Response to the Enactment of the ‘Stop Woke’ Act

On July 1, 2022, Gov. DeSantis’s Stop WOKE (Wrongs against Our Kids and Employees), embodied in FLORIDA HOUSE BILL 7, went into effect in the State of Florida. This unwarranted and unprecedented law weaponized White discomfort with being exposed to the realities of institutional and systemic racism and the plain facts of our nation’s racial history.

This law strikes directly at the work of the South Florida People of Color and our mission to dismantle racism through education and advocacy. Unfortunately, we expect that this unjust law will have some chilling effect on the work of our Unity360 Institute, which conducts diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training for colleges, universities, and corporate entities.

Nevertheless, we will not be silenced. Our work will continue because it is more critical now than ever.

As evidenced by this law, we are witnessing the reemergence of White supremacist ideology into our national and local politics, in a way not seen since before the 1960s, even to the point of becoming the modus operandi of a political party. Laws like HB 7 are expressions of this ideology that use policy violence to silence conversations that help to create a foundation for a more inclusive and equitable society. This is a countermovement in direct response to the popularity of the 1619 Project, which complicated the common understanding of America’s history by centering the Black experience in this country over 400 years, and the Racial Reckoning of 2020 in the aftermath of the murders of Ahmed Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. The combined effect of these social and intellectual movements, and the continuing echo for social justice and equity, are threats to those who are not interested in true inclusion or equity.

There are some people who are only comfortable with a narrative of America’s history that glorifies White triumph and promotes American exceptionalism, even when they were created at the expense of the lives and humanity of systemically marginalized groups like Blacks and Indigenous people.

Even DeSantis’s invocation of the word “our” in the title of this horrendous piece of legislation reveals his singular focus on the feelings of White people. He and the members of the legislature that passed this egregious law stand on the ridiculous belief that exposing “their” children to the facts of this nation’s history and current practices of institutional and systemic racism, as documented by the plain facts of history, is a “wrong” to them. But what of the Black and indigenous children in this state who need to understand the facts of their own history? What about the “wrongs” that are committed to employees of color who have for years suffered microaggressions and other forms of interpersonal and institutional bias, often unwittingly perpetrated by their colleagues, that affect their mental health and career trajectories?

DeSantis and the socially violent political agenda he has enacted in Florida is only a microcosm of what is to come if those of us who are committed to inclusion, justice, and equity are silent and disengaged. The constitutionally protected rights of speech and assembly have actively been curtailed. Our values of intellectual freedom are being attacked with censorship and book banning. False narratives of history are being enshrined into the state-sanctioned civic curriculum. These activities are not only dangerous but anti-democratic and a threat to our nation, now and in the future.

Each of us must determine where we stand and what we are willing to do to protect ourselves, our children, and our future. The South Florida People of Color maintains its commitment to building an equitable future for everyone.

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