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There's a reason why conservatives won't define "woke"
It's become their code word to condemn Black people, queer people, anti-racists and the very idea of equality. Democrats should fully embrace the term.
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This was the week that the anti-woke went completely broke.
It began with ignorant members of Congress, like Oversight Committee chair James Comer, joining Fox News pundits in idiotically calling Silicon Valley Bank a “woke” bank, and blaming that for its failure.
By mid-week conservative author Bethany Mandel, who wrote an entire book supposedly about “woke indoctrination” of children, could not define what “woke” is during an interview. If you haven’t seen it you have to watch the entire clip. Even Mandel, knowing she was sinking, admitted that the moment would “go viral.” And it sure did, in addition to garnering headlines.
The reason Mandel couldn’t answer — she lamely tried to tweet out excuses later, claiming she was thrown off, and finally offering a word salad of a definition of woke that was quite obtuse — is simple. She’d have been forced to give a quick soundbite that would reveal being anti-woke is being against equality and in favor of discrimination.
Woke is a term that’s been used among African-Americans for decades, always meant as becoming informed, illuminated and activated in the struggle for equality. It began being used more broadly in the progressive movement after Donald Trump’s election. But the term has been taken over in the past few years by Republicans using it pejoratively — as the party is now in the grip of white supremacists — to tar the very idea of equality.
It’s a code word for the GOP meant to disparage anyone seeking justice and fighting against discrimination for people of color, LGBTQ people, women and other groups. It’s become ridiculously broad, too, used to attack anything that Democrats and President Biden do, but also trying to imply that Black people, queer people, women, religious minorities and others in the Democratic base are behind any effort, any policy the GOP loathes.
So the GOP rails against “woke” housing policies, “woke” education policies, “woke” health care initiatives and “woke” environmental programs. Disney is “woke” and so is the rest of Hollywood. Too much of TV is “woke” and so many books are so “woke” they need to be banned.
All of these labels are meant to disparage efforts to fight injustice or to censor what is taught in schools about injustice as well as to censor popular culture. Anti-woke efforts are indeed about stopping equality and re-writing history and denying truth.
And now, this week, we had “woke” banks, as Republicans expanded the use of the term to cover up their corrupt policies. Calling Silicon Vally Bank “woke” because it has a Black board member and an LGBTQ board member is a racist and homophobic dog whistle. And claiming it failed because of that — because some of the people running it were not white men — is ludicrous.
They’ve also laughably tried to argue that because the bank celebrated diversity, held seminars for employees on equality and marked events like Pride month, it was ‘distracted” from its mission, and that that caused its bad decisions. But diversity training is now a hallmark of every corporation, and even News Corp and Fox News celebrate Pride month and have an LGBTQ group holding events. So again, absolutely absurd.
We all now know that SVB failed because regional banks were deregulated in 2018 under Donald Trump, who partially gutted the Dodd-Frank Act, along with Republicans in Congress and some Democrats. The bank no longer had the government performing stress-testing, and it made bad decisions. SVB was in fact a MAGA bank — founded by white men and largely run by white men, Silicon Valley libertarian tech bros.
Tech billionaire Peter Thiel, among the trumpiest of the Trump one percenters, having bankrolled the campaigns of Ohio’s rabid Senator J.D. Vance and failed creepy extremist Blake Master in his Arizona Senate run, actually contributed to the fall of SVB when his Founders Fund pulled all its money out, helping spark a bank run. Thiel was one of SVB’s top five venture capitalists. The bank was founded by former Bank of America managers Bill Biggerstaff and Robert Medearis, two white men.
Notice that conservatives haven’t called the other bank that failed in the past week, Signature Bank, a “woke” bank. That’s because it not only was fully run by white people but as a bank servicing the real estate sector in the New York area it was the go-to bank for the Trump family for many years.
Labeling banks as “woke” coupled with Mandel’s inability to define “woke,” both happening in the same week, showed both the emptiness of this term, and the GOP’s motives in using it as code — as well as why the “anti-woke” campaign will be a dud for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or anyone else in a presidential election.
The majority of Americans in a recent poll actually said they view “woke” as a positive term, and not a negative one. And honestly, the opposite of being awake is sleepwalking. Who wants our political leaders doing that?
Democrats should embrace “woke” as being informed and educated, and go on the offensive. And they should put the GOP on the defensive, demanding Republicans define woke every chance they get.