The  Challenge  of  Being  “Woke”

By   Arleen  Lorrance


In 1970, when I started The Love Project and originated the six Love Principles, including Be the Change You Want to See Happen, Instead of Trying to Change Anyone Else, I thought I faced terrible times with the conflict raging in Vietnam, riots in the streets, neighborhoods being burned, and my students caught in the chaos.

        I was 31 years old back then, filled with energy, and devoted to bringing love and learning to a high school in trouble. The Love Project was a great success in the Brooklyn school and led to 52 years of dedication to love and consciousness in the blessing of the work Mariamne and I have been given to do.

        Today, conditions in our nation and the world are much worse than what I faced in 1970. Today, the practice of lying, denying, and distortion of reality have reached a peak that threatens our very existence. We are a hopelessly divided people standing on two sides of a great cultural chasm which we will either cross and unite as one being or we will fall into the endless pit of separation.

        Each side has developed expertise in another of the Love Principles, Create Your Own Reality Consciously. I think of “my” side as loving, inclusive, ever-seeking truth, constructive, focused on creativity, making the world a place where all people can thrive, and knowing that consciousness is the key to our survival.

        When I look across the pit, there is a crowd of nay-sayers, of those who tell lies and believe the lies others tell, of those who deny truth, of those who want to stifle voting rights, of those who want to replace democracy with autocracy.

        They would probably shout back across to me and tell me that is not what they are about. They would tell me they support the Constitution, they are staunch patriots, and they know how to save the nation from the liberals, the Woke, the immigrants, etc. And, no doubt, they see me and my ilk as naïve, airy fairy, and hopeless dreamers.

        I learned very well, more than half a century ago, not to try to change others. I am not giving up on that now and I will not descend into despair over what I see and hear.

        Once again I will Be the Change I Want to See Happen by committing to speaking and disseminating the truth as I know it, and by standing up to the forces that have an agenda I consider to be unhealthy, to say the least.


What  Is  “Woke”

        In March, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis proclaimed his state to be “free” and called it the place where “woke came to die.”

        He was talking about the “woke” that ultra-Right Conservatives have distorted into an attack on white people. Their claim is that Critical Race Theory is a teaching that blames white people for all the ills of Black people and is therefore not only discriminatory but dangerous.

        But “Woke” is really about oppressed people rising up from under the boot that has held them down, people asserting their worth and rising above a crippling history. It is that awakening that DeSantis has killed in Florida.

        Begun in the 1920’s in the United States, “woke” was a wake-up call to Blacks to become conscious that they were the victims of untenable conditions, that they were being held back and held down, and that our history books played down the discrimination, segregation, and ill-treatment they suffered. “Woke” was a call to consciousness.

        In recent times “woke” was reinstated by the Black Lives Matter movement which stood in defiance of some police who seemed to view Blacks as target practice.


A  Call  to  Battle  Injustice

        To be “woke” means many things. It is a call to be alert to oppression. It encourages not yielding to any lesser way of life imposed on Black people: fewer opportunities, discrimination, separate and unequal treatment re bank loans and mortgages, etc. Woke encourages Blacks to support social causes and battle injustice.

        James Baldwin explained that “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time.” This rage threatens the status quo: what wealthy, politically powerful people fight to protect.

        It is this rage that conservatives have latched on to and called a threat to white society. It is as if powerful, wealthy white people need to protect their own lives against Blacks who refuse to be subjugated any longer. Blacks who stand tall cast a frightening shadow over the prevailing dominance of white society. The more Blacks speak up for themselves, the more they are a threat to the status quo. By being “woke” they are viewed by some wealthy white people as a force that must be quelled.

        Worse still is the teaching of Critical Race Theory which speaks to the truth of how Blacks were denied rights by whites for centuries. Conservatives are outraged that white children should be held responsible for what their ancestors did. This is a distortion. White children are not responsible, but they need to be informed, need to be aware, need to understand what their ancestors did.

        I was in my sophomore year in high school when  the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that restaurants in D.C. could not refuse to serve Black people. That was 1953! That’s how long Blacks in our nation’s capital had to wait to be served in restaurants. It is almost inconceivable.

        Black people tell each other to stay woke while elite whites benefit from exploiting Blacks and advocate burying grievances about violence. Malcolm X proclaimed “There will come a time when black people wake up and become intellectually independent enough to think for themselves … this type of thinking also brings an end to the brutality inflicted upon black people by white people and it is the only thing that will bring an end to it. No federal court, state court, or city court will.”

        It is no wonder that at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), former South Carolina Republican and candidate for President, Governor Nikki Haley, declared that “wokeness” is a “virus more dangerous than any pandemic.”

        Yes, “woke” is viewed dangerous by conservative whites because inequity is being threatened and white society is in danger of losing its dominance.



What  Is  Unreasonable  or  Extreme?

        The dictionary defines “woke” as being aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice) and being liberal in a way that is considered unreasonable or extreme.

        “Unreasonable and extreme” is how I see the attitudes of white society toward minorities for so long that the sleeping lion has finally stood up to roar against the oppressor.

        Whites who do not see themselves as oppressors but rather defenders of their way of life, decry “wokeness” as encouraging social division, rather than pragmatic problem-solving. Worse still, they say, hypervigilance towards racism and other forms of bigotry leads to overreactions that stifle debate.

        It can be infuriating that conservatives have the luxury of pragmatism and debate in the face of an entire people that has lived second class lives for decades and who are now being manipulated at the ballot box by those very conservatives who seek to put them back to sleep.

        No wonder Florida Governor DeSantis signed the “Stop WOKE” bill, called “Individual Freedom,” which would limit classroom discussion about race and gender. Promotion of this bill avoids explicitly attacking Black parents for wanting Black history taught. Instead, DeSantis focuses on keeping wokeness and the left from getting “out of control.” These days it’s all about framing, all about manipulating the truth.

      The Ultra Right is good at lumping. They say “woke” means left-wing radicalism, in the same way any movement toward change-for-the-better-for-everyone was lumped as socialist or communist. Calling it names, especially trigger names, seeks to anesthetize the giant who is rising, and to rally the white population through fear.

        DeSantis, who is running for president of the United States in 2024, also signed a “Don’t Say Gay” bill which limits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identification in public schools and became the centerpiece in a conflict over gay rights with Disney, one of the state’s largest employers. Both laws have been challenged in court.


The  Dark  Days  in  America

        DeSantis is leading the march backwards, away from equal rights for all human beings. May he never succeed in taking us back to the dark days in American society, recent dark days.

        In 1968, homosexual acts were criminal in forty-nine of our states. Punishments included prison time, including life sentences. The American Psychiatric Association classified same-sex attraction as a mental illness. People lost their jobs, homes or children and had no legal recourse. Gay groups in New York could not incorporate because that would violate state sodomy laws.

        There were no openly gay or lesbian politicians, religious leaders, actors, athletes, etc. In newspapers the words homosexual and pervert were used interchangeably. Those who talked about the discrimination against them had to have their faces hidden or shadowed on television. I repeat: This was in 1968, in the United States of America.          

        DeSantis, who was reelected governor by a landslide vote, has also stated that “It is not true that the United States was built on stolen land.” Yet, we all know about the history of the west, and we should know about Florida’s history of thousands of Native Americans who were forcibly relocated under the Indian Removal Act of 1830. DeSantis encourages the teaching of a more comfortable version of the past whether it is true or not. This is precisely why “woke” is imperative.

        In the so-called free state of Florida, the commissioner of education, Manny Diaz, Jr. proclaims they proudly require the teaching of African American History but not woke indoctrination masquerading as education.

        Among those things “masquerading” as education is the dismissed autobiography of Frederick Douglas which contained excerpts of the Dred Scott decision, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.      

        To its credit, Florida does include in its curriculum topics on transatlantic slave trade, roots of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the Civil Rights movement. Some liberals are concerned that the presentation of these topics might be whitewashed.

        Several Florida high school students are preparing to sue DeSantis over the rejection of an Advanced Placement course in African American studies. The course was meant to remove the late-nineteenth-century romanticization of the Confederacy which attempted to justify segregation as it was being implemented across the South.


Advantages  Exposed  Reveal  Disadvantages  Imposed by Systemic Racism

        As Jelani Cobb reports in The New Yorker, DeSantis and the state’s education department seem to feel “that the evils of the past are not nearly as dangerous now as the willingness to talk about them in the present.”

        Here in Scottsdale, ultra-conservative lawmakers tried, but did not succeed, to get School Superintendent Scott Menzel removed because he addressed his own privilege as a white man. “In this country, I check the boxes that give me the greatest level of advantage…that means I have a higher level of responsibility to call out the system that advantages people who look like me, and disadvantages people who don’t look like me.”

        There we see the trouble once again. Singling out the advantages of white people calls attention to how others are given lesser treatment. It is a thorn in the side of those who don’t want their advantages exposed, nor do they want attention called to the fact that others are deprived because of it.

        I am being the change by supporting “woke,” by standing for those who need equality on every level.


A  Call  to  Action

People who want to strike down teaching the truth and teaching accountability want to continue to sanitize US history. Children need to learn about all the structural barriers that were set in place to disadvantage certain populations. That is not a myth; it is a fact, and it was done deliberately. It was done to many groups: to Blacks, to Jews, to Asians. It is systemic racism, systemic evil. It is important for all of us not only to affirm that this was and is still happening; it is important to say who has done it and who is doing it.

        I recently read that in the 1970’s, Bellingham, Washington, where a good friend of mine lived, was a very white place. It was a “sundown” town. Anyone who wasn’t white had to leave town by nightfall. I was shocked to learn this. I hope you are too.

        We all need to be “woke.” I invite you to stand up and be counted, not just to challenge systemic oppression of any kind but to demand that truth be spoken and to thoroughly reject political manipulation of any kind by anyone.

        I am being the change by going out of my way to reach out to any segment of our population that is treated as lesser, that is shunned, that is held back in any way, that is demeaned. I will not fight with those who perpetuate this injustice. They seem to enjoy their righteous stances. So be it. But I will defend, support, encourage, and give my energy to those who are the victims of this blight on our nation.

        I will be the change by being “woke.”u