Please pardon my exercise in dumbology. I don’t know it all, and the saving grace of it is that I know I don’t know it all. However, I am a smart guy. Graduated top of my class, and the hung a medal around my neck. Take that with a grain of salt, but I ain’t stupid. I just don’t know it all, and this is a subject where I have deficiencies. Perhaps readers here can (did I just use the plural?) help me.
The word “woke” isn’t new to me. When I was young and learning to talk, it was the past tense form of wake. It was what I DID in the morning as I stretched and yawned. It is just as true today as it was then.
Online, I read where the origins of its use in racial/social justice circles began a long time ago, maybe before I was born, but that it gained notoriety in about 2014 in the (dare I say) wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. The Black Lives Matter “movement” pushed the term into the popular discourse. (So, I read it online.)
I can’t say the term stuck out to me in that incident. The first I recall it, one of my kids asked me about it. I estimate that was in 2015 when the lad was still in high school. He asked me if I knew what it meant, which I did not. Right now, I do not have a clear recall of his definition, but I remember it distilled in my mind as the word the kids used these days to say “cool.” If something is “woke” today, it means the same thing as “cool” did when I was young.
I realize now there was more to it than that, but I rocked along for the next five years or so not using the term myself but translating it in my mind as “cool” when I heard it.
I’m not sure the point when I first heard conservative politicians and pundits use the term with disdain, but I expect it crossed my radar a time or two during Trump’s presidency, but made its parlance felt by me in the last two years since Trump’s stormy loss of the election. I certainly recall it on the lips of Ron DeSantis.
Now… keep in mind that I am running around thinking this is a term the kids use to say something is “cool” and all these staunch conservatives are in a tizzy over it. I began associating it with “The Left” as a favorable term and pejorative with “The Right.” And like so much else wrong with “The Right” (not that I believe “The Right” is wrong about everything, nor that I believe “The Left” is right about everything, but that one of the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot with stupidity things wrong with “The Right” in particular) is how so much stink is made over a word the kids are using these days.
So, I dabbled in a small google search. Not full-blown research, but a quick looksie at the issue, and I discovered the term is closely related to race issues in particular. This both modified my understanding (it’s not simply the new word for “cool”) and raised my hackles a bit. Afterall, ONE of the main regular sticking points I have with “The Right” is the not-so-infrequent abuse of people based on race and the ever-present (so it seems) lack of sensitivity. This is my critique FROM WITHIN since I am rather conservative and come from a strong heritage of white, middle-class conservatives. (Again, not a full-blown rejection of all things conservative by any stretch.)
Allow me to split hairs on the Michael Brown shooting, for instance. I am a white conservative, based on what I have seen about that case, I am not satisfied that Brown didn’t provoke his own shooting. I don’t see Mr. Brown as a completely innocent victim who was just minding his own business, who was compliant with authorities and was summarily executed strictly on the basis of race. I don’t.
That said, I do however, question the authorities still. Why was this young man left to die on the street, and once dead allowed to languish there? The shooting MIGHT – notice I say MIGHT – have been justified. (That part, I am unsure of.) BUT what happened afterward does not pass the smell test. Brown seems to have been demeaned, his neighborhood SEEMS to have been bullied by the event, and the cops APPEAR to have covered their tracks rather than acting with transparency.
Personally, I think Brown’s is one of the weaker links in the BLM movement’s chain of protests. Most of the others are far more solid. I’m still upset about Rodney King. I think there are some questions there too about policies and procedures, but not enough to give a pass to the cops who beat him mercilessly as we plainly see on video. I have questions about Sandra Bland too, but I think the system pretty much got George Floyd’s case right. I am concerned that the rookies in that case are paying a price heavier than they should, but holding them to account is still right, I think.
I don’t claim to have it all right, but I think I have demonstrated in the opinions I share where I am not on either bandwagon, but a critic from within the conservative side of things. I don’t want to “defund the police” at all. I want everyone to respect the police, but I want the police held accountable, and where the trust is broken, I want those troublemakers removed. I want the police to be transparent. They need to answer to the public and account for actions and decisions in the light of day.
That just makes sense. It’s fair. It may not iron out every wrinkle, but it irons out the big ones.
But… back to “woke”…
In the hands of conservative loudmouths on TV and the internet, “woke” is an ideology. If I listen to BLM, that may well be, but it’s a racial justice oriented ideology. I’m not getting that sense from “The Right.” When I hear the phrase “woke ideology” on the lips of “The Right,” it echoes like the paranoid sense of anti-communist McCarthyism of yesteryear in my ear. It’s reactionary and doesn’t seek any understanding; it seeks only scorn, fear, and rejection.
It wasn’t until I listened to Bill Maher give an opinion (as a liberal critic from within, I might add) that I saw the use of the phrase “woke ideology” being used in a truly broad sense. Maher even saved the phrase from the echoes of anti-communist rhetoric of bygone days, in my opinion. He chose to demonstrate to his fellow liberals an instance of what makes conservatives so justifiably hostile and angry.
Hmmm… Do tell…!
I was all ears. This is a liberal opinionater of all people lecturing other liberals about what is wrong with their “woke ideology” as it comes across to conservatives. If you ask me, that’s an olive branch moment in the hostile world of politics. He may or may not be right or accurate in his opinion, but he might be close. He might shed some real light on a common interest.
However, Maher’s critique of “woke” had nothing to do with racial justice. This is a point not lost on me. In fact, his case-study/example was lifted from Canadian headlines, which means it’s not an issue for Republicans/Democrats in the USA, except as an interesting coincidence. But perhaps Maher tapped into the meaning of “woke” as it is kicked around by conservatives (people who like me don’t really know it’s origins or proper usage).
Maher pointed to the case of Kayla Lemieux, a shop teacher in Ontario, Canada who is “transgendered” – another term I struggle with, but don’t wish to be insensitive about either. Mr/Ms Lemieux is, as I understand it, in transition from male to female, and yet like anyone else, is out to make a living. In Lemieux’s case, the livelihood is earned as a shop teacher in a high school, teaching young people.
The case is already a fairly extreme example of a liberal issue, but it’s exacerbated greatly by the fact that Lemieux wears exceptionally (and I mean grotesquely exceptionally) large breast prosthetics. The papers call them “abnormally large,” but I’m happy to go with “grotesque.” (Look it up for photo’s if you must.)
Maher points out this as the kind of crap, the kind of “woke ideology,” being forced down the throats of conservatives which is, in the end, grotesquely extreme. Conservatives don’t want someone like that educating their young, impressionable students. How is a student supposed to take shop class seriously with a teacher in this condition?
You know what?
I get it.
I have sensitivities about being sensitive. If Lemieux, and others like him/her, are facing bullies for their sexual identity/behaviors and the like, I want rules and laws in place to stop it. I think what happened to Matthew Shepard was a crime. There’s no place for that. But I don’t want my son in shop class with a teacher whose sexual issues are grotesque like a freakshow either, and I think laws and rules that protect that are like a pendulum swinging too far the other way.
Back to “woke” again…
By now, I am allowing “woke” to mean a lot more than it really means in the true sense. But words and phrases change over time. When my grandpa was a kid, “gay” meant he was happy! I grew up knowing that, but careful not to use the word that way since it had already been so thoroughly hijacked. I expect something similar is happening to “woke.” It’s hijacked, and we are still in process with the linguistic hijacking.
But taking a long post to explain it (assuming my opinions about various issues along the way in this discussion don’t turn a reader into a blind rage over the extemporaneous/explosive points along the way) surely proves enlightening. Perhaps we can still use the word “woke” for the past tense of waking up in the morning. Perhaps we can use it to refer to racial and social justice matters. Maybe we can use it a pejorative term referring to extreme liberal views, or worse for any liberal views. But we probably need to stop and explain our usage. Context alone won’t always be enough to clarify.
Please feel free to clarify it to me. I’m interested….