‘Woke’- an American threat? 

Okay readers, ready yourselves for another entry into the You Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Chronicles of the Asinine. Have an extra strength Excedrin or shot of Bourbon within reach. You may need it.

You see, before the ink was dry on recent news about the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, nitpickers from the peanut gallery began pointing blame to the latest boogey man…. “Woke,” a word that’s flooded the news recently, drowning out coverage of NCAA basketball tourneys, Ukraine and pending indictments.

Hey, look no further than this from the co-founder of Home Depot; “These banks are badly run because everyone is focused on diversity and woke issues.” (Excedrin please!). 

Or this from governor of Florida, the wannabe next president of the United States, “Woke will die if it finds its way to Florida.” (Bourbon please!).

As another example of hilarity gone haywire, recently conservative author Bethany Mandel who wrote a book about “wokeness” was asked to define the term “woke,” but was left dumb founded since she didn’t have an answer. “So, I mean, woke is, uh, sort of, the idea, that’s hard to define…” Red-faced, she gave it another try and dug herself deeper into delusion with some gobbledygook that made her look “foolish 2.0.” I almost choked on my Cheerios trying to hold back my laughter.

So, time out, let me get this straight. The bank would not have gotten into all this mess had it not been distracted by diversity and wokeness? Really? I mean, maybe I missed the memo, but since when did the aims of diversity and woke become a fatal disease? Can someone point me to a graveyard and show me the words “Poor George died from an overdose of wokeness” etched into his tombstone? 

Okay, c’mon, seriously now, let’s step back from this foray into utter nonsense and ask what’s really going on here? 

To me “wokeness” is number three on a three headed monster, “The great replacement theory” and “diversity” being the other two. Since the definition of diversity is fairly understood, or should be, let’s unpack the other two. 

The “great replacement theory” hinges on stoking fears that a non-white population and religious others (remember “Jews will not replace us”?) will displace a white majority. Dramatic shifts in demographics, growths in immigration, patterns in birth rates and increasing numbers of people of color in positions of power foster the fear of being replaced. Salivating politicians and ratings hungry media willingly exploit these insecurities.

Turning now to “woke,” a four letter word – move over CRT (Critical Race Theory) – that’s dominated the headlines recently providing fodder for fear mongering and talking points for slick politicians who tap dance, tiptoe or keep tripping over themselves trying to define it for political advantage. 

“If you hate “woke” and can’t define it, maybe what you hate is something else,” keenly observed writer William Spivey.

Understand that he term “woke” was created by Black people referring to being alert to systemic racial injustices. The first documented use of the phrase “say woke” happened in the 1930s when musician Lead Belly ended his song by advising Blacks traveling through Alabama to “stay woke.” 

In a recent USA Today poll that offered two different definitions of “woke,” 56% of respondents chose the positive definition – “to be informed and educated on social injustices.” Only 39% chose the other – “to be overly politically correct and police the words of others.”

Now before “wokeness” was hijacked, its original definition accurately defined it as a state of being aware, especially of social problems such as racism and 

inequality. “Woke” was trust back into the headlines with the police killing of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor and in other cases. Even before, parents of Black kids warned them of the dangers of “Driving While Black,” another way of saying – wisely I add – “staying woke.” 

So, here’s how “woke” these days is used as a devious strategy to exploit. 

First, those who suggest that “woke” is behind bank failures, for example, know darn well that that’s untrue. Second, they understand that if they repeat that lie often enough their base will accept it as true. Bluntly put, when they play the “woke” card, they unapologetically insult the intelligence of their base.

Now like woke’s bedfellow in asininity, PC (Political Correctness) spawned years ago in response to assertions by people of color and other marginalized people, “anti -wokeness” has emerged as a pernicious attempt to ridicule, deride and sanitize embarrassing histories to shield young readers from hurt feelings and guilt. Look no further than the recent movement in Florida to remove all references to “slavery” from Rosa Park’s story and banning late baseball’s Roberto Clemente’s biography altogether. Oh, did I mention, “don’t say gay?”

Since the 1980s, the term PC has been used to deride preferences for language that’s marginalizing or insulting to groups of people, particularly groups defined by ethnicity, sex, gender, or sexual orientation. PC was employed to mute genuine discussions about how people wanted to be called and treated. 

Like PC, anti-woke backlash typically happens during social movements when some, driven by fear of change and perceived loss of privileges, respond by trivializing, belittling, mocking, and sometimes engaging in violence. 

Wrote Rex Huppke of the USA Today, “I fully expect one of them (Home Depot co-founder and Florida governor) any day now to say that I put on a couple of pounds because of the woke ice cream companies and their preoccupation with diversity and woke.”

Let’s go back to the mess created by the banks in question and the real reasons behind their collapse; that some banks, because of deregulation, rising interest rates, etc., took on undue risks and were poorly managed. Woke had absolutely nothing to do with what happened. 

So, if you believe that “woke” led to the Russian invasion, climate change, your upset stomach, or little Jennie’s snotty nose, then I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you…for real cheap!

© Terry Howard is an award-winning trainer, writer, and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and 3rd place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.


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