Horia Gazdovici, XI F
Although the word woke only has four letters, those four letters pack a tremendous amount of meaning. In the current political milieu, the use of woke among both conservatives and liberals has transformed this bite-sized piece of African-American slang into nothing short of a political equator for some people, which is the opposite of what it should be.
If we were to look at the history of the word, there is no doubt that it was first used in the early 20th century by African-American philosophers or speakers and that it stood against discrimination towards Black people at a time when the back doors of general stores had “colored only” written in chalk on them. It was also meant to snap some Black people from their inherited submission towards White people, as shown in the 1971 play “Garrey Lives!” by Barry Beckham. In the 21st century, woke was initially used in the Black-Lives-Matter movement. This time, the word and the slogans related to it stood against police brutality towards not merely Black people but people of other minorities, too. As can be clearly seen, the word followed its natural evolution into the 21st century, if one could even call it that, since police brutality existed when woke was first used in this sense, being much worse than in our days. It is due to that very aspect of woke, its overt protest against discrimination, that made other mistreated communities use it, most notably the LGBTQIA+ community.
In recent years, however, the term “woke liberal” has made an appearance. Given the meaning of woke in the political space, one wouldn’t logically assume that “woke liberal” is a pejorative but an error in logic. With the full knowledge of what a liberal stands for, adding the word woke becomes redundant. But it wasn’t liberals that started adding woke to their political affiliation, but conservatives that started calling moralistic and self-righteous left-wingers in this way, thus associating a word that stood against substantive problems in American society with disagreeable people.
To understand why anti-woke conservatives are as successful as they are, we must look at both the wave of polarizing information brought against all liberals as if the left wing were a cult with strict and uniform dogma alongside the implication of liberals in entertainment.
Firstly, to cleverly combat the conspicuous hate shown against trans people, conservative personalities such as Matt Walsh, an American right-wing political commentator and activist, have latched onto children. They have taken a minority (no matter how big their numbers may seem, they are still a minority) of “liberals” that believe the chemical castration of pre-pubescent children is a humane thing to do, spread this minority thin on all liberals, as mentioned above, and appealed to the common sense of people that a person who is not allowed to drive or consume alcohol should not be allowed to alter their body in such a permanent way years before being considered mature enough to be granted the aforementioned two rights. This trend has greatly helped conservative personalities win in the eyes of the people.
Secondly, the recent implication of “woke” activists and those influenced by them has been preponderantly remarkable in the entertainment industry. This is the first and perhaps one of the most significant instances that made right-wingers’ job of demoting wokeness easier. What it has also done is create a rift between liberals themselves. It really is interesting to see how the original woke principles to protect minorities from societal abuse have been perverted. One only has to watch shows like “Bridgerton” to observe how Netflix showrunners have managed to cash in on the trend of woke culture. By saying that a person’s skin color doesn’t matter, producers in Hollywood have made it perfectly acceptable for Eddie Murphy to play John F. Kennedy, misunderstanding (willingly or not) that a person’s skin color or gender doesn’t matter in a political, social, etc. context, but that it does matter when casting historical figures or popular characters for live adaptations (if it matters for the story). Producers have thus overlooked the fact that not respecting this rule of common sense is nothing different from the white-washing of 1950s Hollywood.
As for stand-up comedy, there have been many instances where people got offended by the minorities-related material of comics, going as far as trying to cancel some of them. Comedian Ricky Gervais put it best when he said: “But these people are virtue signaling. They’re trying to bring people down to raise their own status, and they say, ‘No, we’re protecting minorities.’ They’re basically saying minorities haven’t got a sense of humor, which is so patronizing.”
This type of misappropriation of noble principles in order to accomplish something unrelated to said principles can be compared (not in size or impact) to the way the Bolsheviks took Marx’s work, which was at its core a critic of the abusive industrial capitalism he saw around him in the 19th century, thus using it to establish their power structures of their own and take over both Russia and Eastern Europe.
Either way, the fact that politics has been allowed to sequester free speech in some cases and meddle with the entertainment industry has not only set up a terrifying incentive but can pellucidly be seen as detrimental to any balanced democracy. All of these things – the tremendously virtuous fundamental principles regarding the abuse towards minorities that African-American writers and personalities were talking about, the continuation of the movement via Black-Lives-Matter marches, as well as the misappropriation and lack of understanding that eventually spiraled into cancel culture – constitute woke culture, and it is up to us to sort the good from the bad and hopefully keep the good.