The term “woke” is being bandied about a lot lately, and several people that I have talked to have no idea what it even means. I know just enough about it to know that I would like to never have to hear of it again, just like I would prefer never to have to deal with political correctness.
Neither of the two concepts has ever made any sense to me for the simple reason that the hurt feelings — in the absence of physical harm — of a small number of people in a society should not be permitted to change the norms, the institutions or the history of that society.
There are several definitions available for the term “woke,” including one on Dictionary.com that says, “having or marked by an active awareness of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those involving the treatment of ethnic, racial or sexual minorities.”
That definition, if taken on face value, does not sound like a bad thing. Considering the fact that the term most recently came to the forefront out of protests over racial injustice and basically calls for one to be aware of the issue of police mistreatment of people of color, it at least has some nobility.
Despite my police experience and my personal knowledge that police brutality is not nearly as pervasive or as racially motivated as some would lead us to believe, I think that if wokeness had remained within that context, it would not necessarily be bad.
The problem is that woke has evolved from being an opinion about one subject to a whole new political ideology.
When woke ideology promotes the removing of statues of prominent people from the past, for rewriting history to remove something that a few people don’t like and calls for the editing out of “harmful” words in Roald Dahl’s classic children’s books or an innocent phrase in the books of Ian Fleming, it has gone too far.
It boils down to an attempt to judge everyone in the past by the standards of the present. It’s like criticizing your great-grandmother for not wearing a bikini. It’s like saying that 250 years ago during the formative years of our nation, or 400 years ago when Europeans first settled here, or 500 years ago when the continent was first discovered, all of those people should have known better than to do things the way they did.
Those people in the past all operated on the mores — the moral norms and customs derived from generally accepted practices — of their time, and they were doing what was accepted at the time. One could easily write a book on the long list of things that were acceptable then and are not acceptable today. Those people, no matter how reprehensible some of their actions may be by today’s standards, were not wrong. They were right for their time, and erasing them or their actions from history would be a travesty.
Conversely, there is probably an equally long list of things that are acceptable today that would not have been acceptable then. For example, I once read a prominent person say that when he was a boy, in the early part of the 20th century, his father refused to move into a particular house because one of the neighbors had the audacious habit of sitting on his front porch in his shirtsleeves. How do you think that father would feel today if he saw, like I have, a guest show up at church wedding in khaki shorts and a T-shirt?
The arrogance of being woke in its broader context means judging everyone on the basis of what you would have done if you were in their shoes, meaning there is no way that you could ever be wrong.
So. when the woke criticize and want to change history because they don’t like it, they are dead wrong, and we should quit catering to them. There is another tongue-in-cheek definition of woke in that context that I like much better: “A state of awareness only achieved by those dumb enough to find injustice in everything but their own behavior.”
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.