CULTURE WARS DEBASE AMERICAN CULTURE
I have wrestled for decades with the hope that there would someday be a great American awakening. This is not original thinking. The notion of awakening permeates a lot of progressive thinking about where conscience, values and morality ought to lead individuals and, by extension, the collective. Now, at last, it seems that some measure of an awakening has actually occurred on my watch, and it is driving the cultural troglodytes nuts.
Everywhere we turn, there is some right-wing influence peddler ranting about those who they find to be “woke.” For the record, “woke” is, and always has been, the past tense and past participle of “wake.” It is also used in today’s vernacular as an adjective to describe someone who is aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).* For reasons that are not clear to me, this latter definition has been adopted by the willfully ignorant to disparage political progressives for one of the very characteristics that should make them admirable.
So, I own up to it. I am both woke and happy to have been awakened. As such, I am now imbedded in another one of those American cultural curiosities – an entire swath of the population vilifying another segment of the population for being aware of and attentive to issues of racial and social justice. Yet here we are, with Republican presidential wannabees roaming the countryside proposing that those aware and attentive people pose an existential threat to those who choose to be unaware and inattentive to such issues.
Try explaining that to your children. And how you explain it will go a long way toward identifying the depths to which you will go to find evil in your midst in schools, libraries, churches and communities, and even the nation.
We should all want our children to go to school to try to learn, to observe what is going on around them, to give and take kindness and decency, and to develop constructive responses to the big and small problems that they encounter. So, it is hard to understand how this formula is threatened by those who are aware of, and actively attentive to, important societal facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice.
To get to know woke people better, to try to break through to those proudly wallowing in their own ignorance, to ease the fears of some and to elevate the aspirations of others, a look at a few woke responses to important issues of the day might be instructive. A good place to start is with the issue of hungry children in our homes and communities.**
Woke people like me think it is outrageous that in America there are children who often go to bed hungry. We woke people call that “food insecurity.” It means that real children in today’s real America do not have enough to eat. And woke people think that is despicable for a nation that seeks to claim so much of the moral and economic high ground. If you are not afraid of that truth, then you should not be afraid of “woke” people like me telling you that truth. And if you succumb to unreasoned fear of that truth, it is likely because of the message, not because of the messenger.
Likewise woke people like me understand that immigrants are needed in this country to supplement the workforce and to enrich our communities with cultural diversity.*** If it weren’t for Latinos in America, finding functioning restaurants and someone to take care of your children or aging family members would be much more challenging. Next time you go out for a pizza, try speaking in Italian to the staff. When that doesn’t work, try Spanish.
And then for good measure, spend a little time in America’s inner cities with your eyes open and your prejudices aside. Racial inequity is a destructive and deeply ingrained component of the American tableau. Unless you believe that Black people are innately inferior to White people, your own eyes will surely see that something is really wrong. If you are not afraid of seeing that truth, then you should not be afraid of woke people like me telling you about that truth. And if you succumb to unreasoned fear of that truth, it is likely because you cannot face your own sordid truth, and not because of the woke person delivering that truth.
In these instances, and in so many others, the often-unstated fear is that good White Christian morality is being threatened by left-wing conspirators taking aim at a society in which a shaky majority embraces that good White Christian morality as sacrosanct. Woke people challenge the sanctity of that morality simply by their attention to elements of its crumbling foundation. When one of the outcomes of that “moral” agenda is preventable child hunger, it becomes necessary to silence those who seek to remind those good White Christian moral giants that preventable child hunger does not meet any standard of morality.
I often think about priorities and what our choices tell us about ourselves, our communities, and our nation. Last Fall, I participated in a charity bicycling event to raise money for cancer research and treatment at a major university-based cancer care center. While riding in the event after having raised money to help meet fundraising objectives, it occurred to me, and not for the first time, that Americans always seem to find public funds for armaments and seeding killing fields but need charity fundraisers to secure vital funds to support fundamental medical research. It seems way too much like a metaphor for those who mock the woke – a pathetic willingness to cruelly turn their backs on human suffering to ensure more human suffering.
Yet thankfully, the woke are not going away. While others burn books, shutter libraries, stifle teachers, and debase universities, we will find a way to reprint more books, create alternative libraries, and provide support to teaching and learning from diverse and challenging curricula at schools and universities. We will also amplify the voices of those who embrace the richness of diversity in our midst.
We woke people raise children as well, and they will read the books that the ignorant ban, welcome the immigrants that the morally-bankrupt shun, and continue to push a reluctant America to a long-overdue racial reckoning. We are proud of our woke progeny and hope that they are proud of those of us who are aware of and actively attentive to issues of racial and social justice.