By Christopher Young,
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines the word woke as “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).”
Several sources, including Wikipedia, indicate that use of the word woke began in the 2010’s by African Americans as an endorsement of those they encountered who demonstrated an awareness of the ongoing racial discrimination and social injustice that exists in America.
To be referred to as woke is a good thing. African Americans and others disenfranchised in America now had an ally; someone who was no longer asleep in the false contentment that here in the good ole USA everyone has a level playing field.
America was aware of its racial injustice long before its founding. Slavery, lynchings, denial of basic rights guaranteed to others, the list goes on and on, and in many ways has continued to the present day.
Surely, there have been gains in equality and equity – yet we remain a long way from freedom and justice for all.
Whenever minorities make their way to the goalpost, the white power structure moves the goalpost. This is not to say that legions of African Americans and other minorities have not succeeded in our society, because they surely have, yet is it more the rule, or the exception?
Here in Mississippi, the state with the highest population of African Americans in the nation at a bare minimum of 38% – only 6% of our state agencies are headed by African Americans, and 94% are headed by European Americans. The Mississippi Supreme Court has nine members, and one member – representing 11.11% of the court – is African American. This ratio has existed since 1985 when Justice Reuben V. Anderson broke the racial barrier to become the first.
Thirty-eight years later, there is still only one African American justice on the court of last resort for a state that has a 38% African American population.
In 1991 America watched the savage beating of Rodney King at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department, only due to the diligence of an amateur cameraman. The four officers, sworn to protect and serve, were acquitted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer, by a predominantly white jury.
In 2012, 17-year old Travon Martin was fatally shot to death by 28-year old George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida seemingly for being black, wearing a hoodie, and eating Skittles. Police initially claimed the stand your ground law shielded Zimmerman who claimed self-defense and refused to charge him. After public outcry from across the nation they recanted, but a jury acquitted Zimmerman of second-degree murder and manslaughter in 2013.
Just over three years ago, American watched the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, due to the diligence of a teenager with a cellphone who recorded the horror. Another instance of police brutality, yet this time striking an even deeper chord in the American psyche, and far beyond.
In June 2020, just a month after Floyd’s murder, BBC provided a list of ten substantial changes already being seen:
“There have been global tributes and protests of racism and societal inequalities. Statues of Confederates have been taken down. Many companies have come to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Police officers are being charged and found guilty at higher rates. Police departments are making policy changes. Major celebrities are donating and bailing out protesters. More people are speaking out about the everyday racism and discrimination they have faced. Blackout Tuesday was implemented across social media. Street names have been changed – Black Lives Matter Plaza is the name of the street leading up to The White House and the mayor of New York City has pledged that all five boroughs will have a street named Black Lives Matter.”
Are more white people finally saying that black people are people? Does doing so make them woke? Have they awakened from their slumber to demand that black people be treated with dignity and respect? Some have, and of course we are grateful, but the truth is that many others have not awakened, and moreover, they have doubled down with their racist thinking and behavior.
In Mississippi and seventeen other states, the teaching of Critical Race Theory has been banned, and nine states are still working on it. Eighteen states have prevented attempts to enact bans. Seven states have not yet had any attempts to ban this academic theory, per www.worldpopulationreview.com.
Everyday, in the midst of shootings across the country at a record pace – many racially motivated – we hear about banning books, securing elections where no evidence of fraud existed previously – while purging voter rolls, antivaxxers who jeopardize the health and safety of us all – Mississippi politicized COVID vaccines and we have the highest COVID death rate in the country as a result, increasing the ability for every Tom, Dick and Harriette to carry a weapon – concealed or not. This list continues to grow longer each day as conservatives, a large portion of them synonymous with white nationalists, stake their claim to what they view as their country – no longer our country in their eyes. Anti-woke means maintaining the status-quo, with all it’s attendant racism and oppression.
“Look, we know what woke is; it’s a form of cultural Marxism,” DeSantis (presidential candidate) told NBC News on a campaign stop in Iowa on Saturday (June 3, 2023). “It’s about putting merit and achievement behind identity politics, and it’s basically a war on the truth. And as that has infected institutions, and it has corrupted institutions. So, you’ve got to be willing to fight the woke, we’ve done that in Florida, and we proudly consider ourselves the state where woke goes to die,” per www.aol.com. His statement is not only fiction, but its wholly racist and we don’t have to be woke to see it clearly. It’s a vague dog whistle, intentionally lacking specificity, designed to appeal to those afraid of losing “their” country.