Being “woke” is often a litmus test for certain circles of the progressive world. There is a strong expectation, and even a demand, to be “ethnically conscious”, especially among white college and college-educated activists. This consciousness generally manifests itself as an awareness of generational wrongs perpetrated by one race against another. This consciousness is followed by a need to signal it, both through public displays of contrition and through combative rhetoric directed at the “non-woke.”
It is admirable to be aware of historical injustices and of how they effect present inequitable conditions. However, the ideology of being “woke” often moves the dial to another extreme. The proclaimed consciousness of these activists often manifests itself as reversed prejudice. Being “woke” often demands feelings and exhibitions of shame from races deemed to be historical oppressors. Especially in the absence of genuine institutional racism, many “woke” activists will delve into the subconsciousness of fellow white Americans. They do this in an attempt to discern alleged racism in their thoughts and ideas. This allows “woke” activists to demand recognition of the “privileged” position of white Americans, who are considered “continued oppressors.”
Origin of “Woke”
Interestingly enough, the idea of being “woke” is an appropriation by white activists from its historical roots in the black community. The word had initially been symbolic of an awakening of pride and self-respect in African Americans who had been oppressed by the culture and laws of the Jim Crow South. By this original definition, Rosa Parks was “woke” because she awoke from her society-induced second-class existence to realize and assert that her skin color should not dictate where she sat on a bus. By this original definition, Dr. King and his followers were “woke” because they awoke from a culture which told them they didn’t have the same rights as other Americans and consequently engaged in a movement which secured those rights for themselves and their posterity. In this original context, “woke” is a fitting self-description of a generation of African Americans who engaged in a real awakening of self-respect, liberty, and human rights.
The original idea of being “woke” was best exemplified by the words of Dr. King, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that one day, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” In the civil rights era, being “woke” was indeed about an oppressed people awaking to their birthright of freedom and liberty as Americans. It was about engaging in a joint venture of reconciliation with all Americans to secure liberty and justice for all.
A Different Meaning Today
Today, “woke” means something very different. Those who speak of themselves as “woke” are not engaging in a cultural renaissance or a movement of reconciliation, liberty, and justice for all. Their language is that of Marxist Sociology and Conflict Theory. When they speak of ethnic or class consciousness, they are not speaking of groups desiring to obtain a birthright of freedom and liberty alongside their brothers and sisters. They’re speaking of their belief in a generational struggle between oppressor and the oppressed. This struggle is viewed almost exclusively through the lens of inherent conflict. This conflict, in their view, can only be concluded when social justice is achieved.
While the ends of this social justice are often unclear in definition, it can be inferred that social justice is not justice for all. It’s justice for the oppressed at the expense of the oppressor. This is a departure from much of the rhetoric of Dr. King. He struggled for a common birthright of liberty and freedom achieved through the equal application of law and security of fundamental human rights. Instead of such reconciliation, social justice demands recompense on the backs of the “privileged” classes.
This new idea of being “woke” ultimately derives from the canonization of Marxist Sociology and Conflict Theory in education, progressive culture, and coastal society.. This is in stark contrast to its roots in the civil rights era. Being acculturated to Marxist Sociology and Conflict Theory has conditioned many Americans to see evidence of inequality and diagnose their causes based on the tenants of those theories. A classical liberal might mourn unequal outcomes. Yet, a classical liberal would affirm the equity of the system so long as equal opportunity was present. A modern “woke” liberal can only see unequal outcomes as proof of endemic class oppression and racism.
Antithetical to Domestic Tranquility
That those who profess to be “woke” are operating with a sincere desire to make society a better and more equitable place should not be doubted. However, the reality is that Marxism, and any theory which spawns from it, is incompatible with a free and pluralist country. Marxism inherently tears at the fabric that holds together a free people. Marxist inspired doctrine leads to a level of class and ethnic consciousness that embraces an “us vs. them” mentality. This mentality views victory and justice as coming at the expense of others. This kind of doctrine is antithetical to domestic tranquility in any society, let alone a society that attempts to be a free and open one.
The new “woke” ideology has reanimated true racism. Its demands segment society by ignoring the basic human instincts to desire dignity and equal consideration. It calls white Americans “entitled” as they are told they must assume the mantle of generational guilt. This creates ethnic conflict, as opposed to alleviating it, because it pushes people towards an ultimatum: be ashamed of who you are and who you come from or be labeled a racist. If basic dignity is attacked and if negative and differential treatment based on ethnic origin becomes a norm, then there will be an equally ugly push-back. The reality of human psychology is that if you call someone a racist long enough, if you marginalize them sufficiently enough, if you relegate them to the fringes far enough, you will mold them into exactly what you thought they were.