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“Woke” Criminal

Sirens blared as if the sounds were bouncing off the hot pavement around me. My fast moving feet felt like they were not touching the ground like a Greek Pegasus running on air. However, my watery eyes reminded me I was not airborne, as I quickly peeked at my feet focused on not looking backwards as the furious rush of the wind pounded in my ears. Fearful tears leaked out of the corner and mixed with the increased sweat now dripped down my face into my dry mouth. I could taste the salted sweat and felt moisture balancing on the point of my nose. As I rounded each street corner, the police sirens dimmed to cascades of rising and falling wails. Once I finally stopped, my chest heaved with desperation for air, and pain shot through every fiber of my body. I felt as though my heart was wrenching my chest open, eager to be set free from its caged. My thoughts echoed my body’s confusion of an excited fear and relief all at the same.

Running from law enforcement is a triggered response born from circumstances and experience like a hand near a hot stove; you know, the closer you get, the greater the chance you get burned. So, you learn to run from the fire instinctively especially when the fire has flashing blue and red lights. Law enforcement did not directly chase after me, nor did the sirens  signify an alarm for something I did or might have done. My racing away toward perceived safety was because I was young, black, and scared. My fear kept me alert and awake to possible danger. Why run if you didn’t do anything? Innocence died a quick death in my community so you learn to adapt and overcome. Self-preservation made “stay woke” and self-aware of situations that may seem innocuous, like walking to the store turning into an opportunity to be swept up by the broad brush broom of law enforcement. A simple errand, a playground visit, or trip to corner store was fraught with danger within our community, and experience taught me not to be outside especially after dark in the wrong place or wrong time. But how are you supposed to know those blurred lines when the system dictates that your skin alone is offensive and being defensive is a crime based on the human condition of melanin or black skin?

The black community commonly used the phrase “Stay Woke” to signify not opposition but alertness to one’s circumstance and experience. As expressed through beautiful song, dance, and art, Black culture has long provided the backdrop for crossover effect in mainstream arts and entertainment. For example, I distinctly recalled the entertainment industry’s prolonged use of the popular hip-hop cultural phrase “Peace Out.” Movie and television actors often use the term “Peace Out” out of context, either purposelessly or ignorantly mocking the words. The appropriation of black culture in sports, arts, and entertainment is mind-boggling. This hijacking of ethnicity extends outside of black America to other minorities like Native Americans, Asians, Latinos, and Muslims, to name just a few. I often reflect on “heads up” as an acceptable term to describe awareness in the same view as “look alive.” So, it is interesting that white right-wing and GOP republicans have co-opted “Stay Woke” with an abbreviated term of “woke” with negative connotations. Their Anti-Wokeness campaign cuts at the very center of what makes our country such a rich diverse melting pot serving a smorgasbord of ideas contributing to this nation’s advancement from traffic lights to Space travel.

The Florida Governor leads a national GOP long view strategy similar to the long view strategy adopted and implemented in the 1960s called mass incarceration disenfranchisement stratagem. The plan to imprison predominately minority Americans, most notably black Americans, worked by carefully and strategically curating and pushing laws to criminalize drug addiction, creation of prosecution pathways from high school to prison, and an unfavorable and unyielding bail system underpinned by guilty plea bargain arrangements. Today, 60 years later, a similar but more sinister right-wing plan with a long strategic view takes shape. The scheme aims to break the common bonds of education as a catalyst for positive inclusion and diversity of ideas and lessons, to instead creating a western Christian nationalist ideology steeped in white supremacy; GOP Republicans have dressed up their ideology in a mockingly pretentious “anti-woke” law and anti-democratic teachings. The new law called Florida's Individual Freedom Act (IFA) prevents forced practices in the workplace or training that suggest that a person is in a state of privilege or oppression based  on race. The right-wing stratagem lays a foundation for grooming and converting students at a young age by erasing history and replacing diverse educational curricula used to bridge cultural gaps and foster less ignorance of contributions by all races, creeds, genders, and religions. Our American experiment is called a democracy. How is banning books and teaching revisionist history democratic?

Indoctrination of right-wing ideology is not a new idea but an idea with a renewed sense of urgency because of predictive population data models forecasting a different-looking America in the next 25 years. According to US Government Census data (remember when the former 45th President was messing with the census), the current white majority will be the minority as Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and Native Americans become a minority groups’ supermajority. So, the previous administration led by RepublicanSenate minority leader expeditiously appointed their right-wing justices to the Supreme Court and currently holds a 6-3 majority. The right-wing Supreme Court dutifully fulfilled their promises to overturn Roe vs. Wade in their recent Summer 2022 court decision. If you fear becoming the minority, it stands to reason banning abortion, further aims to preserve life at any cost, including taking a mother’s right to govern her own body, in an effort to slow down an impending and proverbial ‘changing of the guard.’ They know and understand the mistreatment visited upon minorities and they do not wish to be in that unenviable position; this is an admission of guilt of how the current systemic racism was built to function. Also, the creation of ‘can’t make white people feel bad’ legislation has passed into law in Florida and establishes the groundwork for revisionist history to mitigate the  majority’s sins, such as slavery, visited upon minorities. Many of these recent Florida laws and policies are not accidental but intentional in rehearsing and experimenting with political indoctrination in living laboratories like Hillsdale college. Hillsdale college in Michigan, a state where right-wing militia targeted and planned a kidnapping of the Governor and a state that experienced challenges to its 2020 presidential election results. The school’s curriculum teaches primarily and almost only western Christian-based education and whose graduates work for the right-wing.

Florida teachers and other state teachers face challenges in teaching. The anti-critical race theory (CRT) and anti-woke legislation face a very complicated and confusing way ahead regarding teaching and teachers not getting arrested. CRT emphasizes that the legacy of slavery affects American society through how it influences American laws and policies. Although there has been little evidence to suggest K-12 schools in the US teach CRT, Republicans in state legislatures have crafted specific legislation to ban CRT education; they railed against CRT on the midterm campaign trail. This misinformation campaign and weaponization of the term CRT is similar to election voting laws used to target minorities to suppress the vote and the attack on affordable health care as democratic socialism. Also, targeting the Covid-19 mask mandates as an infringement to peoples’ freedom instead of focusing on the protection offered by masks.

Yes, the struggle is real and so is the fear of teachers who care for their students and believe in education as a pathway to create a positive outcome for all students, not just a segment of the population. Imagine underpaid and overworked teachers having to decide whether to follow a strict western heritage curriculum or risk teaching factual history and cultural contributions to our country. Imagine teachers teaching a revised history as if segregation, civil rights, Jim Crow, and the women’s suffrage movement never happened; a world where teachers cannot discuss or teach the Tulsa Massacre and the Holocaust out of fear of breaking the law. Teachers place themselves in an unenviable position of having to do what is suitable for the student or follow the loaded school boards infiltrated by Greco Roman western heritage education supporters that dictate what books to read and lessons taught. The funny thing about the Florida law is the law does not have explicit instruction on the application of the law, so if left to interpretation, one can only imagine the results teachers may face if accused of breaking the law. Florida legislature created a law criminalizing ‘Wokeness’ amidst a growing number of unfilled teaching vacancies across the state of Florida. Many states are racing to fill teaching positions with creative employment opportunities like hiring military veterans and other professionals waiving many teaching prerequisites to ensure the implementation of their western Christian Right wing education.

Whether I am running from a police siren based on learned behavior from systemic and institutionalized racism or worried about the educational changes heaved upon us by the right-wing establishment, the same fear courses through the brain and body, leaving me numb. I have the same concern for the criminalization of cultural awareness or ‘wokeness’ to where the public and private education systems may have students running from school campuses and classrooms to their living rooms for homeschooling. With mass shootings becoming more prevalent and continued GOP lawmaker support of automatic rifle manufacture and sale, there is little doubt why the current shifting sands of education ushers in a new GOP line of attack predicated on an old strategy with the same goal of power preservation and concentrated wealth. Will it work like mass incarceration and prison privatization did? Perhaps it will, or just maybe, Americans will exercise their power to vote at local, state, and national levels.

The potential demographic threat to the right-wing establishment appears genuine, but it feels a bit like hiding in tall grass. So, the GOP focuses on immigration and their border war. In addition, Republicans, for over 30 years fought against abortion rights and abortion laws. But, the overturn of Roe vs. Wade, while good for the right-wing, it negatively impacts women and  families. Recall, the former administration policy on immigration removing children from their parents and the Homeland Defense doctor working at an Immigration Customs Enforcement facility that was conducting unauthorized and inappropriate hysterectomies; the privatized facility was ordered closed. I don’t if these actions coincide with GOP stratagem but the horrible actions align with anti-abortion laws, anti-women rights, prison privatization, and increased law enforcement funding and supply of military weapons.  All of these seemingly disparate actions across the nation have a common interest and serves a common cause.  The far-right-wing and wealthy supporters have the mutually assured goal of keeping the status quo and expanding their pro-white national Christian plan, which is a code for white supremacy. Remove the word ‘Christian’ from the equation because I don’t believe religion has anything to do with the subjugation of one race over another in their plan. So, we have “I can’t breathe,”; please don’t shoot”; “I’m unarmed”; and “I’m too afraid to Just Comply because my life does not matter.” I learned that most religions, including Christianity, feature a love for humanity and the sanctity of all lives with peaceful overtures, not supremacy, slavery, violence, or injustice. If my school teachers were ‘woke’ or they simply inspired and taught me well, then I guess I am a ‘Woke Criminal’ in a world spiraling out of control where facts are lies, and lies are the battle cry for the Anti-Woke majority police.

I think I heard a police siren; sorry got to run again. Grabbing my tablet and making a dash before evidence is planted again or my voter registration is revoked. Afterall, I am a writer and a “Woke Criminal”?

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