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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Jeffrey L. Falick

UNDERSTANDING THE ATTACKS ON "WOKE-NESS"

Are you woke?


Until a few years ago not many of us would have understood that question. If it’s occurred to you that it sounds like a word derived from what linguists call African-American Vernacular English you are correct.


I first encountered the word almost ten years ago in a news report about “Black Twitter,” a corner of social media where participants encouraged each other to “stay woke.” Later I learned that this was no modern coinage. It dates back to civil rights protests of the 1930s, revived by the Black Lives Matter movement around ten years ago. These days we hear it more frequently from enemies of social progress. But make no mistake. It began as a cry for racial equality.


Like the boogeyman they made out of the previously obscure academic legal theory called Critical Race Theory (CRT), “anti-wokeness” has become the latest desperate attempt to attract votes without sounding too racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic or misogynistic. Most polling shows that the majority of Americans aren’t buying what these people are selling. A recent USA TODAY/Ipsos poll revealed that a meaningful majority understands the word woke as meaning “to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices.” That included fully one-third of self-identifying Republicans.


Here's a local example. A few weeks ago a Royal Oak bookstore announced an innocuous drag queen story hour (where the queens dress up like characters in the books). The anti-woke, represented by a group called the Grand New Party, quickly sprung to action, calling for a mass protest. Ten whole people showed up to decry the “grooming” of youngsters by the drag queens. One thousand people (a Royal Oak Police estimate) attended the counter-demonstration, including a significant number of our members. 


Based on the Facebook posts of some of the regulars on the Grand New Party page, there is also no shortage of vitriolic Jew-hatred among devotees. That’s no big surprise. Where the other hatreds arise, antisemitism always lurks.


So why are politicians not paying attention to this polling? Florida’s success at passing laws like “Don’t Say Gay” (not its official name) and “Stop-WOKE” (its real name!) may tell us a lot about Florida, but not about growing national sentiment. Every state and region has its own story and lots of people are threatened by change. That’s why the combination of gerrymandering, the influence of the “base” in primaries, and apathy among voters have been so helpful to getting these kinds of folks elected. But the overall national results of the 2022 election were a disaster for the GOP which, rather than choose better candidates, leaned instead into pandering to the worst instincts of its most reliable primary voters. Making anti-wokeness a more prominent part of their message will, I predict, only lead to fewer and fewer good ideas and more and more anti-woke (dangerous) nonsense. (Add to that more and more religiously motivated attacks on women’s reproductive rights which, until the Moral Majority got involved in GOP politics, were widely supported by Republicans.)


Think about how this has corroded conservative politics. Take for example conservative support for free speech. I remember when conservatives fought for the right of corporations to exercise free speech rights as if they were citizens, taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. While I personally disagreed with their position, I understood it as a principled conservative pro-free speech stance. But who cares about ideology when you’re more anti-woke than actually conservative? When “owning the libs” is more important than honorable consistency? Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis’ violated these conservative tenets with his legislative assault on The Walt Disney Company. His punishment of the company for its support of the LGBTQ community was a clear attack on that company’s free speech, the act of an irresponsible leader, unconstrained by his own party’s legacy. And unless I'm missing something, it also demonstrates a quite un-conservative governmental intrusion into a private company's legal business decisions.


As the battle on woke-ism grows, its proponents have more and more difficulty explaining what it even means (without, you know, explicitly articulating the hatred behind it). At this year’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference – very poorly attended and filled with acrimony – attendees were asked what they meant by woke. A typical reply went along these lines (I’m not making this up): “That's tough. Let me think on it. Give me like two minutes to come up with something good.”


Wow, a whole political movement is based on something they can’t even define.**


Let me help them. Being woke means pursuing social justice and equity, embracing the strength of diversity, and believing in governmental protection of free speech (even when we personally condemn hate speech). Above all, being woke means being aware of the need to dignify and honor the humanity and self-identity of other people.


I don’t really use the word woke because I already have a word that covers my adherence to those values.


That word is HUMANISM.


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*As a former Floridian I had many issues with Disney’s unelected quasi-governmental Reedy Creek Improvement District. I always felt it to be an illegitimate private assumption of governmental powers. But that’s not why DeSantis eliminated it. That, as we all know by now, had to do with Disney’s pro-LGBTQ stance. It seems that when it comes to Florida’s governor and lock-step legislature, the corporate free speech recognized by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – a conservative position – only counts for the anti-woke.


Ron Peri, a right-wing evangelical preacher, is among the five people appointed by DeSantis to Reedy Creek’s replacement board. For some insight into his mind, consider this comment he made last year: “So why are there homosexuals today? There are any number of reasons ... that are given. Some would say the increase in estrogen in our societies. You know, there’s estrogen in the water from birth control pills. They can’t get it out”


For more of his nonsense CLICK HERE.


**More examples at businessinsider.com.


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