What is Woke?

You have no doubt by now seen the video of Bethany Mandel, promoting her book Stolen Youth, cowritten with Karol Markowicz, apparently freezing when asked to define woke during a Tuesday interview on The Hill’s online program Rising. Co-host Briahna Joy Gray asked her to clarify the term so everybody could be on the same page. The defenders of woke ideology thrilled when Mandel hesitated before coming up with one. The resulting narrative obscures what turns out to have been a succinct definition of woke.

“So, I mean, woke is sort of the idea that, um,” Mandel seemed to choke before noting: “This is going to be one of those moments that goes viral.” She then gathered her wits about her and gave one of the best definitions of woke I have yet heard: “the understanding that we need to totally reimagine and redo society in order to create hierarchies of oppression.” After Robby Soave jumped in to say, “It’s definitely something you know what it is when you see it,” Mandel added: “Forced conformity.”

Here’s the interview:

Now, Mandel may well have meant something like “the understanding that we need to totally reimagine society in order to reduce hierarchies of oppression,” which would have been a charitable definition given from the standpoint of a woke person. Dictionaries define woke as an aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice (paraphrasing Merriam-Webster). But the way Mandel put it is what those who think in woke terms actually want out of their movement. They do not wish to reduce hierarchies of oppression but to create them. And they have.

If you need somebody to say more, I am certainly that person. Here’s how I would have answered the question: Woke describes a system of political and social beliefs based on identity politics, political correctness, and academic theories of systemic oppression and privilege that promotes a victimhood culture and conditions people to be overly sensitive and easily offended, while stifling free speech and suppressing charitable dialogue. As such woke ideology is divisive and counterproductive, emphasizing differences between groups rather than their commonalities and promoting a culture of blame and resentment rather than one of agency and responsibility.

That definition takes about thirty seconds to say, if you speak at a reasonable pace. Mandel did better with “the understanding that we need to totally reimagine and redo society in order to create hierarchies of oppression.” Even better with “forced conformity.”

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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