The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took an extraordinary step in issuing a travel advisory to Florida in response to policies by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that many have criticized as discriminatory and anti-Black.
The move comes as DeSantis prepares to launch his candidacy for president in the coming days, putting him in a potentially uncomfortable spot as his critics look to shine a spotlight on his controversial policies.
“We didn’t get here overnight. It was because of the election, so we have to prepare for the next election so we can get rid of him once and for all,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP.
Since his election, DeSantis has faced allegations of attempting to suppress Black votes through gerrymandering and targeting mostly Black people with a police division dedicated to prosecuting voting fraud.
He also received backlash for passing legislation limiting how race can be taught or discussed in classrooms and workplaces, previously calling the idea of systemic racism in the U.S. “a bunch of horse manure,” and, most recently, signing legislation prohibiting colleges and universities from using public funding on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs.
“Anybody that has been following what’s been happening in Florida understands that it’s essentially become a hostile territory for Black people in the state,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter, an organization dedicated to community organizing.
Albright added that Black travelers need to be cautious when thinking about going to Florida, whether for business or a conference — or even school.
“Students that they might be going there for school, they might need to rethink whether that’s a safe option for them, especially if they’re going to colleges, which is a big part of the DeSantis of Florida government’s attack against Black people,” Albright said.
Florida high school students, some of them 18 years old, have already expressed their dissatisfaction with DeSantis after he attempted to ban an Advanced Placement African American studies course this year. Sixty-five percent of Black voters nationwide disagreed with the governor for that move, according to HIT Strategies.
In a statement, Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones (D) said the NAACP’s advisory was not a surprise because Black Americans are “absolutely less safe” under DeSantis’s administration.
Jones, the first openly gay lawmaker in the state Senate, added the governor is too focused on a 2024 run instead of the constituents in his state.
“It’s deeply distressing that DeSantis cares more about his campaign for president than he does delivering for people and actually doing the job he was elected to do,” said Jones, who is working on President Biden’s reelection campaign.
“His dangerous agenda not only hurts people in our communities, but also harms our state’s economy, tourism, and local small businesses. When we have major employers pulling events and development out of the state in response to DeSantis’s embrace of right-wing authoritarianism, that hurts all of us.”
Still, Albright said, DeSantis’s latest policy moves shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering his record.
“Black voters have really seen who he was in Florida four or five years ago, when he was running against Andrew Gillum and he made the remark about, ‘Let’s not monkey this up,’” he said, referring to DeSantis’s comment about Gillum, who would have been the first Black governor elected to the state.
“That was just a precursor to the anti-Blackness that we’ve seen throughout his administration.”
DeSantis, for his part, defended the comment at the time, saying it had “zero to do with race.”
The governor’s moves ultimately could impact how Black voters view him in 2024, Albright argued, adding that the NAACP’s travel advisory simply raised awareness about what DeSantis has been doing.
But these actions also won’t necessarily impact how DeSantis, currently a distant second to former President Donald Trump in most GOP primary polls, does in the primaries, Albright claimed. Instead, he argued DeSantis’s performance in the race will come down to organizations like Black Voters Matter and the messaging from other candidates.
“What we do has to be about what these policies mean to our community, how it’s impacting us, how it’s impacting our children, our families and our jobs. And that’s got to be the eyes on the prize,” Albright said.
Meanwhile, others are pushing back against the NAACP’s move, including Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.). Donalds, who is Black, blasted the travel advisory as “just really stupid” on Monday.
“I don’t even know what the NAACP is talking about,” Donalds said on “Fox and Friends.” “This is silly, and it’s dumb. It’s political. It makes no sense. We should be focused on making sure people actually have the opportunity to achieve, which Florida is actually doing and thriving in way better than other states, let’s say New York or California or Washington state.”
Other groups have applauded DeSantis’s administration. In a statement to CNN, the Florida Department of Commerce said it had no comment in regard to the travel advisory but said that over the past few years, “Florida has moved into the number one spot in the United States for Black-owned businesses and number two for Hispanic and number two for women owned businesses.”
DeSantis’s office in a statement to The Hill blasted the NAACP’s travel advisory as a “stunt.”
“As Governor DeSantis announced last week, Florida is seeing record-breaking tourism,” said Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for DeSantis. “This is nothing more than a stunt.”
Estimates show that Florida welcomed nearly 40 million visitors between January and March 2023, the most visitors recorded in a quarter for the state.
DeSantis’s administration also has denounced assertions that it is anti-Black. The accusation, spokesperson Bryan Griffin said in January, “is absurd, demonstrably false, and insulting and demeaning to all of us serving in and supporting this administration.”
Meanwhile, DeSantis and his allies are quick to that he did fairly well with Black voters in 2022. Exit polling from CNN saw 13 percent of Black voters cast their ballots for DeSantis — something that stood out to Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright, too.
“The exit polling is a true indicator that Black voters are not monolithic,” Seawright told The Hill. “The other thing I think people should know is that different things move different constituencies and different voters. While some of us African Americans may think all these things are bad and they’re not good for our community, there are some in our community who may say that was not that bad, so I’m gonna hold my nose, or I’m gonna vote for him.”
DeSantis could also use the NAACP’s travel advisory as part of an “us vs. them” messaging, Seawright warned, galvanizing his supporters and the Republican base across the nation against those who promote topics like DEI and Black history.
Seawright argued others need to throw their support into helping the NAACP build a competitive and multicultural coalition ahead of 2024.
“We have to make racism, bigotry, hate, white supremacy — we have to make it expensive,” Seawright said. “And we have to hit people in their pocketbooks when we make it expensive. … We’ve got to make folks pay until it hurts, so that they will suspend these motions and these emotions around things that don’t make sense.”