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The Culture War Over 'Woke' Policies

In recent years, we have seen a considerable rise in the intensity of our political discourse. Terms like “conservative” and “liberal” no longer seem to capture the nuances of today’s political divisions. Instead, Republicans and Democrats alike have provoked their voting bases with a single word to describe what they stand against: "woke."

What does "woke" really mean? According to this article from The Washington Post (subscription required), while Republicans are in love with the term and use it constantly to deride Democrats, they're not even certain what it means.

Nevertheless, the article points out:

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a probable 2024 presidential candidate, used his January inaugural address to warn of “the woke mob” and its “woke ideology.”

  • Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, recently blamed the military’s recruitment challenges on “the Left’s culture wars” and a “woke agenda.”

  • Last week, a reporter from the conservative-leaning Newsmax asked White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre: “Is President Biden woke?”

The term “woke” has its roots in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and was originally used as slang to describe a person who was socially aware and conscious of injustice. This term has since been co-opted by conservatives to describe policies that they deem too progressive or too liberal—essentially, it is a way for them to deride any policy they disagree with on a moral basis.

So, what Does “woke” really mean? The term "woke" has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years. Generally speaking, when someone is said to be "woke," it means they are aware of social injustice and strive to fight against it. In the political arena, being woke typically refers to the promotion of progressive values such as equity, diversity, inclusion, and equality.

These values are often associated with the Democratic Party. It started with grassroots campaigns from people who wanted to see change within their communities—people who were fed up with systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination that have been embedded in our culture for generations.

We've seen the term "woke" used in all kinds of contexts, from conversation topics to politicized debates. Unfortunately, this usage of the term has not been met with favor from either side, as it greatly oversimplifies complex issues into a one-size-fits-all phrase that can be weaponized for political purposes.

Not only is this kind of reductionist language patronizing and dismissive of entire cultures, but it also blatantly disregards the depth and variety of perspectives on any given issue. This isn't just careless; it's thoughtless and culturally appropriating. To address social justice issues authentically requires more effort than slapping a shallow label onto them.

It's an ongoing process that needs honest conversations and comprehensive understanding. As such, many have argued that using “woke” as an umbrella term for progressive policies does not accurately or fairly reflect the nuance of these policies or their implications.

The debate surrounding wokeness has become increasingly polarized, with Republicans and Democrats staking their sides in the conversation. On one hand, some Republicans have welcomed this dialogue about previously unexplored issues, using it as an outlet to make amends for past mistakes and express solidarity with minority groups. However, others have criticized those on the left of being "too woke," accusing them of taking an uncompromising stance and missing the nuances of complex issues.

This contradictory approach highlights the need for dialogue around these matters - dialogues that don't resort to confrontational or accusatory language. If we are to create meaningful change, it is clear that both sides must have patience and understanding if they are to bring progress on any issue.

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