In our recent move to Alabama, I almost feel relieved to have escaped Florida's autocratic governor, Ron Desantis, and his war on "Wokeness." As a teacher at Florida International University, however, I still see the effects of his anti-education message as there are certain subjects I can no longer address under Florida law and state mandates when it comes to many diversity topics, African American history and racism, LGBTQ issues, non-Christian religions, history, and politics all of which fall under my interdisciplinary social science field of Religious Studies. His policies are a direct attack on "academic freedom" at all Florida colleges and universities. I wonder how much longer I and other "woke" teachers will last under his administration.
Of course, the Desantis administration affects far more than just academic freedom. Somehow "woke" has become some bizarre epithet applied to libs, progressives, Dems, RINOS, and anyone else who does not follow MAGA or far-right principles. Desantis and his ilk are on an "anti-woke" crusade. So, what does it mean to be "woke."
As far as I can tell, Jesus would have been considered "woke." His words and actions were always about tolerance, love, and justice. "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." (Matthew 22:39-40) "Love your enemies." (Matthew 5:43-48) He wanted us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and have mercy on the imprisoned and oppressed. (Matthew 25:31-36) He asked the wealthy to be generous. (Luke 18:18-30) He never mentions anything about LGBTQ issues. Consequently, I cannot understand the stance of White Nationalist Christians or many conservative evangelical Christians, who claim to revere their Savior but embrace so many principles antithetical to his most fundamental social justice teachings. (Should we also mention that Jesus was a darker-skinned Middle Eastern Jew.) As a teacher of World Religions, I can tell you that many of Jesus' teachings are echoed in the words and actions of Buddha, Muhammad, Isaiah, White Buffalo Calf Woman, Krishna (Hinduism), Guru Nanak (Sikhism), and the many other great spiritual teachers who have attempted to "awaken" the people of the world to the ways of love and tolerance. Those are our spiritual role models.
On a more personal level, what "woke" means to me is pretty simple. It starts with respecting the individual rights of each person on the planet regardless of skin color, ethnicity, age, religion, nationality, or sexual preference. Interestingly, Republicans traditionally championed that the government should not interfere with the rights of the individual. Now, MAGA Republicans feel free to interfere with the lives of individuals when it to comes to their politics and speech, stance on abortion, LGBTQ preference, race, religion, and ethnic or national origin. With that in mind:
I support the right of women to decide their own health needs and when and whether to have children. For my whole career, I have always been a child advocate and have witnessed the cruel and sad state of too many children who are unwanted, abused, and neglected. I wish my pro-life friends would care as much about the children who are born as they do for the unborn.
I support the right of men and women to choose their partners and sexual orientations--as if it were any of my business. I have many LGBTQ friends and relatives who are dearly loved and are amazing people. I could care less about their gender identity as that has so little to do with who they are. Many are now being attacked, and some are even being killed because of their sexual preference. How can we call ourselves a great country when we allow this? When will our LGBTQ brothers and sisters feel safe and secure in their homes, jobs, communities, and country? I pray soon.
Of course, all lives matter, but until all lives matter equally, I will continue to support our brothers and sisters of color as we fight for issues like Black Lives Matter, the rights of native and indigenous peoples, rights of Asian peoples, Hispanic rights, and so so on. I look to a day when all people can feel safe and accepted in their homes, their communities, and their countries.
I support the right of women and children to be safe from violence, whether it is domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse and neglect. We still have so much to do for women and children to feel safe in their homes and communities. The statistics are sobering, to say the least. One in five women will be raped in their lifetime. One in four children will be sexually abused. One in two women will be physically and/or emotionally abused by a male partner. One in three children will be physically and/or emotionally abused by a parent.
I support democratic principles since I see democracy as an enlightened governmental wellspring of freedom, respect, and protection for individuals in a society. Without that, we have autocracy, dictatorship, and the rule of many by the few. Autocracies are not known for their loving, benevolent, and caring ways.
As a teacher, I support the right of all children to receive an education free of political interference and that critical social issues surrounding history, racism, sexuality, marriage and divorce, religion, politics, violence, democracy, and so on be approached in age-appropriate ways and from an evidence-based, fact-based perspective. When it comes to history, one way not to repeat our mistakes is to honestly face the past. For example, teaching about the history of slavery and racism in our country is simply a matter of truth and history. Should we ignore the policies of genocide against Native Americans because it might upset us? Likewise, Yad Vashem (Enduring Memorial), the Holocaust Memorial, is a reminder of "Never Again." How could we even look at our black, Native American, or Jewish brothers and sisters if we "whitewashed" these histories into nothingness?
I realize the immigration issue has been a thorn in the side of all the administrations of the 21st Century, but I remind us that, except for our Native American brothers and sisters, we are all the children of immigrants. History shows us that each new group that arrived was disliked and discriminated against: Roman Catholics, Dutch, Germans, Italians, Irish, Chinese, Jews, Cubans, Haitians, Hispanics, Middle Easterners, and so on--anyone that was not "us." We are a land of immigrants, and our Statue of L iberty holds a poem by Emma Lazarus, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Surely, we have much to be grateful for the accomplishments of immigrants past and present, so my hope is to develop reasonable and fair immigration policies that honor our vast country with so many possibilities.
I support the gospel of our Universalist Church--We are all brothers and sisters! All God's children. Since white Anglo-Saxon people only make up 16% of the world's population, I have to ask how in God's name did they think they were so important? What is a "Great Replacement Theory" when white people are only 16% of the world's population? I also hate to break it to those who espouse Great Replacement, White Nationalist, Neo-Nazi, and White Supremacy beliefs, but most of your kids are not on board with you. Many of the young people I work with and teach are generally much more tolerant than the conservative elders in their families.
I consider myself to be a proud, patriotic American. My Dad fought in some of the worst battles in WWII to protect us from Hitler and Nazism. I vote in every election. I used ,to work for the local government as a hard-working public servant along with many other wonderful public servants. I am an entrepreneur and support our free enterprise system. So, I do not understand how I became the "enemy" to some Americans (even a few friends and relatives) because I have some political differences with them. They used to just be hot debates over the Thanksgiving table, but now it means some will not even come to Thanksgiving. How did it come to this? Soon, I hope we can come together again and find ways to bridge our differences--to remember we are all Americans.
Being "anti-woke" seems to be a lot about fear and anger. Being "awakened" and "woke" is about hope, faith, peace, and love. So this is my definition of "Wokeness." What is yours? Peace, Rev. Dr. Thomas L. Norris