March 17, 2023

‘Would You Mind Defining Woke?’

If you’re a conservative who uses the word “woke,” make sure you can explain what it means.

As the event unfolded, we wanted to reach through our monitor, grab her by the shoulders, and shake her out of that cringeworthy stupor.

If only.

Instead, Bethany Mandel, a young mom and a fellow conservative who was supposed to be promoting the book she’d recently coauthored, Stolen Youth, continued to stumble her way through what should’ve been a relatively simple question, even coming from a hostile interlocutor like Briahna Joy Gray, the Harvard-educated lawyer and political consultant who was once Bernie Sanders’s national campaign manager and, we’d guess, wears the wokeness badge on her sleeve:

“Would you mind defining woke? It’s come up a couple of times. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.”

The book’s subtitle, How Radicals Are Erasing Innocence and Indoctrinating a Generation, tells us something about its content, and it makes clear that the word “woke” must’ve found its way into its pages on multiple occasions. Indeed, as Mandel stumbled along, she noted that they’d devoted an entire chapter to it. But it didn’t help her in the moment, which was Tuesday, in an appearance on The Hill’s web series “Rising.” The clip has already racked up millions of views, so what’s a few more?

“So, I mean, woke is sort of the idea that … um … I … this is going to be one of those moments that goes viral,” Mandel said, as she grasped for the right words. “I mean, woke is something that’s very hard to define, and we’ve spent an entire chapter defining it. It is sort of the understanding that we need to re-, totally reinvent and re-, redo society in order to create hierarchies of oppression. Um … sorry, it’s, it’s hard to explain in a 15-second sound bite.”

Apparently so. At least for Mandel.

“Please take your time,” Gray implored, twisting the knife mercilessly.

We certainly sympathize with Mandel because we’ve all been tongue-tied at one time or another. But it seems that one of the primary rules of rhetorical combat is to never use a word that you can’t comfortably define, even under pressure.

As we noted a few weeks ago, the once meaningful word “woke” has been appropriated from urban blacks by preening white leftists, and, accordingly, it’s been used by conservatives to mock those leftists. That’s because the term “woke” originated in the black literary community in the ‘60s, and it morphed into a catch-all synonym for the leftist cause of social justice.

“Republicans use 'wokeism’ to attack left — but struggle to define it,” sneered a recent Washington Post headline that lamented the Right’s weaponization of “woke.”

Lo and behold, they were right. At least in this unfortunate case.

“This is why I tell journalism students that open-ended questions are better than questions that sound tough,” gloated lefty pundit Jamele Hill. “When conservatives first hijacked ‘woke,’ every journalist should have asked them to define it. Cause these meltdowns would have happened a lot.”

It shouldn’t happen a lot, though, if we simply say what it means, either legitimately or mockingly as we did in the graphic at the top of this page. Another tongue-in-cheek definition might be: “a state of awareness only achieved by those dumb enough to find injustice in everything except their own behavior.”

Wokeness, more seriously, is a catch-all synonym for the leftist cause of social justice. There. That’s a good, basic definition. More specifically, it’s about what those on the Left perceive as injustice and discrimination. It’s an effort by leftists to use race and other identifying characteristics to divide us as humans; to assert, for example, that whites — and especially white men — are the oppressors, and people of color are their victims.

For these reasons, we’re right to push back against it. We’re right to mock it mercilessly. But only if we can say what it means.

And Mandel knows what it means. “There’s a lot of academic definitions of ‘woke’ that are constantly changing,” she said afterward. “I think the reality and what’s important is that this is a radical reorganization of our society that is detrimental and disorienting for children.”

“You know it when you see it,” she added. “You know, when we see young men competing in women’s swimming competitions. That is wokeness personified.”

“Just before we went on air,” Mandel said afterward, “[co-host] Briahna Joy Gray was on a hot mic. I heard her demeaning parenting in general in colorful and nasty terms, stating parents only have kids in order to perpetuate their own narcissism. … As a mom of six, including a newborn, this threw me off just a bit. Not an excuse, just a reality. I’m human!”

We’ll say.

Buck up, Bethany. Keep raising those kids the right way, and be better prepared next time.

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