What is “woke”? The question is suddenly relevant because the activists of MSNBC and the “1619 Project” say conservatives can’t define what it is. Big mistake. Confident that woke was just a phrase, even a dog whistle, they have opened Pandora’s box.
Conservatives will relish keeping that Pandora’s box open a little longer because they now have an excuse to expose a central strategy of leftists—how they manufacture grievances and then plan to use resulting anger to provoke systemic transformation. Overwrought confidence will get you in trouble.
How all this came about is also instructive. On March 14, a leftist commentator named Briahna Joy Gray interviewed one of the most delightful people working on the conservative side, Bethany Mandel, and asked her at one point to define the term woke. As all of us whose living includes broadcast interviews have done, Mandel at first froze for about 10 seconds. That was it! Like Inspector Clouseau often did, the Left thought it had its smoking gun!
A tweet by the Vanguard that said, “LOL: Briahna Joy Gray BREAKS the brain of Rising guest Bethany Mandel by asking her to define ‘wokeness,’” garnered 34.3 million views, and a hate fest erupted in the Twitterverse.
“This is perfect. See how easy this was, journalists?” Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the New York Times’s “1619 Project,” gushed in a tweet. She can’t tell history from fiction, but she’s more than glad to pile on someone who was simply caught off-guard on camera.
MSNBC, the house organ of the woke end of progressivism, went into overdrive. “As I mentioned in the Instagram post below, Mandel’s flop shows conservatives have so perverted the term ‘woke’ that they can't even define it on their own terms,” a very cross Ja’han Jones intoned on MSNBC.
Republicans, he added, have appropriated “the black slang term … to denote things they don't like, from truthful, inclusive education to Disney, the FBI and beyond.”
Not quite, Ja’han. Let’s parse this a little further.
First, the Left is punching air, not landing jabs. Mandel, a friend and former colleague, is intelligent, resilient, and above all, kind. But she’s nobody’s punching bag, and she knows how to defend herself. Leftists who have tried to inflict social media pain on her should pick on someone their own size—someone much smaller than Mandel and comparable to their own puny moral stature.
Her recently released book, Stolen Youth, is a bestseller. (It can be purchased here.) Here’s hoping all those million views also garnered a lot of sales for the much-needed children’s books she edits, Heroes of Liberty.
Now, to the meat of the matter: what is woke? The term does come from black slang, and according to Vox (the authority on all things woke), it meant “the notion that staying ‘woke’ and alert to the deceptions of other people was a basic survival tactic.”
Then white leftists, feeling guilty about crimes they never committed, borrowed the term (or “culturally appropriated” it, if you believe the woke nonsense) to denote a consciousness of the supposed social injustice that is part of the very tapestry of the oppressive nature of American society.
Or some such. The initiates into the woke cult are intravenously fed this propaganda about a systemically racist and oppressive America to provoke them into dismantling society and the entire system.
“All liberation depends on the consciousness of servitude,” Herbert Marcuse, the Frankfurt School intellectual whom the New York Times called “the guru” of the New Left, intoned in 1964.
Except there is no servitude in America, any more than there is “systemic racism.” The liberation that Marcuse was promising was the introduction of the real servitude of central planning and “repressive tolerance” (his actual words).
There are in America today racists who commit ugly acts, and there is “systemic racism” in schools such as Harvard that keep out Chinese-American students because of their ethnicity. Good law enforcement and social censure can mitigate the former, and the U.S. Supreme Court is, hopefully, about to eliminate the latter.
But in a country where Nigerian Americans and Ghanian Americans enjoy just about the same median household income as white Americans (and sometimes higher), and the median household income of Indian Americans is twice that of white people, it is hard to make the woke argument that disparities prove the existence of systemic racism.
So the cult of wokeness must create the consciousness of servitude artificially because what they seek is to dismantle society. That is what woke is, and people such as Mandel and myself try to prevent its proponents from succeeding.
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner