Ask any Republican what’s wrong with this country and they will claim that we have become victims of the “Woke Liberal Agenda”. To them, being “woke” is a bad thing. So, they use the word as a pejorative; a means to insult Liberals by implying being woke makes them weak.
But it wasn’t always this way. The true origins of being woke can be traced back to 80 years ago, when being woke meant to be aware of racial and social issues. So, in a party dominated by White supremacists, it should come as no surprise that Conservatives see being woke as a negative thing. To them it means promoting an extreme Socialist agenda whereupon certain rights and religious liberties would be taken away in favor of “spreading the wealth” by means of social programs meant to help only do-nothing Liberals who want to replace hard work with government handouts.
The Origins of Woke
In his song The Scottsboro Boys, legendary guitarist Led Belly warns of traveling through the South, namely Alabama, with the refrain “ya better watch out” as a warning that members of law enforcement will react differently to Blacks. At the end of the song, Led Belly can be heard to say, “best stay woke, keep their eyes open”.
The song evoked the memory of the conviction and sentencing to death nine Black teenagers for allegedly raping two White women. While their sentences were eventually commuted, they lived the rest of their lives under the shadow of suspicion. Had it not been for “being woke”, they would have likely been wrongfully executed.
Years later, rap artist Childish Gambino, AKA Donald Glover, used the same advice when telling his fans to “stay woke” in the lyrics to his song “Redbone”. The systemic racism exposed in the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd led Glover and others to call out for justice as he urged his followers to remain alert to the inequities of the treatment of Blacks by members of law enforcement.
Being woke was central to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. This was evident when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a commencement address at Oberlin College titled, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”. In his speech he made comparisons to the fight for ending segregation and the American Revolution. He stated, “…we are to remain awake…” as the fight for social equality raged on.
Any time Liberals have a cause, the right will find a way to distort, misinterpret or outright hijack the meaning to create something negative. When NFL players took to one knee during the National Anthem to protest the treatment of minorities by members of law enforcement, Conservatives twisted it to mean they were disrespecting the flag. This led to boycotts of football games and even players being blackballed from ever playing again.
The deaths of so many Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. Even though the protests were largely peaceful, those on the right wanted the movement declared a terrorist organization. They declared it was nothing more than an effort to Defund the Police and create a lawless society.
With the spate of mass casualty shootings, the call for sensible gun control is growing, so it only makes sense that it is some sort of insipid plot by Liberals to take away their Second Amendment rights. And yet this party that claims to be Pro-Life will adamantly oppose any restrictions that would protect the children they fought for the right to be born.
So, you know they will come up with some way to sabotage the woke movement. When your base is comprised of White Evangelicals, it’s only logical that anything that runs counter to your beliefs must be some sort of attack on democracy, or at least what they view as what a democracy should be. That led to the invention of the boogeyman of Critical Race Theory, something that isn’t even taught in public schools, as the enemy of the right.
Republicans are accusing public school teachers of using Critical Race Theory as a means of indoctrinating students with a “woke Liberal agenda” where they are expose to unpatriotic ideas that cause them to hate America. They claim teaching concepts like The 1619 Project makes White children feel bad because it explores how slavery was used to make America an economic power. They suggested that even the term slavery be replaced with the more palatable involuntary relocation.
It’s a term filled with potential. It could be used to describe the forced relocation of Native Americans during the infamous Trail of Tears. It could also be applied to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. And White supremacists would absolutely love to use the label to describe the horrors of the Holocaust.
The Conservative solution to the “Woke Agenda” is to replace it with their own form of indoctrination. They want to ban books, even textbooks, that they claim promote “social emotional learning” over rote memorization. Apparently they would rather have a population of blind followers rather than problem solvers capable of independent thinking.
They have even tried to force schools to teach the White supremacist oriented 1776 Project as a counter to the 1619 Project. This Trump administration initiative claimed to support supporting patriotism by giving a distorted view of America’s enemies, namely illegal immigrants and those who followed a different religion.
They further attempted to use the head spinning claim that being “woke” is the antithesis of what Martin Luther King espoused. Florida governor, and potential opponent to Joe Biden in 2024, name-dropped King as he signed the Stop Woke Act. This law allows parents to sue schools that teach Critical Race Theory. The problem is, it doesn’t specifically define what is or isn’t CRT, leaving it up to the parents to decide their own interpretation, which could cause Florida schools to be forced to use precious financial resources to defend against frivolous lawsuits.
So, what is “wokeness”? Is it being socially aware of the challenges presented by systemic racism or is it an indoctrination of America’s youth to make them hate their country by teaching them about Critical Race Theory ? It all depends on who you listen to.
No matter which side you’re on, leave no doubt, Conservatives will continue their attacks on anything that goes against their dangerous assault on democracy.