The insidious power of keeping it vague

“Say what you mean and mean what you say,” unless you want to keep everyone guessing. Alas, vague is in vogue, the better to sow confusion about not-so-honorable intentions — and get your way in the end.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has mastered this dark art, most recently as he ordered thoughtful discussions of African American history to end before they had begun, with studies of other cultures somehow escaping his ire.

A pilot of an Advanced Placement course on the subject has run into the buzz saw of the state’s “Stop Woke Act.”

The Florida Department of Education’s letter to the College Board said the content of its AP African American studies course “is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value,” showing by its use of “inexplicably” that it had no earthly reason for a decision intended to close, not open, young minds.

Try teaching the history of the United States of America with “just the facts,” and you might end up with lessons on the enslavement of men, women and children, lynching, redlining and Jim Crow without judgment, without pointing out the evil, the inhumanity and the apathy of those who looked the other way while reaping the benefits of racist oppression.

In the name of not causing trauma in today’s students, Florida policymakers are erasing the trauma of the families and descendants of the Floridians lynched in Tallahassee, the state’s capital city, where the same lawmakers obviously close their eyes when passing markers acknowledging that chapter in American history.

Educators may want to fight back. But with jobs and livelihoods at stake, there are risks. ProPublica talked to a number of professors without tenure who are anxiously changing course names and weeding out terms such as “white privilege” to dodge cancellation and firing. But it’s difficult to avoid something that’s so hard to pin down, knowing all the while that disgruntled students who might be unhappy about a grade know exactly which “woke” cudgel will get immediate results.

So, for those instructors, it’s better to just stop. Just stop any mention of gender politics and the roots of racism, just stop connecting the dots between modern wealth and health gaps and how America’s institutions were constructed with discrimination the motivating factor.

Just stop answering questions from students of every race who are supposed to be curious, but apparently not too curious.

Don’t tell the governor that “woke” comes from a 1938 “stay woke” caution from blues singer Lead Belly, advice for Black Americans who wanted to avoid a fate similar to that of the falsely accused “Scottsboro Boys.” And by all means, don’t teach that in a Florida school. Because in 2023, “woke” means whatever DeSantis wants it to mean.

Unfortunately, Florida has set a template for other states, such as South Carolina, where Republican legislators have proposed a bill already being criticized by organizations such as the state’s American Civil Liberties Union for what it calls vague language that could discourage teachers from settling there.

A vague election law has already had its desired effect in, yes, Florida. After voters overwhelmingly approved opening up the franchise to former felons who had served their time, Republican legislators said, “Not so fast.”

Many of those hopeful voters, after being registered by confused election officials, themselves unsure of exactly what the law said, were swept up by DeSantis’ “election integrity” task force, arrested by law enforcement officers who seemed puzzled about the details of the law the terrified, targeted citizens were supposed to have broken.

Of course, those hauled out of their homes in handcuffs in well-publicized raids were mostly African American, with the white transgressors in The Villages given not much more than a slap on their presumably Republican wrists.

Charges may have been dropped in most cases, but do you think minority folks with a former brush with the law would risk another by voting?

Call it a pattern of intimidation by obfuscation.

A Conversation With The Cast Of A Soldier’s Play

Following the Opening Night performance of A Soldier’s Play at Knight Theater, members of the cast participated in a post-show talk back, moderated by award-winning journalist and educator Mary C. Curtis.

Talk back participants included Norm Lewis who plays Captain Richard Davenport, Eugene Lee who plays Sergeant Vernon C. Waters, Tarik Lowe who plays Private First Class Melvin Peterson, Understudy and West Charlotte High School alum Al’Jaleel McGhee and Sheldon D. Brown who plays Private C.J. Memphis.

Local News Roundup: Myers Park sexual assault trial; Controversial Cotswold Chick-Fil-A plan approved; AG Josh Stein throws his hat into the ring for NC Governor

The trial of a former Myers Park High School student against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the city of Charlotte after an allaged sexual assault started this week. The former student alleges her Title IX rights were violated after she was sexually assaulted in 2015.

Charlotte City Council approves a controversial rezoning on Randolph Road to allow the rebuilding of a Chick-fil-A to become a drive-through-only business. While the decision goes against the 2040 plan, some council members say it’s the best solution to alleviate a traffic nightmare in that area.

Attorney General Josh Stein throws his hat in the ring, announcing he’s running for North Carolina Governor in 2024. He’s the first major candidate to announce in a race that promises to be competitive as the governor’s seat will be open with no incumbent for the first time since 2012.

Now that the Carolina Panthers season is over and a widespread head coach search is on, can Steve Wilks get the top job permanently? We’ll talk about why this hire is getting attention, and get an update on who the Panthers are talking to.

And Bojangles is entering the adult beverage world with an alcoholic version of its famous sweet tea!

Mike Collins and our roundtable of reporters delve into those and more, on the Charlotte Talks local news roundup.

GUESTS:

Erik Spanberg, managing editor for the Charlotte Business Journal
Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”
Shamarria Morrison, WCNC reporter
David Boraks, WFAE climate reporter

Hospice for Profit: End-of-life care is full of people looking for a big return on little effort.

Since the 1980s, hospice has been covered by Medicare, and it’s come to be an expected part of the healthcare that millions of Americans receive at the end of their lives. But beneath the pamphlets of patients living out their days in comfort lies an uglier reality: a cottage industry that frequently misappropriates taxpayer dollars in the name of profit.

Guest: Ava Kofman, investigative reporter for ProPublica.

Telling the truth, onstage and off, so history doesn’t repeat itself

When members of Congress gathered on the Capitol steps last week to remember the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and honor those who defended them and democracy itself, there were glaring gaps in the heartfelt tableau.

That Friday morning, two years to the day after insurrectionists swarmed the U.S. Capitol with the intent of overturning the results of a fair election, many Republicans were too busy with a call sorting out the Kevin McCarthy speaker of the House drama to attend, though GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania was spotted among his Democratic colleagues.

It should have been a commemoration that transcended party and politics, a brief acknowledgment of the truth of what happened that terrifying day. Instead, memories of a mob breaking windows and pummeling police officers while calling for the heads of then-Vice President Mike Pence and then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, have, in some quarters, gone poof!

That’s the danger of “whitewashing” history, a term I use with intention. It’s a practice neither shocking nor original, but it blocks any progress toward Americans understanding one another and this country we all share.

Thankfully, culture provides plenty of opportunities to fill in the blanks — and to reflect.

A play I’ve seen twice in recent weeks is a prime example. It illuminates a time many seldom think about, a history others would like to forget despite its imprint on injustice that remains in the present day.

“A Soldier’s Play,” first produced for the stage in 1981, set largely in the barracks of an all-Black Army unit in Louisiana in 1944, is a drama, a mystery and a history lesson — one that’s more relevant and necessary than ever at a time when any mention of this country’s past that doesn’t come tied in a shiny bow has become one more battle in America’s culture wars.

Will Southwest Be Held Accountable?

Over the holidays, thousands of passengers were left stranded or delayed when Southwest Airline’s outdated re-booking software broke down. Who can be held accountable, and why don’t airlines invest more in their own infrastructure?

Guest: Heather Tal Murphy, business and technology reporter for Slate.

Host: Mary C. Curtis

Reflections on the January 6th Capitol attack, two years later

Two years ago, our democracy was attacked by a group of angry insurrectionists trying to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

At the time, most people viewed it as a misguided group of angry voters involved in something that just got away from them. Since then, investigations seem to point to an effort controlled in many ways by Donald Trump.

We look at what has happened since to those involved, what may happen next, and how this moment in our history will be remembered.

And we hear from a documentary photographer, who was at the Capitol, and whose pictures capture how close we came to losing our democracy.

Guests

Michael Gordon, reporter for The Charlotte Observer

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”

Nate Gowdy, documentary photographer, author of “Insurrection,” a book of photographs capturing the events of Jan 6.

2022 End Of Year Local News Roundup

In our End of Year Local News Roundup, we gather our team of local journalists to go through the top local and regional stories they’ve covered in 2022.

SEGMENT 1:
We cover education and the environment. From book bans to a payroll issue in Gaston County, to this year’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board race, safety issues, a revolving door of superintendents and more stories, education has frequently had top billing on the roundup this year. We’ll be joined by our education reporters to remind us about the year in education and what’s ahead for 2023. We’ll also be joined by environmental reporter David Boraks to cover energy reform, electric vehicles, lithium mining and those beach houses falling into the ocean this year.

Guests:

David Boraks, WFAE reporter
Ann Doss Helms, WFAE education reporter
Shamarria Morrison, WCNC reporter
Jonathan Lowe, WSOC-TV education reporter
SEGMENT 2:
Politics is always at the top of the list of topics we discuss on the local news roundup, whether it’s about Charlotte Area Transit System and the loss of bus ridership with CATS, North Carolina Republicans missing the supermajority in the General Assembly, city council and county commission dramas, or the idea of the independent state legislature theory. We’ve spent time this year on the Unified Development Ordinance, on voting maps, transparency, ethics and, of course, elections. Politics in our area in 2022 could be the focus of several hour-long shows, but we’ll distill down the stories we’ve told this year with our political reporters.

Guests:

Mary C. Curtis, columnist for Rollcall.com, host of the Rollcall podcast “Equal Time”
Steve Harrison, WFAE’s political reporter
Joe Bruno, WSOC-TV reporter
Nick Ochsner, WBTV’s executive producer for investigations & chief investigative reporter
SEGMENT 3:
We’ll dive into topics that help shape the city and region we live in, from the health of our sports teams (and who was fired and hired) to aborted business deals between the owners of some of our sports teams and local governments. We’ll get an update on crime in the Charlotte and talk about how we’re weathering another year of the coronavirus pandemic along with flu and RSV thrown in and more for the remainder of the hour.

Guests:

Katie Peralta Soloff, reporter for Axios Charlotte
Hunter Saenz, WSOC-TV reporter
Danielle Chemtob, investigative reporter with Axios Charlotte
Erik Spanberg, managing editor for the Charlotte Business Journal

Why a lost election left Adam Frisch (and his son) optimistic

The announcement this week that Republican Lauren Boebert had won her race, and would be heading back to Washington to represent Colorado’s 3rd District in the House, hardly came as a surprise to her Democratic opponent. The surprise is the optimism of Adam Frisch — about Colorado, America and politics — after coming so close (a 546-vote margin close) to upending predictions and winning the seat.

“We’re all very proud of how well we ran and the way that we did it,” he said when I spoke with him on a Zoom call last week. “We took the high road throughout the whole journey, and that resonated with a lot of people.”

Frisch had already conceded before the recount, citing Colorado’s “very, very strong election laws” and “very high level of election integrity” and finding comfort in that. Based on her well-documented mistrust of government, I doubt Boebert would have accepted defeat quite so easily.

He is human, so “as great as the moral victory is or was,” Frisch said, “it certainly would have been better to have a victory victory.” But I believe Frisch when he says the 20,000-plus miles he traveled during his campaign were more than worthwhile. That’s because I had already met the other person on our call, his frequent companion in his trips throughout the district, the candidate’s 16-year-old son, Felix Frisch.

That any journalist covering politics, culture and race might occasionally succumb to cynicism will come as a revelation to exactly no one. One remedy for me turned out to be teaching a group of high school juniors and seniors and incoming college freshmen for two weeks, as I did this past summer, in a School of The New York Times Summer Academy course in political commentary. Felix was one of the students.

We explored Washington, D.C., including stops at the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and, on an early excursion, the memorial to third president Thomas Jefferson, where we had a chance to consider the complicated legacy of one of America’s Founding Fathers.

On the walk back to the Metro on what must have been one of the hottest days of the summer, Felix told me he had been campaigning for and with his father, traveling the Colorado district to convince voters that Adam Frisch would represent their needs better than incumbent Lauren Boebert would.

I listened as he spoke excitedly of meeting voters in corners of the district few candidates had taken note of, and I thought to myself, “Too bad your dad doesn’t have a chance.”

But though it’s natural for any son to think his dad can do anything, Felix was on to something.

The Boebert I covered at the North Carolina Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Salt & Light Conference in September was ripe for a challenge, with her emphasis on grievance as she cast herself as victim in a kind of holy war.

Adam Frisch thought so too.

Georgia voters spoke. Is the GOP listening?

One of South Carolina’s senators must have an incredibly low opinion of Black Americans, their intelligence and judgment. The evidence? His sad, almost laughable closing argument as he barnstormed for Herschel Walker, who lost his runoff race challenging Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and won’t be joining Lindsey Graham as a Republican colleague in Washington, D.C.

Graham did not talk about Walker’s proposals or plans for the people he would represent in the state of Georgia. He never mentioned Walker’s experience, which consisted of long-past football glory and running some businesses with a debated degree of success. In fact, Walker’s buddy barely let the candidate speak in TV appearances where Graham tried for “sidekick” but instead came off as “handler.”

No, Graham’s final arguments for the Donald Trump-endorsed Walker went something like this absurd statement he yelled more than stated on Fox News: “They’re trying to destroy Herschel to deter young men and women of color from being Republicans.”

Graham said, “If Herschel wins, he’s going to inspire people all over Georgia of color to become Republicans and, I say, all over the United States.”

No, senator. In fact, the reality turned out to be quite the opposite.