You have to hand it to Republicans. They have a knack for taking words and making them toxic. Having gotten a lot of mileage out of “politically correct,” these days it’s all about “woke.” If lamenting political correctness is basically an excuse to be an ignorant, insensitive jerk, the crusade against “woke” has escalated to become, in the hands of Ron DeSantis and his ilk, an aggressive campaign to suppress anything and everything that makes white, cisgender people uncomfortable.
Happily, Minnesota’s recent legislative session went in the opposite direction to pass numerous bills that affirm our diversity and protect the vulnerable. It’s an impressive list:
· Conversion therapy is banned.
· Individuals seeking gender-affirming health care or abortion care can find refuge here.
· Low-level cannabis offenses are expunged from people’s records.
· Voting rights are restored to felons who have served out their sentences.
· Indigenous children will be placed with their own people whenever possible.
· Undocumented immigrants will be allowed to get driver’s licenses.
· Juneteenth has joined Indigenous People’s Day as state holidays.
· Homeless people will get significant additional help.
· Hair discrimination is outlawed.
I could go on about all the new moneys going toward programs that will help people to thrive, but you get the idea.
Here’s what “woke” means to me. I grew up as a sheltered, privileged kid in a lily-white suburb. Eventually I left that cocoon and went out into a wider world that opened my eyes to many things. It made me recognize the ways in which I had imbibed stereotypes as part of my cultural baggage. I became, to some degree at least, “woke,” and I like to think it made me a better, more empathetic person. I’m still an old white guy, and I may never come to terms with using “they/them” as singular pronouns, but I embrace opportunities to widen my horizons.
In a way, I feel sorry for all those folks who fall for all the culture war claptrap. If they stepped out of their bubbles once in a while, they might discover a deeper humanity and lead a richer life. I also can’t help thinking that they’re being played, getting riled up over issues that distract them from their real problems. How many people suffer in their own lives because gays get married or young people receive treatment for gender dysphoria or immigrants come looking for a better life or people of color are imprisoned at an unconscionable rate?
At the same time, many far-right voters also know that the game is rigged and the rich are raking in obscene amounts of money while they struggle along, but somehow they think that voting for Republicans is going to change that. Instead, phony populist politicians are using them to keep the working class divided. The real beneficiaries are their wealthy donors, many of whom are libertarians whose ideology is the opposite of far-right efforts to curtail freedoms. The result is that economic inequality in this country just gets worse and worse.
I would like to remind those folks who get worked up about “wokeness” that the opposite of woke is asleep. It’s time they woke up to where their real interests lie.