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Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican presidential contender, went after his rival Gov. Ron DeSantis on Sunday over his response to the Florida Board of Education’s new standards for how African American history will be taught in schools.

“DeSantis started this fire with the bill that he signed, and now he doesn’t want to take responsibility for whatever is done in the aftermath of it. And from listening and watching his comments, he’s obviously uncomfortable,” Christie said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

The new history standards, which the board approved last week, teach students that some Black people benefited from slavery because it taught them useful skills. Updates to the curriculum were required by a 2022 law that DeSantis called the “Stop Wrongs To Our Kids and Employees Act,” or “Stop WOKE Act,” NBC South Florida reported.

DeSantis, a GOP presidential candidate who is lagging in polls against the front-runner, former president Donald Trump, and is trying to reset his campaign, quickly drew criticism from educators and even some in his party.

“I think people see this as politically manipulative,” Christie added.

Vice President Kamala Harris rebuked the new standards Friday, decrying them as an effort by extremist leaders to spread propaganda, according to NBC News.

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DeSantis swiftly pushed back on Twitter, accusing Harris and other Democrats of lying about the educational standards to “cover for their agenda.” He also dismissed Harris’ reaction as “absolutely ridiculous” and “totally outrageous” in brief remarks to reporters at the Utah Capitol.

Asked to respond to the board’s wording of the curriculum change, DeSantis said: “I didn’t do it, and I wasn’t involved in it.”

“But I think — I think what they’re doing is, I think that they’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into, into doing things later in life,” he continued, referring to enslaved people. “These were scholars who put that together. It was not anything that was done politically.”

Christie took aim at DeSantis’ remarks Sunday. “‘I didn’t do it’ and ‘I’m not involved in it’ are not the words of leadership,” he said. “If this was such a big issue for Gov. DeSantis, he had four years to do this. He only started to focus on this when he decided he wanted to run for president and try to get to the right of Donald Trump.” 

DeSantis’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ron DeSantis called out for suggesting slavery provided ‘useful skills’

Former U.S. representative Will Hurd of Texas, who announced last month that he was joining the race for the GOP nomination, blasted the idea that enslaved people were able to use slavery as some kind of training program.

“Slavery wasn’t a jobs program that taught beneficial skills,” Hurd, the son of a Black father and a White mother, tweeted. “It was literally dehumanizing and subjugated people as property because they lacked any rights or freedoms.”

Florida State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat who last year became the first Black woman to become House Democratic leader, called Ron DeSantis’s latest remarks a continuation of his “assault on Black history.”

“Let’s really dissect what he’s saying here,” she said. “He’s saying that to be ripped away from your homelands and brought to another country against your will, or to be born into the atrocity of the dehumanizing institution that was slavery, that those horrors are some way, somehow outweighed by the benefit that you get a trade. Are you kidding me?”

Hailing from Charlotte North Carolina, born litterateur Ezekiel J. Walker earned a B.A. in Psychology at Winston Salem State University. Walker later published his first creative nonfiction book and has...