If when – as outlined in the Declaration of Independence – “in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people” to rise up, speak out and take a stand against either a set of conditions or something that is just no longer tolerable, it must be OK for a person to reach the end of their rope, too.

And that’s where I am, unable to remain silent any longer about the campaign against “woke.” Or is it wokeism? Or perhaps wokeness?

In April 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 7, known as the “Stop WOKE” bill, in Hialeah Gardens, Fla. Daniel A. Varela/The Miami Herald/TNS

“Woke” is an African American vernacular term – where, incidentally, so much vernacular American English originates – coming from “awake.” The term goes back to the 1920s, when social activists were warning Blacks of a heightened need to be alert to the dangers which were so embedded in their everyday life. In 1938, folk singer Lead Belly even had a line in one of his songs in which he used the term, advising young men in particular, “best to stay woke, keep their eyes open.”

The term, used properly, means being alert to racial prejudice and discrimination. It has no historical connection with a political party nor with a proscribed policy, unless by “policy” we mean one which advocates and works toward social, political and legal equality for all Americans. It implies a close watchfulness, both as a means of self-protection and as a guard against acts which diminish human dignity.

It continues to mystify me how words which imply consideration for other people, realization of our universal personhood and respect for truth have come to be used as dirty words, phrases used to condemn individuals or ideas.

Take “political correctness.” This is now used as a pejorative, something slung at people and language which someone – or some group – doesn’t like. If using the phrase “enslaved person” rather than “slave,“ realizing that human beings are not commodities, or not using the word “squaw,” or, when it comes to zoning ordinances, no longer speaking of “grandfathering” – a term which came from Jim Crow machinations to prohibit Black people from voting – are all examples of political correctness, then by all means, accuse me of political correctness.


If, under the aegis of the First Amendment, we accept the use of racial slurs and equate disinformation with truth, it is no wonder we end up banning books, cancelling Advanced Placement classes in the history of the African American experience in our country, and otherwise working to limit what can be taught and read in our schools or carried in our libraries. If you believe, as I do, that the free and unfettered public access to information is an underpinning to a democratic society, then “wokeness” – an awareness of social injustices – should neither frighten you nor challenge your place in our society.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times Magazine reporter and author of that newspaper’s award-winning “The 1619 Project,” reflects that: “Citizens inherit not just the glory of their nation but its wrongs, too. A truly great country does not ignore or excuse its sins. It confronts them, and then works to make them right.”

If “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” then, as James Baldwin suggests, we need “to be present in all” that we do.

If to be “present” means to be “woke,” bring it on.

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