Opinion | Scott M. Estill: Wide awake in America

Is it OK to be awake today? As in “woke”? “Woke culture” seems to be a current trendy topic of the far right. In fact, Florida Gov. DeSantis, the 2024 Republican nominee for president (I know he hasn’t announced his candidacy yet but he will, which will require the MAGA fans to settle for a Yale and Harvard elite version of your hero), has said that the State of Florida “will never surrender to the woke mob” and that “Florida is where woke goes to die.”

Fair enough (I guess), but what is “woke culture”? The term originated in the Black community in the 1960s and was used to remind its community members to stay present and utilize critical thinking against the often heavy-handed U.S. and state/local governments. In other words, be educated and stay informed on matters of importance in your local community. Seems like sound advice, both then and now.

Yet, Florida (and several other states) have made it very clear that the woke are not welcome. Mr. DeSantis compares the “woke culture” to a form of “cultural Marxism.” While it is impossible to ignore the obvious racial overtones of the anti-woke policies, what fears are driving these politicians (and millions of the their followers)? After all, only 20% of Americans today believe the Government will do what is right most of the time/always. For the 80% of the populace that does not trust the government to do the right thing, you better stay awake.

Instead of having an informed citizenry (i.e., woke), the political players want to keep the populace focused on so-called divisive social issues. And it works. Keep your eyes off the prize. Instead of offering real solutions on inflation, jobs, housing, medical care and a host of other issues important to nearly every voter, the talk front and center is how powerful fear tactics can be. When fear tactics take the guise of protecting our children, it becomes even more powerful.

Take Tennessee, which can claim the title as the first state to ban drag shows in public places where minors could watch (there are 14 other states with similar legislation pending). Republican Gov. Bill Lee apparently failed to see the perverse humor after photos of him wearing a skirt, pearls and a wig surfaced. Lee’s spokesperson stated that Gov. Lee’s drag performance while he was in high school (and performing to minors) was simply a “lighthearted school tradition.” There does not appear to be an exception under the law Gov. Lee signed for a lighthearted school tradition. Then again, Mr. Lee appears to be a 63-year-old straight, white, married man and does not possess any of the following letters: LGBTQ.

Nevertheless, while I never thought of Tennessee as a mecca for those seeking public drag shows, at least I can now rest comfortably knowing that the children of Tennessee will no longer be exposed to such atrocities.

Under the guise of protecting children, it would seem logical that Tennessee and the other anti-drag states would also be moving to ban hate groups. After all, Tennessee children can currently be exposed to 28 hate groups, ranking second in the country behind only Idaho in per-capita hate. There cannot be many parents who want their children exposed to neo-Nazi, KKK or other hate groups (can there)? And lest we get too smug here in Colorado, we don’t have to travel far to find some hate with 18 current groups targeting various ethnic and religious groups.

It may be time to at least acknowledge that none of the “anti-woke” crowd has “protecting our children” at the top of their not-for-public-viewing lists. Instead, at the top of this list is the desire to keep certain groups of people away (or at least marginalized). In this case, the LGBTQ community. The laws are intended to keep some people in an “other” category.

The lawmakers hopefully realize that these anti-drag laws violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (the amendment before the Second Amendment). Strangely, the path to victory for the LGBTQ crowd today was paved by Nazis and Klansmen fighting for (and winning, ultimately in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1969) their right to free speech without governmental interference. Likewise, the anti-woke policies of restricting what can be taught about slavery and racism in American history (past to present) will also be found to be unconstitutional. The real aim of these anti-woke laws is to make sure that those who are Black, brown or people of color understand that history can be taught only one way.

When someone like Mr. DeSantis states that he “does not believe in systematic racism,” like it’s similar to a belief in Santa Clause, you have to wonder about his Harvard education. Harvard should be ashamed to bestow a college degree upon a student who does not believe that a country that enslaved people of color systematically had (and has) a problem with systematic racism. If slavery isn’t considered to be systematic racism at a minimum, what is considered to fit the definition? Perhaps nothing, if we want to take a nap rather than succumb to the woke crowd.  

Yet, I still want to be awake. We can (and must) protect our children, and we can start by telling them the truth and to remain awake. Wide awake.

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