Are you ‘WOKE?’
Cultural Shift in America
Are you woke? No, I do not mean just awaken from a deep sleep. In today’s parlance I mean awoken to sensitive social issues, such as racism.
The term ‘woke’ is at the center of many of the contentious political, social, and cultural debates right now. Some people say being woke is a sign of awareness to social issues, others use the term as an insult. Therein lies one of the causes of division in our society. Moreover, those who are not woke risk being cancelled for their lack of social and political awareness.
The term’s break into mainstream language came from the Black Lives Matter movement, which used the hashtag #staywoke in the wake of racial injustices spreading across America.
In 2012, when unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was shot dead in Florida by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, the term was used heavily to raise awareness of the movement.
The term has become a common term of contempt among some who oppose the movements it is associated with, or believe the issues are exaggerated. It is sometimes used to mock or treat supporters of those movements as children. Some have criticized subscribers to woke views of being racist; adding identity politics is extremely racist.
Some of the characterizations of the term speaks volumes about its meaning in contemporary America:
- A summation of leftist political ideology.
- Used to claim ‘white’ privilege exists.
- Cancelling someone for their offensive actions or words is a sign of wokeness.
- If you are a vegan, you are woke.
- If you eat plant-based meat, you are woke
- If you are woke, you dig it.
Cancel Culture and Wokeness
The rallying cry around wokeness has had unexpected consequences for supporters of that term. Republicans have criticized the cancel culture and now woke people and have created a backlash that divides the country even more. The cancel culture seems to thrive on wokeness as a tool to express its disdain for a person or group with view opposite to that of the cancelling culture.
One unforeseen consequence of wokeness is having galvanized Republicans. In many ways, casting people on the left as too woke and eager to cancel their critics is just the present-day equivalent of attacks from the right against “outside agitators” (civil rights activists in 1960s), the “politically correct” (liberal college students in the 1980s and ’90s) and “activist judges (liberal judges in the 2000s). These are ideas that are easy for the GOP to run against, because they offer few direct benefits but some costs to the (white) majority of Americans. In many ways, we are just watching an old GOP strategy with new language and different issues.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, former US President Barack Obama has challenged "woke" culture telling young people: "The world is messy." He made the comments at the Obama Foundation's annual summit in Chicago in October 2019. Obama said that calling people out on social media did not bring about change, and that change was complex. Obama told the audience: "I get a sense among certain young people on social media that the way of making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people. "If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn't do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because 'Man did you see how woke I was? I called you out!'"
Obama went further and said about wokeness: “That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change”. If all you are doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on May 10, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.