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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Thoughts on the growing wedge of wokeness

David Colburn
Posted 6/7/23

To listen to Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis and others of his ilk, the greatest enemy facing America today is, oddly enough, wokeness. DeSantis has declared war …

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Thoughts on the growing wedge of wokeness


To listen to Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis and others of his ilk, the greatest enemy facing America today is, oddly enough, wokeness. DeSantis has declared war on wokeness in Florida, and promises to carry that war to the nation if elected.
“I will be able to destroy leftism in this country and leave woke ideology on the dustbin of history,” DeSantis said recently.
Declaring that Florida is a place where “woke goes to die,” DeSantis triumphantly signed the Stop WOKE Act passed along party lines in the Florida legislature, a bill that just as easily could be called the “stop making me feel guilty or responsible for inequity” act. The Stop WOKE Act prohibits instruction or training in schools and businesses that suggests that individuals share responsibility for others’ past actions by virtue of their race, sex, or national origin. Please, don’t make me feel guilty or responsible for decades of slavery that created systems of oppression that resonate into the present day. It wasn’t me that did that, it was those other people a long time ago. Don’t make me feel guilty or responsible for excluding women from rightful representation and compensation just because I’m a man. Don’t make me feel guilty or responsible for slaughtering and herding Native Americans like cattle, taking their lands and trying to destroy their cultures.
Opponents of wokeness like DeSantis decry it as something that infringes on their freedom of speech, yet the answer DeSantis seeks is to remove that same freedom from those who speak messages he doesn’t care for. DeSantis and the anti-woke crowd don’t want people pushing their views on them, so they fight by pushing their views on anyone they consider woke.
So what is this woke that conservatives find so reprehensible and liberals embrace with fervor? At it’s most basic, woke is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” At its very core, wokeness is concerned with equality, wanting to ensure equal access to all of the rights, opportunities, and privileges associated with being an American. What could be more true to the promise of America than basic wokeness?
The controversy comes from the need to acknowledge that inequities still exist in order to fix them. That apparently is something that doesn’t come easily to conservatives. America is the land of opportunity where anyone, anyone can achieve limitless success with the right work ethic and beliefs, they say, all evidence to the contrary.
At its best, wokeness encourages individuals to examine the ways in which societal structures perpetuate inequality and fosters a collective responsibility to rectify these imbalances. It challenges social norms and raises awareness. And it encourages open dialogue and constructive discussion, giving voice to diverse elements of our society.
However, wokeness is not always practiced at its best, providing ready fuel for those who oppose it. Many on the left have been as quick to condemn and silence opposing viewpoints as some on the right, precluding the opportunity for constructive dialogue altogether. And when wokeness attributes all of success or failure to group identity and its associated systemic inequities, it diminishes the importance of individual effort and responsibility.
Those who believe in the fundamental principles of wokeness are at fault for letting others drive the conversation with their willful distortions of the issues. No clearer example exists than the furor on the right over critical race theory, a specific academic theory that has become the catch-all phrase for anything and everything associated with racism toward Blacks. When a theory generates healthy dissent among well-informed academicians, one can be sure the uniformed general public will be gullible to fall for the slightest bit of misinformation. That’s been borne out of countless school board meetings across the country where angry parents have demanded schools stop teaching something that they’ve never been teaching.
Teaching about America’s slave-holding past is history, not critical race theory. Slavery is elemental to critical race theory, but the fact that white Americans owned Black slaves is indisputable historical fact. Conservatives have driven a narrative that the historical facts and the theory are one and the same, and that issues of race should not be considered or discussed. Their successes in this endeavor lie largely at the feet of those who have inadequately defended against it.
To Ron DeSantis and others, as a defender of equal opportunity for all Americans I am NOT your enemy, a foe to be defeated. As believers in the promise of America, you should want that as much as I do. And Mr. DeSantis, please don’t tell us you don’t believe in some level of wokeness, not after signing a bill mandating that Asian American and Pacific Islander history be taught in Florida’s schools. Why did you do that? Could it be because you believe that these communities weren’t being treated equally in your history classes? That’s woke, Ron, whether you like it or not. And it does little more than accentuate the inconsistency and unreasonableness of your approach to other affected communities, as Gregg Orton, national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans clearly pointed out.
“When you advance a bill that uplifts AAPI communities, but don’t want to acknowledge the fact that in the same state, there are real intentional efforts to invisiblize or erase Black history, you are on the wrong side of history,” Orton said. “With Florida, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion than they are actively trying to use the Asian American Pacific Islander community as a wedge here. Racial justice can’t be a zero sum game for communities of color.”
DeSantis clearly wants to wage a new kind of civil war in this country, against people who believe in equality for all. Polls show that a majority of Americans see woke as a positive thing. Wake up, Ron, and stop the damage you’re doing to my country. America wasn’t established as a tyranny of the minority, and I’m not your enemy. I just happen to be a fellow American.