Fight for Racial Equity in ‘Woke America’

racial equity
Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao (Unsplash)

The centuries-long plea for racial equity should have been a wake-up call. But unfortunately, it took hundreds of years before people began to pay attention. Finally, when civil rights leaders of the 1950s and 60s, like Martin Luther King Jr., rose against oppression, many Americans woke up to this truth: It was high time to change racial dynamics and join the harrowing battle for Black Americans’ rights.

News of the country’s disparities in health care, education, political representation, and the legal system is an endless loop. Sadly, living in one of the three wealthiest countries in the world does not ensure racial equity in any aspect of a person’s life. Unfortunately, that reality disproportionately affects Black people in the United States.

racial equity
Created by Cathy Milne-Ware on Stencil App (Flickr PDM)

Statista’s 2021 report reveals income-related racial equity disparities: 19.5% of Black people lived below the poverty line, compared to Non-Hispanic Whites at 8.2% and Asians at 8.1%. The only ethnic groups that suffered more significantly were the Indigenous Americans and Alaskan Natives, at 24.3%.

The American Psychological Association (APA) created a portfolio of publications on ethnicity, race, and cultural affairs to promote awareness of racial inequity’s tremendous physiological and psychological impact.

Chronic stress, the APA points out, causes adverse side effects in everyone, regardless of age or ethnicity. However, there are unique psycho-social and contextual factors, such as the lack of racial equity — racism, and discrimination. “Race-related stress was a significantly more powerful risk factor than stressful life events for psychological distress,” according to authors of a Journal of Counseling Psychology paper.

Ongoing Struggle for Racial Equity and Equality

Understanding the struggle of America’s Black population requires knowing that true racial equality will never exist without racial equity. Paula Dressel from Race Matters Institute said:

racial equity
Courtesy of Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabons (Unsplash)

“The route to achieving [racial] equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly according to their circumstances.”

While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are pretty different: Equality is defined as the state of being equal. That means each person or group of people is given the same thing. In addition, equity means individuals or communities are provided the resources and opportunities needed to thrive.

According to the National Humanities Center, the Civil Rights Movement’s focus on racial equality is necessary to bring attention to the injustices of Jim Crow laws used to control Black people. Activists struggled to reshape the construct of White America, particularly between the early 1900s and 1960s.

While the fight for equality continues, the post-60s successes highlighted the need for racial equity. An example of equality without equity would be eliminating segregation by busing children to different schools but neglecting the need to improve schools and education quality within Black communities. The same applies to healthcare, laws, and emergency and social services.

Alarming statistics demonstrate America’s ongoing struggle for racial equity includes:

  • The Equal Justice Initiative indicates that 56% of race-related hate crime reports in the U.S. were motivated by anti-Black bias in 2020. Moreover, attacks against Blacks saw the most significant increase; 1,972 in 2019 to 2,755 in 2020.
  • The Prison Policy Initiative’s April 2022 press release indicates every race and ethnicity are overrepresented in prisons. That is, except for whites and Asians.

The Origin ‘Woke’ and How Extremists Distorted Its Meaning

Courtesy of Zach Vessels (Unsplash)

Independent news journalist Kate Nu explains that “woke” began appearing sometime in the 1940s. She asked linguist and lexicographer Tony Thorne what “woke” and “stay woke” meant. He responded that Black Americans first used the term to warn others to wake up, pay attention, and become aware of justice issues. These issues include racial equity and equality-related disparities.

When prompted with the request to find the “history of the word woke” on Google garnered over 20.4 billion results in support of and against woke ideology.

One of the best ways to stall racial equity and equality is to ignore the meaning behind being or staying woke: Like taking a lit match to a rosebud and destroying its potential.

Social justice warriors and white nationalists use “woke” for their purposes. The first group wears being woke as a badge to prove they are progressive and care about social justice. Whereas the second group uses woke as an insult to belittle anyone who disagrees with them, the enemy — real or imagined.

These conservative and liberal extremists weaponized being woke and twisted it into something entirely different from its origin. They contorted the call for humanity to unite under racial equity as a rallying cry to promote personal agendas.

Right-Wing Extremist Woke Agenda Denies Need for Racial Equity

Conservative extremists make up the majority of Anti-Black hate groups that press their ideology upon America’s politics, businesses, schools, and homes. They turn a blind to the plight of Black communities and relentlessly encourage their followers to do the same. Moreover, their primary agenda is to suppress racial equity, equality, and history.

White-power institutions claim that white-leftist-created education statistics support putting Black Americans back in chains. These folks whitewash slavery and dismiss racism’s realities. Furthermore, they contend that the call for racial equity and equality is merely a ruse by white Democrats determined to control minority groups’ lives.

racial equity
Courtesy of Gage Skidmore (Flickr CC0)

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act in April 2022. The legislation “prohibits lessons or training that teach that individuals are inherently racist or sexist because of their race or sex, that people are privileged or oppressed due to their race or sex, and other related concepts,” according to Education Week.

Newly elected U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) promised Americans that he and his colleagues would stop the immigration problem at the Southern border. Republican House members also plan to fix the “woke indoctrination in our schools.” In addition to LGBTQ folks, Speaker McCarthy and Freedom Caucus hope to erase Black history and every hope of racial equity.

A prime example of conservatives agitating liberals can be found on Intellectual Takeout’s website with post titles that provoke strong reactions, such as “A Reading List to Drive the ‘Woke’ Crowd Crazy.” Annie Holmquist points out that her booklist takes apart or deviates from the inclusivity that wokeness strives to gain.

Left-Wing Extremist Woke Agenda Supports Everything

Well-meaning liberals push the envelope when it comes to their interpretation of wokeness. While they promote racial equity and equality, they use the same passion to support issues covering LGBTQ, gender identity, children, animals, women, marginalized people, and more.

Courtesy of Sandra Seitamaa (Unsplash)

These are practical concerns, but their approach is radical and not focused.

Their ideology does not allow for tolerance. As a result of their small-mindedness, these so-called influencers are free speech police; they condemn anyone who does not fall into lockstep with them. Worse, they think this proves they are enlightened.

Nonetheless, these activists’ actions have ended with individuals being fired for statements or actions. Conservatives use the word canceled when making a point about “leftists” causing the firing of someone who broke their unwritten and ever-evolving rules. These actions are not those of enlightened people who understand the concepts of equality and racial equity.

Woke = Enlightened

Wokeness encompasses an understanding of racist discrimination, its origin, and its effect on Black communities. And a person cannot be woke without being enlightened.

The problem is that extremists either claim they are woke or use the word as an insult. Neither group grasps the need for changes in how white Americans view and treat Black people.

Moreover, they do not understand or agree that racial equity and equality will not happen without everyone working toward the same goal.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware


VOX: A history of “wokeness;” by Aja Ramano
Medium: The Evolution of ‘Woke;’ by Tiffany Markman
NAACP: Civil Rights Leaders
American Psychological Association: Physiological & Psychological Impact of Racism and Discrimination for African-Americans
Suicide Prevention Resource Center: Racial and Ethnic Disparities
Equal Justice Initiative: FBI Reports Hate Crimes at Highest Level in 12 Years
Prison Policy Initiative: Beyond the count: A deep dive into state prison populations: by Leah Wang, Wendy Sawyer, Tiana Herring, and Emily Widra
CNBC: U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy pledges to tackle immigration, ‘woke’ education policies, and IRS funding

Featured and Top Image by Nathan Dumlao Courtesy of Unsplash
First Inset Image by Cathy Milne-Ware Courtesy of Flickr – Public Domain License
Second Inset Image by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabons Courtesy of Unsplash
Third Inset Image by Zach Vessels Courtesy of Unsplash
Fourth Inset Image by Gage Skidmore Courtesy of Flickr – Creative Commons License
Fifth Inset Image by Sandra Seitamaa Courtesy of Unsplash

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