Stop Using "Woke" As a Pejorative

By Jason Kettinger | Posted at 12:01 PM

I can recall the day that I went to observe the debate between the candidates for Circuit Attorney in the city of St. Louis. Some group or other was handing out bracelets that said “#staywoke” or something to that effect. This was about five years ago, so I can tell you that I had no more partisan affiliation or loyalty which would have inspired resistance to that phrasing. Ever since that time, the word and its cognates and variations have taken on an even more negative connotation on the Right.

However, in the context of the people that were at that debate, the major concern was unjustified police violence. There was a mother whose son was shot at least a dozen times by the police, under dubious circumstances. She completely lost her emotional control in the middle of the meeting, and had to be escorted out. Those of us who are not stained by the impact of racism have the privilege of debating just how many of the police are infected by that pernicious virus, but for those who suffer the consequences, it is considerably less than academic.

At one point in the 2016 election cycle, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was asked about police brutality. He said that no matter how seemingly rare these unjust occurrences were, our democratic society depends on trust. If African-Americans and other citizens of color do not trust the police, it is a serious threat in itself to the stability of our society.

I think the senator was right, and I think these considerations are quite apart from a separate discussion on crime, and what to do about it. There are certain actions in context which are never acceptable. My empathy and sympathy for the police have nothing to do with these principles, and my willingness to enforce them. There is too much of what masquerades as “politics” on the Right that is actually nothing more than race and class grievances.

Once more, in context, to be “woke” means to be fully aware of the injustice that has been routinely and systematically committed against African-Americans. Even in the Democratic Party, there seems to be a division between incrementalists, and radicals. If I were to be asked if this problem could be addressed in an incremental way, I would be strongly inclined to answer in the negative. There is no justly gradual approach to the fundamental dignity of persons.

Even so, there are segments among the radicals in this political coalition who seem to have adopted the tenets of “antiracism,” which is likely philosophically rooted in a Marxism offered by Hegel. This produces an interesting mix with our native Christianity, which results in a national “original sin” or “total depravity” where the sin is racism, and it is indelible. Any systemic explanation for racism that denies the existence of individual free will, and thus accountability, threatens to become simply a religious metanarrative, which itself is impervious to facts, or to correction.

On the other hand, given the ideological sorting of the political parties at this moment, open contempt for the concerns of police brutality and its impacts is perceived as an attack upon those who suffer it.

We must look squarely at the reality that the South was absorbed politically by the Republican Party, beginning in the border states in the 1950s, and accelerating thereafter. And that the reason for this success has largely to do with opposition to civil rights. As the Republican Party charts its next steps, it has become clear that the path back to some sort of majority status definitely runs through a legitimately multiracial coalition. Such a coalition will not be formed in the face of decided opposition to the concerns of African-Americans, Latinos, and even Asian-Americans.

The Democratic Party has a challenge, too. The academic Left definitely has assisted the mainstreaming of the openly Marxist Hegelian account of race in the United States. However, Joe Biden, while certainly not running in opposition to that account, made his bet that actual minority voters were not as devoted to this account as the white progressives who promote it. Biden is the president of the United States because of college-educated moderate whites, and the usual coalition of Democratic minority voters.

If the GOP doesn’t lose its myopic Southern lenses, they will lose all or most elections contested in the near future. And rank-and-file hostility to minority concerns will accelerate the departure of the educated from the Republican Party, as well as increase social disharmony between all of our citizens.

Biden offers a glimpse at a kind of woke like I observed at that debate a few years back. It is neither the Right’s Boogeyman nor the Academic Left’s religious idol. Engaging with undeniable problems, such as police brutality, without some sort of new religion of antiracism is the path forward.

Jason Kettinger is Associate Editor of Open for Business. He writes on politics, sports, faith and more.

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