The Universal Notebook: ‘Woke’ is a bad joke

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The term “woke” is getting a lot of political play these days because the radical right has weaponized a term that once had meaning in a civil rights context and rendered it virtually meaningless. The cult of white victimhood has turned “woke” into a buzzword for “How dare you make us feel bad about our bigotry?”

Make no mistake about it, this usage of “woke” is freighted with racism. “Woke” as a state of mind, grew out of Black culture and the civil rights movement. It meant someone who was informed, educated, aware of social injustice. Now mini-MAGA bullies like Florida governor Ron DeSantis have turned “woke” into a pejorative term.

Edgar Allen BeemDeSantis has laid the groundwork for his malevolent presidential campaign with Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, which defines “woke” as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

Well, yuh! Any dummy who can’t see that racism is rampant in American society is an idiot, a racist or both. George Floyd, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philandro Castile, Daunte Wright, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor. One out of every 81 Black adults in America in prison. Institutional racism is a fact of American life.

The Stop WOKE Act details eight great no-no’s, concepts you’re not allowed to teach or instruct Florida students and employees, each of which essentially reads like a variation of “Don’t blame me if you’re oppressed.” 

The most devious among these forbidden woke concepts is the restriction on teaching that “An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”

This blanket prohibition was partially responsible for Florida banning an African-American high school AP course because, while Florida schools are required to teach Black history, they are prohibited from teaching “Critical Race Theory” and, God forbid they should ever mention Jim Crow, slavery or lynchings. That’s all in the past…as is all history, you damn fools.

You’ve got to hand it to DeSantis and his ilk, they have succeeded in making straw boogeymen of Critical Race Theory, Black Lives Matter and all things LGBTQ+. DeSantis has even punished the Disney company for opposing his Don’t Say Gay law, which prohibits discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3.

The ignorant and the prejudiced who fear anything and anyone different will follow racist demagogues like Trump and DeSantis anywhere. Lumping all biases and fears under the umbrella term “woke” is a brilliant and diabolical strategy for leading the benighted around by the nose. 

“We fight the woke in the legislature, we fight the woke in the schools, we fight the woke in the corporations,” cries DeSantis, rallying the fearful. “We will never ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.”

DeSantis believes that people will move to Florida to get away from woke agendas. If so, then Florida will become, if it’s not already, a backwards haven for racists, sexists, homophobes and xenophobes. Remember, it was DeSantis who kidnapped asylum seekers from Texas so he could ship them off to liberal Massachusetts to make one of his sick anti-woke points.

When we talk about Ron DeSantis, we are not talking about an honorable man. We are talking about a jaundiced jingoist as craven as Donald Trump. Even if we admit that liberals sometimes carry sensitivities to injustice too far, all “woke” really means is “enlightened and empathetic.”

That’s a damn good thing. And nothing you would ever call a Republican.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.

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