OPINION | Why wage war on wokeness?

Doxey Kamara, Intersections Editor

Gabe Darley

The Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act was recently signed into Florida law. In a similar vein as Kentucky’s SB 1 or South Dakota’s HB 1012, Governor Ron DeSantis’ bill restricts discussion of race, nationality and sex in professional and academic environments. To repurpose a common refrain, this bill fits a description.

Even more so than its ancestors, the Stop W.O.K.E. Act was surrounded by promises of combatting critical race theory. DeSantis’ website says the bill “will take on both corporate wokeness and Critical Race Theory.” Desantis has also said, “[Florida is] taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory.”

Aside from a singular reference to The New York Times’ 1619 Project, readers are not told what wokeness is. Like critical race theory, the term is demonized but rarely defined. DeSantis has called critical race theory a “pernicious ideology,” and conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation refers to it as “one of the most dangerous, subversive, and sinister ideologies facing us,” but critical race theory and wokeness seem to function primarily as punching bags. Inquiring minds may find themselves asking what prompted legislative efforts to combat them.

While there is no shortage of discourse around the meaning of these terms, the way they are used as weapons deserves more attention. Critical race theory is not a person, and wokeness is not an organization. They cannot defend themselves when they are called dangerous or un-American, which means they start on the back foot when detractors pass laws against their existence in public areas. 

The Stop W.O.K.E. Act, by attacking discussion of intersectionality, puts political opponents on defense. More importantly, it puts the boogeymen of wokeness and critical race theory in the spotlight, giving partisan-minded voters and politicians something to rally against. 

But even culture wars have victims, and this convenience comes at the cost of progress. By censoring the discussion of privilege, much like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, DeSantis deliberately hinders social reform. 

Acknowledging a problem — in this case, disparities in opportunity due to race, color, sex and national origin — is the first step to fixing it. In the same way that one must notice a boat has sprung a leak, in order to patch it up, we cannot fix social issues without discussing them. If students cannot learn about the flaws in the world around them, they are being primed for failure. DeSantis’ censorship of real-world issues only encourages stagnation.