Friday Shares (2-17-23) – Do You Prefer Being Awake or Asleep?

As we continue to see more news about states banning books and stopping access to teaching uncomfortable truths about our country’s past, it is even more important to do some homework to understand the throughlines that are present. As Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings noted in her talk on Cultural Relevant Pedagogy and Primary Sources to the Minnesota Historical Society this past August, “Because we don’t study our history, we act like everything is new.”

With the Stop WOKE act in Florida, continuing to be a top news story after the College Board’s decision to white wash its African American Studies course curriculum, it seemed important to take a deeper dive into the origin of the word “woke.” What is the history of this word? Where did it originate? Why has the meaning become negative? 

From a literal standpoint, it would seem that being awake would be a good thing as opposed to the alternative, staying asleep. This is where the quote from Dr. Ladson-Billings comes into play. Due to the lack of a commitment to discuss our country’s full history, there is an obliviousness to the explicit details of the story.  Those who are in positions to make these decisions (mainly white men) remain unwilling to pursue a more accurate portrayal of how we as a nation have arrived at our current position. Could we avoid this ebb and flow of pushes to “reconstruct” our country to a place where all men and women are guaranteed the same rights? 

Back to the history of the word woke, which according to an article from the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund titled HOW WOKE WENT FROM “BLACK” TO “BAD” notes that the use of the word goes all the way back to the 1920’s, “the use of “woke” as an in-group signal urging Black people to be aware of the systems that harm and otherwise put us at a disadvantage is documented as far back as the 1920s.”  Author Michael Harriot adds the following: “When you look at the long arc of history and America’s reaction to the request for Black liberation – every time Black people try to use a phrase or coin a phrase that symbolizes our desire for liberation, it will eventually become a cuss word to white people.” (i.e. Black Power, Black Lives Matter)

The post concludes with the following two paragraphs:

“It’s hard to get people to demonize human beings and lives and history. But it’s easy to get them to demonize a word. And if you can use that word as a placeholder for those people, for caring about those people, then it’s easy to demonize instead of saying, ‘We’re just gonna stop caring about people,’” Harriot concludes.

Okayplayer Senior News and Culture Reporter Elijah Watson agrees, “When I think of political figures like (Governor) DeSantis and the rampant fight against critical race theory — you are really trying to erase history and trying to erase knowledge that we need to grow better as a people. The fact that you are trying to hide these experiences all for the comfort of your white fragility is troubling, harmful, and, most importantly, dangerous. And that’s literally everything that woke goes against.”

Do those in control want to be better? Maybe a first question should be what does better looks like to you?

Recommended Read:

Who’s Afraid of History? – This essay from Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. weighs in on the importance of teaching the truth about our country’s history. Dr. Gates notes, “School is one of the first places where society as a whole begins to shape our sense of what it means to be an American. It is in our schools that we learn how to become citizens, that we encounter the first civics lessons that either reinforce or counter the myths and fables we gleaned at home.”

Lessons the Right Wing Does Not Want Taught – From Zinn Education Project, this page highlights three examples of lessons where students are able to explore U.S. History and develop a deeper understanding of our country’s past.  The site encourages readers to “Judge for yourself: “indoctrination” or an exploration of U.S. history that helps students think for themselves and shape a more just future?”

The Forgotten History of Eugenics – This piece from rethinking schools asks provides some much needed background into the Eugenics movement in the United States. In addition it poses the following important questions: “What is the economic and political context in which the contemporary version of educational reform is being touted? What are the assumptions about student learning that fuel the current wave of testing? What are the effects of this testing on the lives of students and the educational climate of schools? How do these tests affect the equitable distribution of educational resources and opportunities between different school districts?” 

Whiteness As Property – From the Harvard Law Review (1993) – “Professor Cheryl Harris examines how whiteness, initially constructed as a form of racial identity, evolved into a form of property, historically and presently acknowledged and protected in American law.”

Childbirth Is Deadlier for Black Families Even When They’re Rich, Expansive Study Finds –
This interactive page from the New York Times highlights the study, published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research that highlights “The richest Black mothers and their babies are twice as likely to die as the richest white mothers and their babies.”  The data shows that out of every 100,000 births, 173 of the babies born to the richest white mothers die before their first birthday as compared to 350 babies born to the poorest white mothers die, and 437 babies born to the richest Black mothers die. The data comes from a California study of 2 million births to new mothers between 2007 and 2016. 

Recommended Watch/Listen:

Bill Russell: Legend – As a lifelong Celtics fan, I learned a lot from this two-part Netflix documentary about the racism Russell endured. It is interesting to me that I don’t remember a lot of talk about the fact that Russell was the first black NBA coach or that the Celtics were the first team to play five black players together at the same time. The documentary highlights that while Russell and his teammates were winning all those championships, the racism he and his family endured in his white suburban Massachusetts community was despicable. The film also shows the incredible Civil Rights work Russell did alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali, and others. If you only know about Bill Russell’s incredible basketball resume, you don’t know Bill Russell.  Check out the trailer below:

Democracy-ish – This week’s episode featured Carol Anderson, best-selling author and Professor of African American Studies at Emory University. Check out this clip from the Democracy-ish YouTube channel and the entire episode here

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