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Time to wake up; White supremacist violence is no unicorn

Its governor, Ron DeSantis, likes to say that Florida is where “woke” comes to die.

In fact, it is where Black people come to die. They don’t have to come there, either. Many who were born and raised there are shot, bludgeoned, butchered and hanged by a succession of anti-woke activists who are better described as white supremacists, a longstanding and sturdy demographic in the Sunshine State.

The latest victims were three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville where they should have been carrying out the chores of a routine day. Instead, they were murdered by a gun-toting racist who knew nothing about his prey other than the color of their skin. Earlier that day he had been chased off the campus of an historically Black college campus where he intended to carry out his carnage.

Jacksonville is no stranger to the rule of white supremacy. It was the site of Ax Handle Sunday where white racists savagely beat Blacks who were staging a peaceful outdoor sit-in to protest racial inequality.

Until recently, Jacksonville also boasted a statue to Nathaniel Bedford Forrest on public property. Forrest was a Confederate general who in defense of the right to enslave people allowed his troops to kill American soldiers, even those who had surrendered. Bedford later founded the Ku Klux Klan. You don’t have to be woke to understand the message that his statue sent in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville is hardly an outlier. During the 50 years when lynching Black people was the de facto law of the South, Florida led the nation in number of lynchings per capita. One wouldn’t be surprised if they boasted of that on their Welcome to Florida signs at the state’s border.

When lynching proved to be too slow, white mobs eradicated entire cities where Black citizens had the audacity to own homes, run businesses, establish schools, and build solid lives.That happened in Rosewood, for example, and in Ocoee, where Blacks had to flee their community forever, leaving behind not only their livelihoods but also generational wealth that could have been passed down to their descendants.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Ocoee – sometimes called the bloodiest day in the history of U.S. politics – then you might be a graduate of Florida’s public schools where the DeSantis administration has forbidden the teaching of the atrocity. Student will learn, however, that enslaved people benefitted from learning new trades.

The day before the Jacksonville murders, Vivek Ramaswamy – who, like DeSantis, is running for president – smugly denied the existence of widespread racism in America. He said he would more likely see a unicorn than a white supremacist.

It would seem to be bad timing that less than 24 hours later, three innocent Blacks were gunned down not by a unicorn but by a white supremacist. But Ramaswamy doubled down. It wasn’t racism that causes these deaths, he said, it’s all this talk about racism. If people would just quit talking about it, then “the last few burning embers of racism” would disappear.

Racism in the United States doesn’t resemble embers as much as it mirrors the wildfires in Maui. Terrorism authorities list white supremacy as both the biggest threat and most frequent cause of extremist activity in the U.S.

A few examples of the “embers” of which Ramaswmy speaks: Black worshippers gunned down in a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015; Black shoppers killed in a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2022; Latinos slaughtered in a Wal Mart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019; Sikhs murdered in a temple in Wisconsin in 2012; Jewish worshippers shot in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018.

In each case, the killer was an avowed and unapologetic white supremacist who did not know any of his victims but who targeted them because of their race, ethnicity, or religion. “They will not replace us,” was their consistent motivation.

Meanwhile, politicians such as DeSantis take pride in being anti-woke. But what does woke mean? Originally, it was a term used by progressives to describe people who were informed, educated, and conscious of social injustice and racial inequality.

It’s clear that DeSantis, Ramaswamy and others of their ilk don’t want to be characterized as believers in justice or racial equality. What’s disturbing is how many are willing to follow their lead.

America does have a racist past. Racism played an existential role in the nation’s development. White supremacy still exists. And it will continue to wield its power as long as we continue to pretend it isn’t there.

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