The editorial boards of the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun Sentinel published this commentary on Governor DeSantis’ campaign to demonize being “woke.” What does it mean to be woke? It means being aware of systemic injustice. Did systemic injustices occur in the past? Yes. Do they occur now? Yes. Should we banish teaching or learning about systemic injustices, as DeSantis demands? No. That would mean teaching lies. Can we blame teachers or schools for the drop in scores on NAEP (the National Assessment of Educational Progress) when politicians like DeSantis require teachers to teach their students lies?

The editorial says it’s good to be woke:

Have you noticed? Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t smile enough. His brand is anger, especially at anything he can ridicule as “woke.”

Disney is “woke.” Diversity is “woke.” His obsession to cleanse Florida classrooms of discussions of racism was the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.”

He took over New College of Florida because it was “woke.” He suspended Tampa State Attorney Andrew Warren because his policies were “woke.”
Florida “is where woke goes to die,” he says. This four-letter word has lost much of its punch, purely from overuse.

But it really doesn’t matter whether people have any idea of what “woke” means — just that it sounds bad.

But what does it mean, really?

‘Systemic injustices’

As good an answer as any came from DeSantis’ general counsel, under questioning from Warren’s attorney in federal court.

“The belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them,” lawyer Ryan Newman replied, adding that DeSantis doesn’t share that belief.

He doesn’t? No society is without injustices. To pretend that ours is is ludicrous.

The term “woke” originated in Black culture almost a century ago. According to the Legal Defense Fund, it became an “in-group signal urging Black people to be aware of the systems that harm and otherwise put us at a disadvantage.”

Those are precisely the systems that DeSantis pretends don’t exist, and that he doesn’t want Florida schoolchildren and college students to learn anything about. His hijacking of the word “woke” is ironic, to say the least.

Obnoxious objectives

His objectives, like that of copycat Republican politicians, are threefold. One is to cater to bigoted and resentful white voters. Donald J. Trump taught them the effectiveness of that. No. 2: Breed a generation of future voters who will have learned nothing about racism’s history or continuing consequences.

The third objective, not quite so transparent but equally pernicious, is to desensitize the nation’s courts to systemic economic and political injustices, many of which afflict poor white people just as much as Black people. The Florida Supreme Court bought into this when it purged diversity guidelines from the Florida Bar’s continuing education criteria.

There hasn’t been such a cynical disinformation campaign since the Daughters of the Confederacy set out more than a century ago to reinvent the Civil War and Reconstruction. In that distorted looking glass, slavery had nothing to do with the war; it was the South fighting for freedom and the North fighting against it. That’s how children were to be taught.

Writing in The New York Times, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. described how the Daughters suppressed textbooks to the extent of rejecting any that described slaveholders as cruel. Slavery, wrote the Daughters’ historian, “was an education that taught the negro self-control, obedience and perseverance.”

“Undertaken by apologists for the former Confederacy with an energy and alacrity that was astonishing in its vehemence and reach, in an era defined by print culture, politicians and amateur historians joined forces to police the historical profession,” Gates wrote. “The so-called Lost Cause movement was, in effect, a take-no-prisoners social media war.”

The racism didn’t go away when the South lost the war and slaves were freed. It fostered sharecropping — slavery by another means. It rationalized Jim Crow laws, lynchings, inferior schools and a denial of the right to vote that persisted until 1965. It led to federal housing policies that confined Black people to urban ghettos. It was evident when Social Security initially excluded domestic and farm workers on the fiction that it would be too difficult to collect the taxes.

It remains glaring today in the statistic that Black Americans, who account for 13% of the population, are 27% of the people shot and killed by police. It was evident when the Tennessee House of Representatives expelled two Black members over a gun violence protest in their chamber, but not the Caucasian legislator who protested with them. It is apparent in the increasing re-segregation of public schools; profound racial disparities in income, health and mortality; and the persistence of fair housing and fair employment violations.

Exposure is essential

The remedy for injustice begins with exposure. It is essential. To conceal it is to be complicit in the injustice.

To teach American history through rose-colored glasses, as DeSantis intends, is to ignore the heroism and sacrifices that every generation has made toward fulfilling the belief that “all men are created equal.” That so many Americans have risen so often to that challenge speaks well of our nation, not poorly.

A federal judge has temporarily blocked one of DeSantis’ schemes — the law allowing educators and private businesses to be sued for making students and employees feel guilty about racism — but the destruction of the schools and universities goes on.

It’s up to the voters whether that continues. It’s better to be “woke” than silent any day.


The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board includes Editor-in-Chief Julie , Opinion Editor Krys Fluker and Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick. The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Anderson. Send letters to insight@orlandosentinel.com.


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