by James T. Murphy
With the exception of leftist social media influencers and culture cancellers, it had seemed, until recently, that “wokeness” was not a prerequisite in order to be looked upon as politically and culturally correct, but such is not the case. The term woke derives from African-American Vernacular English. The expression “stay woke” was first used in the U.S. in the 1940s and referred to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social and racial justice. You are “woke” if the word is not followed by “up”, and if it is you may be seen on the promenade with a light bulb above your head, or you are wrestling with the alarm clock in search of the repeat button. The term itself has re-emerged as generic lingo and is now associated with left-wing politics, social justice activism and progressive causes. Its present use is traced to the Black Lives Matter movement and thus we have come full circle in one present sense. But sense in all this is not what is desired, so much as is a remaking of the past. A bit of recent history is instructive.
Of late, the once universally respected first president of the U.S., who allegedly could not tell a lie, and there seems to be at least a low level oxymoron there by proclaiming that politicians cannot tell a lie, has been the subject, among others, of recriminations and denunciations. Along with Thomas Jefferson there have been calls for their removal from Mt. Rushmore and the City Square, because of their ownership of slaves, a franchise so evil it is difficult even to adequately imagine the pain and suffering it engendered. History can be depressing, no doubt, but it cannot be expunged. One can take sufficient amounts of dynamite to Mt. Rushmore, resulting only in tons of rubble, and nothing about the past changes. It is, and will always remain, as a reminder of both triumphs and glory, as well as the tragedies and disgrace. Clio, History’s Muse is disinterested, and she responds neither to praise nor denigration. So too, the present cannot elevate humankind merely by the continuous disparagement of its shortcomings, past or present. It is however proper to teach the child right from wrong, just as it is a craven and fearful teacher who expels the young charge for bullying a physically weaker scholar. That’s why we call it Education. If we knew yesterday what we know today life would have few lessons; growth and maturity would exist only in gardens and orchids.
So the trick then is not too eliminate the past, an exercise in futility to start with, but to learn from it, even embrace it, for both all its infirmities, and its achievements. Easier said than done however as wokeness intrudes, and would extinguish not just statues and other historical works but even words, words that are deemed by that body of boys and girls who can, and often do, misappropriate truths to fit neatly into a preferred outcome, in one case, to be more “gender-inclusive.”
Recently speaker Nancy Pelosi proposed, and here the exception noted at the outset applies, to eliminate “father, mother, son, daughter, brother and sister” from the text of House rules, and replace these monikers with terms like “parent, child, sibling, parent’s sibling”, etc. Get the picture? Aside from the clear intent at pandering to the small yet growing brood of progressives tugging at her left elbow, the Speaker suggests we need more inclusion and diversity in our language. Well yes, the sentiment is commendable, but the proposal would probably be more appropriate if she was the majority leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, where it seems inclusion is hardly even an afterthought. But alas, this is America, the land of inclusion and diversity, if ever there was one. Although words do of course matter, they do not, and cannot, by themselves raise the level of consciousness of a nation, at least not beyond the willingness to be raised. Nor is changing mother to parent the same as fireman to firefighter, or policeman to police officer. The latter is a correct designation, the former a woke descriptor, as it adds nothing to the conversation, and certainly does not elevate an awareness of social and/or racial justice. It is actions that matter, and paradoxically speak louder, as every eight year knows. The action in this instance then appears to fit neatly into an agenda, as opposed to attempting to educate all occupants of this democracy. Diversity and inclusion is the goal; we should all wake up.