A lot of folks are talking about woke or anti-woke these days. If woke is being “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice),” then count me in. My pediatric roots see all children as needing our care and compassion and nurturing, not just those of one’s choosing. Folks that argue for the latter live in a society that I do not recognize nor one that my loving mother would have recognized.
The governor of Florida takes great pride in his state being the place where woke goes to die. His administration ironically even goes so far as to note that woke is defined as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.” To deny those injustices and their ensuing implications is to take our society back decades.
Let’s look at some of the hot button “woke” issues –
- School choice – One is smeared as being woke if they rightfully argue that public school monies should be spent on public schools. Private schools and charter schools are wonderful educational options but only if open to all. Tax-payer monies are distributed to public schools because of the American ideal that an informed and educated public will lead to informed and educated citizens that exercise the ideal of caring for, caring about and working with our fellow citizens. Shunting money from our public school base to more restrictive or private schools denies the original intent of public education. Now, I often hear the argument that certain schools are lacking or substandard. An honest assessment will lead to the conclusion that we have let that happen and that a lot of that has occurred because systemic racism led to those significant discrepancies. One need only look at vast swaths of urban and rural America to see that reality. If it is being woke to demand a better, more equitable public school system for all, then count me in.
- Books – Certain books are being described as offensive by some folks. These folks claim that these books are leading to indoctrination and need to be removed from classrooms, libraries, and, I suspect, from sales all together. These markedly subjective assessments strike fear in those of us that hold the freedom of the press dear to our hearts and that hold the freedom to publish and distribute books as an essential tenet in a free society. Book banning under any name is frightening. If it is being woke to support book publishing and distribution to the limits of the law, then count me in.
- Gun regulation – Our Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear arms, so it is said. The framers of the Constitution did not envision the current carnage that exists in our society. As of 2/14/23, there have been 68 mass shootings in the USA. Firearms are now the number one cause of death for children in the United States. If it is being woke to say that something must be done about gun regulation, then count me in.
NBC Nightly News Newscast 2/14/23
- LGBTQ and transgender care – Folks that pursue different lifestyles out of desire or emotional need are not sub-human as many seem to portray them. I remember the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming back in 1998 and am appalled at the pervasive anti-gay rhetoric and hate that continues in our society for those that are judged to be different. I choose to accept those that pursue different lifestyles as my fellow humans/citizens worthy of my support, nurturing – and deserving of all medical care needed. If it is being woke to accept all people as our fellow humans and deserving of our love and care, then count me in.
- Systemic racism – I have read a series of books recently that have reawakened me to the reality of blatant racism present in our society during my formative years.1-6 A recent political candidate contended that such racism no longer exists.7 Yet he acknowledges that significant inequities led to past problems with the implication that since he rose above the social difficulties that racism no longer exists. Systemic racism has indeed existed in our society and I would contend that the lingering remnants thereof continue to disadvantage people of color. To deny such is troubling indeed. We should be reminded that race is a social construct, not a biological one. Society has chosen to identify folks by skin color but there is no biological basis for this distinction. Specifically, for children, the impacts of systemic racism have been substantial and are still present today.8,9
- Birth disparities
- Mental health disparities
- Socio-economic disparities including health insurance, segregated housing neighborhoods
- Educational disparities
- Chronic exposure to environmental agents
- Increased risk of poverty
- Increased childhood traumatic experiences leading to stress that have short-term and long-term consequences for health and emotional-behavioral development
- Race-based medicine has led to very unfortunate experimentation and then also medical care that was distributed in very inequitable ways over too many years.9
So, the current negative hubbub about trying to understand the history of racism in our country and how the lingering effects are still present is misplaced guilt on behalf of several political figures. It is justifiable that we continue this process. Such efforts are not intended to breed hate but are intended to seek solutions and to improve the lives of so many people that are currently affected. To try to squelch such efforts under the guise of saying that “critical race theory” (CRT) is un-American and that CRT attempts to blame and to raise fears of a group that are trying to teach children how to despise others is very upsetting. If it is being woke to acknowledge systemic racism and seek ways to improve the lives of those so affected, then count me in.
This scene from the late 1950s shows why we still have a lot to learn. Attempts to obtain an equal education were greeted with hate and anger.
Woke is a term that has taken on more meaning than initially intended. I find it hard to argue against trying to be aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues, including racial and social justice. I will continue to speak on behalf of children and families (and communities) that have suffered from past injustices, without fear. I will continue to seek solutions to school inequities, book banning, and gun regulation; to continue to provide comfort and care to LGBTQ/transgender individuals; and to fight the past and present aspects of systemic racism that are still present. If doing all of these things is considered to be woke, count me in.
- Brown-Nagin T. Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality. Pantheon Books, 2022. 497 pp.
- Wilkerson I. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Random House, 2020. 476 pp.
- Smith C. How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. Little, Brown, 2021. 336 pp.
- Turner D. Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 320 pp.
- Boyle K. The Shattering: America in the 1960s. WW Norton and Company, 2021. 456 pp.
- Kendi IX. How to be an Antiracist. One World, 2019. 305 pp.
- Trent M, Dooley DG, Dougé J, et al. The Impact of Racism of Child and Adolescent Health (a policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics). Pediatrics 144(2), 2019:e20191765.
- Wright JL, Davis WS, Joseph MM, et al. Eliminating Race-Based Medicine (a policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics). Pediatrics 150(1),2022:e2022057998.