The Volokh Conspiracy

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DeBoer: Of Course You Know What Woke Means


Excellent substack column by Freddie deBoer, and a great rebuke to those who tendentiously claim that "woke" is a racially tinged slur:

[I]t's absurd that so many people pretend not to know what woke means, and the problem could be easily solved if people who support woke politics would adopt a name for others to use. No to woke, no to identity politics, no to political correctness, fine: PICK SOMETHING…

Woke is defined by several consistent attributes. Woke is

    1. Academic—the terminology of woke politics is an academic terminology, which is unsurprising given its origins in humanities departments of elite universities. Central to woke discourse is the substitution of older and less complicated versions of socially liberal perspectives with more willfully complex academic versions. So civil rights are out, "anti-racism" is in….
    2. Immaterial—woke politics are overwhelmingly concerned with the linguistic, the symbolic, and the emotional to the detriment of the material, the economic, and the real. Woke politics are famously obsessive about language, developing literal language policies that are endlessly long and exacting….
    3. Structural in analysis, individual in action—the woke perspective is one that tends to see the world's problems as structural in nature rather than the product of individual actors or actions. Sometimes the problems are misdiagnosed or exaggerated, but the structural focus is beneficial….
    4. Emotionalist—"emotionalist" rather than emotional, meaning not necessarily inappropriately emotional but concerned fundamentally with emotions as the currency of politics. In woke circles, political problems are regularly diagnosed as a matter of the wrong emotions being inspired in someone….
    5. Fatalistic—woke politics tend towards extreme fatalism regarding solutions and the possibility of gradual positive political change. Institutions are all corrupt and bigoted, so institutions cannot prompt change. Most people are irredeemably racist, and so the masses cannot create a just society….
    6. Insistent that all political questions are easy—woke people speak and act as though there are no hard political questions and no such thing as a moral dilemma. Everything is obvious if you've only done the reading and done the work, which woke people assure you they did long ago….
    7. Possessed of belief in the superior virtue of the oppressed….