Salvo 03.03.2023 6 minutes

Woking Up

People are marching on strike against racism

Progressives argue that failing to define their terms their way is racist.

A recent Washington Post article starkly displays the evidence-free condescension of the Left. In the guise of news, Post reporters Ashley Parker and Liz Goodwin assert that Republicans are too muddled to attack woke ideology because purportedly they can’t define “woke,” and besides, any attack on wokeism is—naturally—racist.

Parker and Goodwin effectively warn whites who oppose progressive dogma to keep the word “woke” out of their racist mouths. Like the “N-word,” “woke” is reserved only to people of color and those who pretend to support them, though even the use of “woke” by progressives apparently is cultural appropriation. Debate about wokeism is racist because, unknown to almost all of us, before being “co-opted” by whites, “woke” purportedly had its origin in a long-forgotten 1938 protest song “The Scottsboro Boys.” Parker and Goodwin incorrectly write that in that song blues singer Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter “urges Black America to ‘stay woke’ to social and political injustice as well as physical violence.” In fact, Ledbetter’s reference came in an unmemorable spoken afterword, here at 04:31, as a warning against physical danger, not social justice.

Both before and after 1938, urging people to “stay awake” to danger was common. Those uses of “awake” are at most etymological footnotes to today’s usage, not that it matters who first used “woke” for its current meaning. The fact is that progressives—not their opponents—chose to self-identify their philosophy as “woke,” and there is no credible basis for the claim that those who oppose wokeism are thinking about Lead Belly, or any other use or user of the term “woke,” or any variation thereof.

Accusing those who oppose wokeism of racism is calumny, without a scintilla of substance.

Two of the Left’s favorite strategies are to change the long-accepted meanings of universally understood terminology, and to make the use of disfavored words politically unpalatable, including neutral terms such as equality, ex-con, addict, inmate, pedophile, illegal alien, and woman, among others. A Stanford University report even advocated banning the use of “American.” The replacements are usually tongue twisting phrases that seek to eliminate responsibility, elevate victimhood, and demean traditional values.

According to progressives, who insist that considerations of race must guide all decisions, and a like-minded president whose “whole-of-government” policy is to elevate race over merit, they aren’t racists, and can’t be, because they have changed the definition of “racism” to require the offender be white. He, she, or they who controls language controls the debate. “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words,” George Orwell wrote.

After the November 2021 elections, as Americans finally began to reject woke-speak and the progressive agenda, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez informed us that “woke” is a term used only by old people, and a Slate writer tweeted that woke is a “racial slur” stolen from blacks. The Washington Post followed up last year with a column from Bijan Bayne, who admitted that most people “would be surprised to learn that ‘woke’ originated in the deepest trenches of Black nationalism,” referring to the prior, common usage “wake up.”

Akin to guerilla warfare, progressives attack, and then, by disavowing their own terminology and falsely accusing their opponents of racism, seek to shift the dialectic so their opponents lack the language with which to respond.

To further delegitimize the well-understood meaning of “woke,” Parker and Ashley clumsily feign confusion by falsely characterizing examples of woke behavior offered by leading Republicans as their inability to define it. In a non-sequitur, they support their thesis by observing that the Army doesn’t acknowledge that its woke agenda is impeding recruitment. Their analysis is misinformation and disinformation—the type of shoddy analysis progressives insist be suppressed.

To summarize that which Parker, Goodwin, and the Post already know: Woke dogma is a culturally Marxist philosophy that: (1) seeks to identify people primarily by their race, sex, and sexual orientation and to allocate resources and rewards based on those categories, rather than effort, capabilities, or success; (2) believes children are wards of the state who must be indoctrinated by educators, while physically cared for by parents; (3) suppresses religion for being, as Karl Marx wrote in Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, “the opium of the people”; (4) believes that many of capitalism’s objectives are evil, though most progressives don’t completely reject capitalism; and (5) rejects rights of free speech, assembly, and petition when those rights are used to oppose progressive dogma.

In practice, wokeism is the elevation of genetic attributes, victimhood, and purported oppression above individual freedoms, exceptionalism, and merit, backed by intense social pressure, censorship, administrative fiat, and suspension and expulsion of foes from academic, social, governing, and employment opportunities.

Woke dogma seeks outcomes in proportion to the race, sex, and sexual orientation of the population, not equality of opportunity. It denies, or suppresses, the differing wants and goals of individuals and cultures. Wokeism advances affirmative action, Critical Race Theory, and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), by which all whites are held liable for the historical improprieties of some, and  disappointments of people of color and LGBTQ individuals are the fault of straight, white males. It opposes testing, honor classes, specialized high schools, and math, because they assess goals and capabilities and support each individual’s efforts to attain his or her best outcomes rather than bring everyone down to the mediocre, or the goals or demands of the few. It denies biology and pretends that a man who calls himself a woman is, by that willful misrepresentation or delusion, a woman.

Wokeism seeks to allocate medical school admissions, hospital funding, and medical care to “marginalized minorities” at the expense of white males (see here, here, and here). It puts the rights of .7% of Americans (the trans population) above the rights of the other 99.3%, particularly the constitutionally protected rights of religion. It releases criminals without bail, reduces felonies to misdemeanors, defunds police, and refuses to enforce the law. It insists that capitalism bend to social engineering and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance policies), including a fervent adherence to the green agenda, thereby depriving us of innovations and economic opportunities (see here and here). As the ultimate centralization of authority, the woke intelligentsia also seek a liberal, rules-based international order that overrides national sovereignty.

Conservatives know what “woke” means. That some of us are more focused on Critical Race Theory, others on the subjection of Christians and Jews, or DEI, the erosion of the criminal justice system, unit cohesion in the military, parental rights, the importance of family, the antisemitism of the BDS movement, fake science, globalism, cancel culture, or loss of individual rights and freedoms does not suggest any struggle to identify the enemy. Rather, with so broad an onslaught on every element of the American experience, tradition, autonomy, and shared values, not every conservative’s priorities are the same nor are comprehensive dictionary-like definitions a likely response during a “brief hallway interview.”

Parker’s Washington Post bio still proclaims that she was part of the Post team that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of “Russian interference” in the 2016 presidential election. It is telling that the Post and Ms. Parker wear as a badge of honor their complicity in a massive fraud.

Parker and Goodwin are entitled to their opinions about whether all or any part of wokeism is good or bad. They are not entitled to change the facts or concoct confusion or racism that do not exist. Their theses are a clumsy hit job; hack journalism from a newspaper and reporters with no respect with their readers, their profession, or themselves.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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