According to my online dictionary, the word “woke” means “alert to and concerned about social injustice and discrimination.” Where I come from, that’s considered a good thing. I’m not sure where Ron DeSantis is from, but he is presently governor of Florida, wants to be president of the whole country, and considers being alert to and concerned about social injustice a bad thing.
He is deeply anti-woke. Where I come from, that’s defined as someone who is asleep — with a big “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door. To run for president on a platform of being deeply committed to staying asleep while encouraging everyone else to stay asleep, seems like an odd reason to run for president. From “Don’t Tread on Me!” to “Don’t Disturb My Beauty Sleep!”
But that’s still an improvement over DeSantis’ campaign slogan back in 2018 when he first ran for governor against an African American candidate in a tight race and told his mostly white supporters, “Don’t monkey this up!” Whatever could he have meant by that? But his racist dog whistle evidently worked well enough because he won and still opposes being alert to and concerned about social injustice and discrimination, having championed bills that prohibit teaching about social injustice and discrimination because he doesn’t want the enchanted sleep of his constituency to be disturbed by any discussions that might “monkey up” the self-esteem of white students and/or their parents.
He also hates Walt Disney — even though he has something in common with Sleeping Beauty (and it isn’t Beauty). And he’s also a cartoon character.
I keep hoping the media will wake up and start asking candidate DeSantis to explain what he means by the term “monkey up,” but I’m not hopeful. The national media is asleep as well.
“Stay woke,” on the other hand, is a long-established term among African Americans, going all the way back to the 1930s. According to Wikipedia, it was used by Lead Belly in his song “Scottsboro Boys” in 1938, and the Oxford Dictionary traces it back to a 1962 article in the New York Times.
“Woke” was revived following the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 and George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 and the Black Lives Matter movement that arose in response to those and other killings of unarmed Black men and women, which certainly woke me from my enchanted sleep. It’s hard to believe that every other white American wasn’t aroused by these “wake up” calls, but denial of reality seems to be a central feature of the Staying Asleep Matters movement.
I don’t consider myself “woke” because I’m not yet fully awake. But I’m more awake than I used to be and grateful for the awakening.
It’s not surprising, I guess, that those who stubbornly resist waking up should cling with such determination to their sleepwalking because our white-dominant society can no longer be so easily justified and rationalized by the traditional method of making people of color feel inferior. Which doesn’t stop many from trying. They have co-opted and twisted the rhetoric of self-esteem (muzzling classroom teachers and banning books), free speech (limiting government communication with social media companies), freedom of religion (business bigotry over LGBTQ+ rights and restricting reproductive rights), and equality (overturning affirmative action), all to maintain their cultural privileges. They are adamantly opposed to addressing inequality if it means limiting the privileges white people have enjoyed for centuries.
Yes, the last thing they want to do is wake up.
So the call goes out endlessly to the sleeping masses, “We’ve got a good thing going. Don’t monkey this up,” despite the fact that they are sinking, along with the Good Ship Superiority — the leaky vessel formerly known as the Republican Party — and they know it, so they grasp at words like “woke” which they can ridicule, calling those who are awake “the woke mob” because really they don’t have much left in their playbook — other than overturning democracy altogether. Misogyny, racism, and economic inequality just aren’t as effective at sustaining an underclass as they used to be.
Of course, they resent those who are in the process of waking up. They claim the woke are looking down on them. “We are the oppressed,” they say, “and the woke are the oppressors. We’re not on top, they are.”
The privileged always imagine themselves a victimized underclass. “You woke people think you’re so morally superior. You’re the elite, not us. People of color are not the underprivileged, we are.”
Martin Luther King defined a dream 60 years ago next month, and the anti-woke have one too. It’s the dream of a white majority enjoying its privileges because, hell, they worked hard for them and earned them, and anyone who doesn’t have them didn’t work hard enough.
And that’s a dream from which they definitely do not want to be awakened.
So they dream on, blissfully undisturbed by the pesky Paul Reveres of social justice.
Ready to ride through village and farm sounding the alarm clock.