The trouble with ‘woke’

The trouble with ‘woke’. By Andrew Doyle.

Any attempt to define or criticise this movement is dismissed as a ‘right-wing slur’. …

No word seems to generate more conversations at cross purposes than ‘woke’, whose definition varies depending on who is using it at any given time.

They used to be proud of calling themselves “woke”:

For the various black civil-rights activists of the 20th century it signified an alertness to injustice, particularly racism. This usage became popularised by the singer Erykah Badu in her 2008 song ‘Master Teacher (Stay Woke)’, and was taken up by the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. Soon after, the term was co-opted by practitioners of the new ‘social justice’ ideology, and for a few years was a popular form of self-identification. We became accustomed to headlines in the Guardian such as ‘Can a woke makeover win Barbie and Monopoly new fans?’ and ‘My search for Mr Woke: a dating diary’. In the US, articles such as ‘keeping your classroom woke’, ‘becoming woke in the wake of “Me Too”’ and ‘the woke black person’s guide to talking about oppression with family’ became commonplace. Inevitably, those who took a critical stance on these identitarian perspectives would describe their proponents as ‘woke’. It made sense, given that this is how they were describing themselves.

But not any more:

Before long, commentators who had once happily embraced the ‘woke’ label became dismayed at how their opponents were using it to criticise or mock them, and so they pretended that the word had been concocted by the right as a slur.

This revisionist strategy is unlikely to succeed, given that the proposition that identitarian writers did not commonly self-define as ‘woke’ can be easily disproved with the most cursory of internet searches. … When Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wore a ‘#StayWoke’ t-shirt on stage at the 2016 ReCode conference, nobody suggested that he was guilty of disseminating right-wing propaganda. These people were woke, and proud of it. …

For those who have imbibed the postmodern hallucinogen, and have become convinced that our understanding of reality is wholly constructed through language, there is no harm in casually redefining terms — or outright lying about how such terms are generally used — if the ends justify the means. It’s the same reason why governments refer to swingeing cuts to the welfare state as ‘efficiency savings’. It’s why the CIA has referred to torture as ‘enhanced interrogation’. …

The meaning of anti-woke:

To take an ‘anti-woke’ stance is not to endorse racism, sexism, homophobia or any other form of discrimination; it is the precise opposite. It is to be concerned about an inherently divisive ideology whose logical endpoint is segregation according to race, gender and sexuality …

It is to be concerned about how many of those who believe themselves to be ‘on the right side of history’ are increasingly intolerant of viewpoints that do not precisely match their own, and have no compunction about bullying, demonising and threatening those who step out of line.

It is to be concerned about those who claim the power to intuit the secret motives of others, who interpret their detractors’ words in the most uncharitable possible way, and who consider all forms of dissent as an expression of evil.

It is to be concerned about the way in which terms such as ‘racist’, ‘white supremacist’, ‘homophobe’, ‘transphobe’, ‘fascist’ and ‘Nazi’ have been rendered virtually meaningless through continual misapplication, and how even liberals and left-wingers are now routinely mischaracterised as ‘far right’ for the slightest point of disagreement.

In other words, critics of ‘wokeness’ are trying to resist bigotry rather than uphold it.