Defining woke has been somewhat of a difficult thing shall we say for the right now. To be fair, this is something that applies to a lot of the pejorative terms they use to make fun of people they don’t like. Be it CRT or calling people SJWs as they did in the past, the pattern remains the same, targeting people with a pejorative that doesn’t really mean anything other than to ridicule people they disagree with.
With the term woke specifically though, this has taken a much more funny turn. For one thing, it’s a term that is used by mainstream right-wing politicians such as Ron Desantis and they’re even making laws to try and target “woke culture”. It’s also a term that the right uses constantly as a rallying cry and yet it never really seems to mean anything beyond being a simple pejorative.
Unfortunately though, when it comes to them actually trying to nail down what woke means, they usually either go one of two ways. Either they define it more or less correctly as Ron Desantis has done yet come to completely the wrong conclusions or they define it in a way that is wholly incoherent and doesn’t apply to any of the things the right decries as being woke.
How should woke be defined though? Is there a way to define it in any real sense or is it something that simply can’t be wholly defined like that? Well, I happen to think there is a way of defining it, and more importantly, I think this definition explains why conservatives are so opposed to so-called woke culture or at least their view of it.
Simply I would define woke to be aware of societal injustices and forms of oppression. These examples of oppression would obviously apply to things like racism, misogyny, transphobia, etc. Woke means that there is an acknowledgment of the ways our societies and institutions have worked and do still work the disadvantage certain groups and outright brutalize them in many cases.
Obviously, the implication of woke is thus that these institutions of oppression need to be dismantled and that these forms of oppression need to be addressed and corrected. This would of course explain why woke people advocate for systemic change, they recognise that systemic injustices are real and that they must be corrected.
But where does this fit in with the right or the anti-woke crowd? Well, it fits in because the right by definition opposes systemic changes. This reminds me of what I said earlier about Desantis and how he actually ended up defining woke more or less correctly, albeit by accident and coming to the wrong conclusions. He or his counsel rather defined it as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”
As stated, this is actually a pretty good definition and one that I don’t really have any issues with at all. What is interesting about it though is the fact that they consider this to be a bad thing and I think this really reveals a lot about conservative politics and the ideas behind it. Conservatives start by presupposing that society is more or less fine and that there are no major changes needed.
Ben Shapiro for example made the point in his book How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps that America or specifically its founding documents had effectively mapped out a vision of society that corresponded to perfect human nature. Setting aside the fact that this doesn’t make any sense at all, this sort of thing serves as a neat justification to keep society as is and not change anything about the genuine structures and institutions that those on the left typically criticize.
This sort of argument is truly endemic to conservatism, an example of this is this trend of naturalizing the status quo in a really dishonest way. Reactionaries will argue against notions of progressive change because according to them this upsets an apparent “natural order” that doesn’t really exist.
As stated, these are incredibly dishonest tactics that are only deployed by conservatives so they can justify their position that the status quo is fundamentally fine. All of this is based on fear for reactionaries, they have a fear that if we change society too much or even at all that it will destabilize things and ruin it and this is the core of their opposition to so-called wokeness.
Whenever this sort of point comes to mind about reactionaries and their fear of change, how they constantly cling to bigotry I’m reminded of a point made by James Baldwin that people cling to hate because they’re worried that if they let go of this then they will only be left with pain. I think this really does underscore a massive amount of right-wing politics and the rhetoric behind it.
Reactionaries and conservatives despite their inability to give a coherent definition of woke means recognize that “woke people” want to actually change things about society and this is the reason why they oppose woke culture. The foundation of their ideology, everything they believe in is that change is bad so when something comes along that proposes some kind of change, of course, conservatives are going to oppose it.
Now before I finish this article I will make one point in that there absolutely is a such thing as something, usually a corporation being performatively woke. Whenever you see some corporation posting something in support of pride month or some other major hot-button social issue, it’s usually going to be simple marketing on their part.
These corporations are first and foremost trying to make money. If they see an opportunity to make a little bit of money by using marketing that is inclusive to certain groups they’re going to do that, this is literally how capitalism and marketing work. However, they don’t have any interest in these actual issues and are really just paying lip service to them at best.
To sum things up then, woke simply means being aware of societal injustices and oppression and how various institutions interact and prop up these forms of oppression. Since the foundation of conservative and right-wing politics is an opposition to change, this is what underscores their opposition to supposed woke ideas and culture.