First Words

Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act” is about White people’s comfort

When did comfort become our highest aspiration?

Getting people good and scared is a great way to pass controversial legislation. Convince them that their way of life or thinking is in danger—use fear to arouse and monopolize their brain—and you have the potential to enact absurd legislation. When people are afraid, what they want is protection. And since instilling fear is a lot easier than instilling courage, legislation that promises to protect fear-filled people often gains public traction fast.

The Florida legislature recently passed the Individual Freedom bill, which Governor Ron DeSantis calls the Stop WOKE Act, in which WOKE is an acronym for wrongs to our kids and employees. The bill basically broadens the definition of discrimination to include making another person uncomfortable over historical, factual events that involve people’s race, nationality, or gender.

Ever since critical race theory emerged as a bogeyman of the right, many conservatives have doubled down on the idea that discrimination against White people today is a bigger problem than unfair treatment of racial and ethnic minorities in the past. It’s no secret that far-right conservatives purposely misconstrue CRT as an ideology to indoctrinate people with racial conflict rather than a methodology that might encourage people toward racial literacy. Various legislators and school boards have seized on CRT as an existential threat to America, turning their larger ignorance about the theory itself into shorthand for any teaching lesson that fosters discomfort among White people.