Opinion: Being ‘woke’ is something to be proud of
photo by: Tribune Content Agency
Growing up in the small town of Delaware City, one of the first lessons I learned, playing in the dirt street in front of our house, was: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
It’s so true. It makes so much sense. It’s such a powerful lesson it’s hard to believe most Republicans today haven’t yet learned it. Instead, following their demented leader Donald Trump, they seem to delight in name-calling — as if it makes them smarter or more clever. When, in fact, it just makes them look more desperate.
As a progressive, I’ve been called many names over the years, including pinko, leftie, commie and bleeding-heart liberal. But today, it appears, I’m something worse than all that. Now, I’m also “woke.”
For Republicans today, there’s nothing worse and nothing more un-American than being woke. Right up there with deporting anybody who entered this country illegally, they believe it’s their divine mission to rid this country of anybody woke. And nobody takes that job more seriously than the self-appointed Anti-Woke Master, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“We have respected our taxpayers and we reject woke ideology,” he declared upon winning reelection last month. “We fight the woke in the legislature. We fight the woke in the schools. We fight the woke in the corporations. We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.”
I must admit, never having heard the term “woke” before, DeSantis got me thinking. Other than the fact that I was, indeed “woke,” as in “awake,” and not asleep, I had no idea what he was talking about. And, by the way, I bet none of his wildly applauding supporters knew what he was talking about, either.
So, I decided to check. And I’m glad I did. Because I discovered that, no matter what DeSantis thinks it means, being woke is not something to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s something to be proud of.
“Woke” first emerged as an African American slang word for someone who gets it, someone who understands discrimination faced by Blacks. It was famously used by the folk singer Lead Belly at the end of his 1938 song “Scottsboro Boys,” about nine Black teenagers accused of raping two white women. “I advise everybody, be a little careful when they go along through there,” Lead Belly warned. “Best stay woke, keep their eyes open.”
Beginning in 2014, its use became more widespread as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. And in 2017, Merriam-Webster actually added it to the dictionary, defining woke as “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” Now, I ask you, what’s wrong with that?
In other words, if I believe, as conclusively demonstrated in “The 1619 Project,” that systemic racism has permeated, and still continues to permeate, every aspect of American endeavor — health care, transportation, hiring practices, Hollywood, television, corporate boardrooms, etc. — then, I’m “woke.”
If I believe that young Blacks are more likely to get longer prison sentences for drug possession than white teenagers. … If I believe that police are more likely to pull over Black teenagers for traffic offenses. … Or if I believe that efforts by many red states today to cut the number of polling places, ban early voting or require photo ID are efforts to suppress the Black vote — then, I’m “woke.”
If I don’t believe the “white replacement theory” — that there’s a deliberate plot, organized mainly by Jews, to promote mass nonwhite immigration, abortion, miscegenation and interracial marriage in order to overtake America’s white majority and destroy white culture — then, I’m “woke.”
Or if I believe that a former president of the United States should not be sitting down for dinner with an avowed white supremacist and a Holocaust denier — then, I’m “woke.”
With no apology to Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump, I see nothing wrong with that. I believe we not only have to accept the reality of America’s systemic racism, we have to do everything we can, in any way we can, to end it. As Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-California) advises: “We have a moral obligation to “stay woke,” take a stand and be active, challenging injustices and racism in our communities and fighting hatred and discrimination wherever it rises.” We can never be “woke” enough.
Ron DeSantis can call me “woke” as many times as he wants. I wear it as a badge of honor.
— Bill Press is a columnist with Tribune Content Agency.