement that critically linked the destinies of Black and Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, we denounce the inclusion of the latter’s history absent the foundational connections between these communities. We fear that the approval of House Bill 1537 is using Asian American and Pacific Islander communities as a stopgap to mitigate and distract from the systematic assault on Black Americans and their history, pitting our communities against one another. In the strongest possible terms, we support the inclusion of all minoritized and marginalized communities in K-12 education. 

Executive Board, Association for Asian American Studies