It is frustrating to see the continuous redefining of words and terms by the extremist conservative element in our society and government. One of these terms is “woke.” According to Merriam-Webster, the definition is “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues.” I will add in the qualification as well: “especially issues of racial and social justice.”

New College of Florida students and supporters protest Feb. 28 ahead of a meeting by the college’s board of trustees, on the school campus in Sarasota, Fla. In January, Gov. Ron DeSantis overhauled the public liberal arts college’s board of trustees. They then fired its president; scuttled the employment of faculty members; eliminated its diversity, equity and inclusion office, and began remaking New College in their conservative, “anti-woke” vision. Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press, File

For my entire life I have strived to embrace this philosophy, trying to listen to and understand other opinions, beliefs and religions, whether they agreed with mine or not, understanding that one cannot fully comprehend a point of view without appreciating the counterpoint. This certainly requires personal evolution and maturity. Being aware of the true history of our country, of how we have treated and still treat other people in our society, is so important to our society’s evolving that it should be honored, not vilified.

The term “woke” has now been unjustly transformed into a negative term. Let that sink in: Attention to important facts and issues, the truth, is something to avoid and discredit. Somehow, this makes sense to a significant number of our political leaders and fellow Americans. It appears that what is most troubling for those who would see “woke” as a vile four-letter word is the qualification above, that it applies to “issues of racial and social justice.”

One of the tag lines for objecting to this thought is that it may cause someone to feel uncomfortable or criticized by being confronted with these historical facts. Personally, I strongly desire to know the truth. I am delighted – admittedly, shocked sometimes – by learning about the history we were never taught, which was suppressed to a large extent for so many years by those who perpetrated many injustices. The historical truth has never made me feel bad about myself. In fact, it is enlightening. It expands my understanding of how and why we have come to this place in our evolution. It shows me how to be better and more empathetic, and it suggests the path forward.

I believe I do understand why this can be so threatening and discomforting to so many. I believe that the truth is like a mirror to them. They see their own racist views, their distrust of anyone they perceive as being “different” as a significant threat. I feel so sad for them, since in my life, through being open to other races, ethnicities, religions and thoughts, I have learned so much and have been blessed with a much more beautiful world, life and friends.

It is extremely troubling to see elected officials, the leaders of our political parties, and fellow Americans embracing and endorsing this philosophy of derision, division and hateful rhetoric that has its roots in the cesspool of white supremacist thought.  They are leading us into the abyss of an authoritarian kakistocracy, or government by the worst of us. We must all, every rational one of us, stand and reject this thinking. We must only, and always, embrace truth, the actual facts. These people should not be leading our wonderful country.

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