By his own admission, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has attempted to prevent residents, schools, and corporations in Florida from becoming actively attentive to important societal facts and issues – especially issues of racial and social justice. This is clear in his rhetoric and support surrounding the state’s so-called “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act.”
In addition to demonizing Latinx and Black immigrants coming from the U.S. southern border and using their bodies as props to promote himself and his far-right agenda, DeSantis and Republicans in the state legislature passed the Stop W.O.K.E act to supposedly provide businesses, employees, children, and families the legal means of opposing alleged “woke indoctrination.”
The bill bans the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other discussions around the country’s racial history in schools, and it also bans diversity and inclusion training in corporations.
During his second inaugural address on January 3, DeSantis declared, “We reject this woke ideology. We seek normalcy, not philosophical lunacy. We will not allow reality, facts, and truth to become optional.” And then he pledged, “We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.”
In his statement and actions, DeSantis is not allowing reality, facts, and truth to enter the public sphere.
DeSantis is not only criminalizing discussions of race and racism, but he is also preventing Florida residents from actively attending to important facts and issues of sexuality and gender as well.
On Tuesday, June 7, 2022, a large van from the Broward County Florida public school department drove up in front of the Stonewall National Museum and Archives in Fort Lauderdale. In the van, Broward County school officials had filled boxes of children’s books on LGBTQ+ themes taken from county classrooms and school libraries for donation to the museum.
While county officials claimed the donations were the result of their attempts to clear shelves and office space for the accumulation of other subject matter, it is no mere coincidence that Florida’s so-called “Parental Rights in Education” law, referred to by opponents as the Don’t Say Gay law, was to take effect weeks later on July 1, 2022.
Passed primarily by Republicans in the state legislature and signed into law by DeSantis, the new law reads in part: “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Florida has positioned itself at the tip of the spear to cut and bleed to death school curricular materials on topics of race, gender, and sexual identity, but most schools, as reproductions of the larger society, function on an overarching system of racism, heteronormativity, and other forms of oppression.
A December 2022 progressive political panel in Denver titled “Straight White American Jesus” (after Podcast of the same name) focused on the topic of white Christian nationalism in the United States. Speakers discussed the major components of Christian nationalism: “innocence” in history and “purity culture.”
Sara Moslener, a lecturer in religion at Central Michigan University, asserted that these concepts of “innocence” and “purity culture” are often located in white Christian nationalism, stemming from colonial history when whiteness was coupled with freedom and innocence.
“The innocence that is connected to white racial identity has been a… delusion that has worked really well in giving white people a sense of specialness, a sense of ‘we have something in common with one another,’” she said. “There is this sense that we are innocent of all of these things, and white Christian nationalism says: Well, this was all part of God’s plan.”
Moslener continued by explaining the concept of “purity culture,” taken from conservative evangelical Christianity, which opposes abortion rights and homosexuality and adheres to traditional gender roles and sexual abstinence before marriage for women. She claimed that this is also foundational to Christian nationalism. This “purity culture,” is mainly about “evangelicals gaining political power.”
“White Christian Nationalism is steeped in myths of national innocence and this idea that the founding of the United States was a God-anointed beginning,” Moslener said. And this is connected as a movement by a unified commitment to a social order of a shared theology of family, and a shared perception of gender roles, sexuality, and gender expression.
Katherine Stewart, an investigative journalist and author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism who was also on the panel said of Christian nationalism, “It’s not a single religion, it’s both an ideology – a set of ideas — and it’s also a political movement – an organized quest for power.”
“Many politicians have tried to ally themselves with this ideology to promote it,” Stewart said, citing Ron DeSantis, who identified himself with this ideology to gain votes in his political campaigns, and now it seems in his quest for the White House.
So, as DeSantis and the growing number of politicians and state and national conservative caucuses push for similar “anti-WOKE,” “anti-CRT,” and “anti-LGBTQ+” regulations and laws in the schools, as well as restrictions on diversity and inclusion discussions in businesses, their not-so-hidden agenda is intended to bring the nation closer to the patriarchal white Christian nationalist ideals attempted in other Fascist movements.
Power-hungry autocrats understand that an informed awake populace increases the chances of mass challenges to their authority, as history has clearly shown. But if the white power structure can severely restrict and downgrade the education of people they deem outside this structure – people of color, non-Christians, non-cisgender, and non-heteronormative individuals – then they believe their domination will be assured.
However, allowing free and age-appropriate discussions of the “hard” history connected to race and racism unmasks this Christian nationalist myth of “white innocence.” And free and age-appropriate discussions of topics around sexuality and gender knock out of the water the propagation of their invention of some sort of “purity culture” destined by God.
Anti-wokeness is anti-awareness, and that is DeSantis’ intent.