If you’re a “Woke” person, you number among a bunch of folks who feel they are a class cut above most everyday Americans. Any woke person knows what that means. You don’t need to look up the definitions to know what “woke” means. If you ARE “woke,” you’ve opened your eyes and become socially engaged. And if you’re in that self-proclaimed classification, you need to educate yourself on current events and political issues. Being “woke” is being plugged in and actively aware and involved with the world around you.
However, the word holds a partisan undertone that we usually don’t even notice, and if we do, we probably agree with it. The word “woke” implies that to support the liberal viewpoint is to be socially aware — that’s the ONLY way to be socially aware. Woke people are heavily informed and actively involved with liberal social issues. If you’re leading a Black Lives Matter protest, you’re probably “woke.” If you’re calling your congressperson to advocate for Planned Parenthood, you’re probably “woke.” However, if you’re handing out pro-life leaflets, you probably will not wear the “woke” label.
This biased nomenclature is rooted in a belief held by some on the left that people are only conservative because they are uneducated. If only people were smarter, more informed, more “woke,” they would surely see the Democratic light and switch sides. Nevertheless, it is crucial to see the fault in this mindset.
Some of the most “woke” — socially informed and engaged — people I know are “woke” from the right. I know conservatives who watch the news 24/7 and don’t let a single current event slip their notice. I know people who utilize grassroots efforts to engage with their community to raise awareness for an issue that is of the utmost importance to them: anti-abortion legislation. Conservatism is not about being misinformed, and being “woke” is not about liberalism. There are educated, impassioned individuals on all sides of an issue.
I acknowledge that the origins of the word “woke” stem from the black community and its fight for equality. I understand that, historically, racial equality has been primarily driven by liberals, and hence the historical connection between the word and partisanship is natural. However, “woke” is spreading. It is taking on new meaning and new reach. “Woke” is starting to become an umbrella term for all that is just, thus making justice synonymous with Democratic political platforms.
Such usage of language is merely one example of rampant political polarization in the United States. We would rather assume that people on the other side are misinformed or downright idiotic than acknowledge the viability (and the necessity) of different opinions or priorities.
Furthermore, we have reached a point where we often isolate ourselves from people with differing political opinions. This is harmful in the obvious sense: It diminishes open, enriching political discourse. However, even more harmful is the reduction of individuals with whom we disagree to nothing more than their political beliefs. We allow our own self-image to be defined by our political identification. We fail to realize that people are more than their votes for Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, or Donald Trump. People have families, friends, hobbies, passions, thoughts, and priorities. A Trump voter is not necessarily a raving racist, and a Clinton voter is not necessarily trying to leech off your hard-earned money. They are simply people who have different opinions than you. Those opinions do not make them dumb or evil. Those opinions do not have to mean that they are not “woke.” They are different, but they are not invalid.
A Biden voter: that’s a conversation for another day!
The Flip-side Of the Wokeness Coin
“If you hate wokeness, you should vote for Joe Biden.” So said one writer in the run-up to last November’s elections. It was a sentiment that echoed across what we might call the respectable “anti-woke” world: that Trump is to identity politics what kerosene is to a dumpster fire, so a win for the moderate Joe Biden would calm everyone down.
Unfortunately for the “woke” crowd, Biden’s presidency has done nothing to diffuse racial paranoia. On the contrary, it’s getting more feverish. We’ve seen the New York Times eliminate its star COVID-19 reporter because he once used the “n-word” in a private conversation about racist language. Teen Vogue canned its new editor over jokes she made about Asians on Twitter as a teenager. And six Dr. Seuss books have been withdrawn, never to be printed again, over “racist images.”
No issue can be too silly or too serious to be left unracialized by the “wokesters.” After two horrendous mass shootings in March in Atlanta and Boulder, the bodies were barely cold before they were declared victims of “white supremacist domestic terrorism,” Hollywood’s guru over political extremism, Rosanna Arquette, wrote hours after the Boulder shootings.
The Atlanta shooter targeted Asian-run massage parlors, but the FBI said it did not believe the white, sex-crazed killer was racially motivated. New Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock disagreed: “We all know hate when we see it.” The same story was published about Boulder, where 10 people had been gunned down in a grocery store — until the suspect turned out to be a Syrian American named Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa. It’s hard to turn that into white supremacy.
Racism has become a kind of theory of everything for the American intellectuals or “woke” folks. This new religion has its roots in “critical race theory,” which holds that little real progress has been made since the Sixties and that racism remains structurally, culturally, and psychologically ingrained in American society. According to this worldview, racism is everywhere. And, of course, if you see otherwise, it’s because you’re blind, not because it isn’t there. Confronting racism’s various intrusions in our lives — real or imagined, historical or contemporary — apparently requires constant, hair-trigger vigilance.
This thinking has been mainstreamed recently by a pack of best-selling authors, led by Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, who have boiled it down to a series of slogans. In Kendi’s words, “There is no such thing as a not-racist idea, only racist ideas, and antiracist ideas.” His type of worldview is a recipe for hysteria. And in this, America’s colleges continue to lead the way.
In January, the UIC John Marshall Law School in Chicago put Professor Jason Kilborn on indefinite leave. It barred him from campus after students claimed to be “incredibly upset” by one of his exam papers. The paper, describing a discrimination case, featured the “n-word,” written, “n_____” for sensitivity’s sake. Kilborn arranged a Zoom meeting with one of the offended students to smooth things over. He joked that the dean might think he (Kilborn) was “homicidal.” According to Kilborn, the student then told the campus authorities that he really was homicidal, thus triggering his expulsion from campus.
The “woke” left used the killing of George Floyd last year to push identity politics out of the colleges and into the streets. In a moment of universal horror at what appeared to be a brutal, racist murder, identity politicians offered straightforward answers.
This was not one horrible incident or even an example of one specific problem. They said: it was just the most extreme end of everyday white racism. This explanation comes, according to a writer in TIME, from white people complimenting black women on “how pretty our hair looks when we wear it straight” to cops “literally suffocating black people.” That’s true — you can’t make this stuff up!
There was an attempt to initiate a sense of white collective guilt for Floyd’s death. “White people, you are the problem,” thundered an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. Creepy public displays of penance followed this. In Bethesda, Maryland, a group of whites held their arms up and pledged to tackle “racism, anti-blackness or violence” and to “do everything in my power to educate my community.” In North Carolina, white pastors washed the feet of black pastors while begging God for forgiveness.
A guy named David Shor, a progressive data analyst lost his job at a consultancy firm after tweeting the results of a paper claiming to show that race riots might hurt the Democrats in an election. Even expressing allegiance to Black Lives Matter in insufficient detail got some people canceled: the president and board chairman of the Poetry Foundation were forced to resign because their post-Floyd statement of solidarity was deemed too brief to be taken seriously.
All this legitimizes what John McWhorter, a dissident on race issues, has been saying for a while: anti-racism has become a religion — not like a religion but actually a religion, complete with a doctrine of original sin, gospel, and a pretty hard line on heresy. Just as original sin must be reckoned with but cannot be overcome, McWhorter said, nor can the taint of “white privilege.” The anti-racist movement has drifted, he says, “from a commitment to changing society to a narrower commitment to signaling antipathy to racism and leaving it there.”
Then last summer, along came the U.S. company rush to “wokeness.” Corporate America fell spectacularly, with Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola, and others pledging their allegiance to the Black Lives Matter movement. They all engaged in hollow performances that required them to give up nothing other than their dignity — something summed up by the photo of Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, taking the knee in front of a Chase bank vault.
One of Biden’s first acts as president was to cancel Trump’s ban on critical race theory. He dropped the usual buzzwords, from “systemic racism” to “equity.” And he even joined in the cancellation of Dr. Seuss by removing any mention of him from the presidential proclamation on Read Across America Day, which marks Dr. Seuss’s birthday.
A bunch of folks are looking at identity politics as anything but silly. If you’re one of those people, flush it from your mind. “Wokeness” is the “acceptable” means through which racial thinking is being peddled today. Its high priests see the experiences and interests of blacks and whites as irreconcilably different. As Robin DiAngelo puts it in White Fragility, “I have a white frame of reference and a white worldview, and I move through the world with a white experience.” Meanwhile, black people are portrayed as permanent victims.
Racial stereotypes are being rehabilitated in the politically correct form. Last year the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture released an educational guide to talking about race, in which it said that “hard work,” “politeness,” and “objective, rational linear thinking” were examples of “white culture.” It’s a claim many white racists would enthusiastically agree with.
Slowly but surely, the idea that blacks and whites need to be separated for their own safety or self-fulfillment is once again taking hold. In September, Ibram X. Kendi went on a tear against interracial adoption, suggesting that Amy Coney Barrett was a “white colonizer” who wanted to “civilize” her adopted Haitian children.
Woke politics is ugly and destructive. It does nothing to improve the lives of hard-up minorities because it is obsessed with only language rather than ordinary people’s lives. Its ideas about group-based privilege and victimhood are as likely to hide class inequalities as expose them. All it has achieved is to push America into racial paranoia and to call into question the old civil-rights ideals of color-blindness: the hope that one day people would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. so beautifully put it.
If you are shaking your head right now, I urge you to pause for a moment. Can you look at yourself and label one single opinion that comprehensively defines your entire identity? I certainly hope not. We should all acknowledge our complexities as individuals and refuse to be defined by a single term. Then we should extend this same courtesy to others. If Americans en masse refuse to do this, we are headed down a long, dark, and narrow road. We know where the “wokesters” say they want to take us down that road. But I doubt more and more each day that their expressed destination for all this is really where we’re headed.
For me, I can sum up where I stand on all this is one statement: I don’t want to be “woke!” I don’t want to restrict my definition of activism and intelligence only to include those who agree with me politically. I want to be open-minded and engaged. I want to be informed and passionate. I want to be an advocate and a human being beyond political issues. Maybe we can broaden the definition of “woke” to include these characteristics from both sides of the political spectrum, but until then, I remain happily “un-woke.”