Burke: Even when they can’t define it, here’s how they use ‘woke’

MAGA Republicans use the term frequently to label, smear and vilify what they are threatened by.

By Tom Burke / Herald columnist

“Woke” has become a MAGA call to war.

It is an epithet, a curse, an insult and a culture war weapon. It is a gauntlet thrown down to challenge your beliefs, but not a call for thoughtful dialogue.

Rather, it’s a label intended to cripple, wound and attack using some vague, newly popular generic shorthand for, in Republican’s view, overtly progressive ideas, replacing the old 1990s phrase “politically correct.”

And, according to the Republican responses, if you are “woke” you are a “libtard,” commie, socialist, anarchist, antifa, snowflake, pedo-grooming, George Soros-backed-left-wing-radical, America-hating, Democrat, trans-gender, drag queen faggot.

Now when deciphering “woke,” the first thing to understand is that the Maga Republican clique of Trump, DeSantis, Taylor Greene, Boebert, Jordan, McCarthy and Bannon thinks of the word how Hitler, Goebbels, Eichmann, Goering and the Nazi Party thought of the word “Jew.” (As in: the Jews were blamed for all Germany’s woes, and “woke” people today are being blamed for what MAGA Republicans think is wrong with America.)

And it’s kin to the despicable name calling and racial epithets hurled at people such as Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King Jr. and those of other races.

“Woke” is a precursor to discrimination. It is the cry of segregationists. It is the fascists’ dog-whistle for political violence.

And the irony of it all is: the right wing, MAGA Republicans who throw the word around with complete abandon, can’t even define what the word means.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (and present Republican presidential candidate) declared that “wokeness” is a “virus more dangerous than any pandemic.” (Note: the covid pandemic killed more than 1.1 million Americans.)

And, famously, conservative writer Bethany Mandel — who wrote a book about how “woke” ideology had upended American childhood — was criticized in the media after she struggled to define the term in an interview.

But as Harvard professor and constitutional scholar Lawrence Tribe puts it, woke is, “a word that signifies nothing other than conservative disdain for anything that seems liberal,” and Philip Bump in The Washington Post defines it saying it is, “an intentionally vague, pejorative catch-all for things the right dislikes.”

There’s a semantic complication in using the word as well; because the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “woke” as being “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” Also, take note of the real-life complication in woke’s definition, as a recent USA Today/Ipsos poll finds a majority of Americans say “woke” is simply being informed about social injustices rather than being overly politically correct.

So, who exactly is “woke?”

Well, according to the “unwoke” you are “woke” if:

• You want a factual presentation of the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow and how slaves were forced to build the wealth and infrastructure of colonial America.

• You want a factual presentation of how North American was literally stolen by European invaders from indigenous Americans who had lived on their land for thousands of years; and how they were murdered and abused and forced into a living horror from which they have yet to completely recover.

• You want a factual presentation of how people of color suffered under a system of institutional racism that kept them from jobs, voting, owning land, buying insurance, getting an education, even drinking from a water fountain, riding in the front of a bus or sitting at a lunch counter;

• You want a factual presentation of how women were oppressed, denied the vote, forbidden to own property; denied promotions at work, under-paid, and preyed upon by powerful men who demanded sex for success.

• And if you want to stop book banning, book burning and censorship of any educational materials any MAGA Republicans don’t like; and you oppose, say, firing a school principal for showing Michelangelo’s statue of David to a sixth-grade art class, because some random parent called it “pornographic.”

There’s more that Republicans call “woke,” such a person’s right to define their own sexuality; a woman’s right to control her own body; anything hinting there may have been systemic injustices in our history; complaints and demonstrations protesting police beatings and killings of people of color; or putting a books, such as, “The Storyteller,” about the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, or the life of Rosa Parks, on a library shelf.

Gentle reader, it is my hope that every time you see or read the word “woke” cast as a pejorative you immediately understand you are being played, conned and taken for a big dope.

And that those using the word are using the politics of division and hate as a wedge to drive their “base” further to the right and closer to accepting a totalitarian, neo-fascist, Christian-Sharia-law political system in the U.S.

George Orwell, in his book “1984” graphically shows us how words can be bent and shaped and twisted for evil. Orwell’s Big Brother used “Doublespeak” and “Newspeak” as precisely as the right is today calling the Jan. 6 insurrectionists “political prisoners” Or how his “2+2= 5” is the MAGA “math” for turning a clear election loss — Biden’s 81,2543,501 popular votes and 306 electors versus Trump’s 74,223,975 popular votes and 232 electors – into a “win” for the Former Guy.

So when I hear someone say “woke,” I say, “How stupid do you think I am to buy your bull****? I know what you’re doing, I read the book.”

What do you say?

Slava Ukraini.

Tom Burke’s email address is t.burke.column@gmail.com.

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