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The great mystery of ‘woke’

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“So, I mean, woke is, sort of the idea that, um, I…woke is something that is very hard to define”
Bethany Mandel, author of Stolen Youth

Chris MetitationsBy Chris Edwards

The above quote is taken from an interview by someone who wrote a book purporting to be the end-all definition of the term “woke.”

Many folks have words they tend to use in abundance, buzzwords, I guess one might be inclined to call ‘em.

There are certain words I say frequently, a few of which wouldn’t be printable in a family friendly publication such as this.

I have a friend, a plumber, who is known far and wide for the exclamation “Son!”. Another friend, in the education business, loves using the phrase “moving forward.”

Sometimes, like in the case of the aforementioned “Son!” the word becomes such a catchphrase for that person that others might utter the word before that person does upon seeing them out and about. Think of a mass media analogue: Jimmie Walker of Good Times fame with his “dynomite!” exclamations.

Currently we have a man who is the governor of Florida, who seemingly cannot go two seconds without uttering the word “woke.” He has gone so far as to claim that the Sunshine State is “where woke goes to die.”

He is not alone in his obsession. It would seem that the GOP has, at present, embraced anti-woke-ism as its unified field theory for the ages, yet while it pops up in national discourse nowadays in a fashion even more ubiquitously than mentions of beer and whiskey in Morgan Wallen songs, Gov. Ron DeSantis is on a whole other level with his “woke” fixation.

So what is to be made of DeSantis’s obsession with the word? He hasn’t really spilled the coffee beans on what the word actually means. DeSantis is, also, a man who prognosticators are predicting will put in a bid for the White House in 2024.

Politicians are constantly pushing inane culture war garbage on the electorate because, well, let’s face it, anger = campaign contributions.

DeSantis is a graduate (magna cum laude, no less) of Yale and a Harvard Law alumnus (where he graduated cum laude). He should know better, and he does, but again, fomenting anger over some type of folderol = mega campaign contributions. We The People are smarter than this, or at least we should be.

Think of this current obsession with the word “woke” as being as useless of a word as “grunge” was when discussing punk and metal bands who were united through the geography of the Pacific Northwest. Those bands and artists, despite their shared locale and shared taste for comfy flannel, were seriously great acts who would likely want to take a swing at proles who used the useless word “grunge” in their presence.

“Woke,” like “Grunge,” in the current cultural milieu is a word favored by non critical thinkers; those who blindingly commit to using whatever buzzwords are of the times. To what end, I’m not really certain. It really doesn’t make anyone sound any more intelligent and/or informed. If anything, it has the opposite effect.

A poll published in USA Today and conducted through Ipsos polled the definitions of “woke” among all Americans polled as 56% choosing it to mean “to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices” while 39% chose “to be overly politically correct.”

Now I’m no fan of political correctness, but if the binary choice above is to represent two possible definitions of the term, the majority view sounds pretty alright to me.

I’m by no means an expert on semantics, linguistics, semiotics or any of those exotic disciplines, but I do find etymology a fascinating field to dip a toe into once in a while. As such, I discovered a while back that the first documented use of the phrase “stay woke” occurred in the 1938 when the legendary Leadbelly ended a song titled “Scottsboro Boys” with the phrase. The message of the song is explicit, telling Black Americans of the time to be aware of racially motivated threats.

Upon learning that factoid, I said to myself, “Well, any bit of history that contains a Leadbelly reference and a fist to the face of white supremacy is a win.

Words are fascinating things and their histories tell stories of how culture evolves. In spite of that, it seems a little silly to base an entire political platform around a single word. The complete lack of substantive policy stances and ideas from lawmakers decrying and screaming about “woke” or “wokeness” leave me asking “Where’s the beef?” more frequently than a curious elderly lady in a vintage Wendy’s ad.

Whatever one assigns the modern reading of “woke” to mean: whether it’s political correctness run amok or a better understanding of injustice and heightened empathy, the phrase will be used, misused and abused by politicians and political hopefuls, many of whom can no more define the word than Shane MacGowan can turn down a glass of cold gin.

In closing, a quote from Albert Einstein, a man who could distill seemingly impossible concepts to the simplest of terms seems applicable.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” is what Einstein wrote.

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