Woke Culture Can Be Irritating and Problematic, but Racism is the Real Concern
Certainly, some of the efforts to address racism in the last decade have been worrisome. But perhaps more importantly, recent maneuvering on the part of Republicans and conservative media to seize on people’s frustrations — misrepresenting their efforts and furthering a “color-blind” framework — are not meant to actually address the racism but ignore it.
Some attempts to discuss race have been concerning. I am referring to “wokeness” and those exaggerated anti-racism seminars. People are rightly frustrated at corporate messaging that emphasizes diversity over everything else (when we all know that is usually a ruse to increase consumerism). Don’t get me wrong, a lot of this stuff is annoying and cringy, but let’s keep perspective. It has nowhere near the real impact of actual racism.
Republicans are misrepresenting Critical Race Theory or “CRT,” the esoteric legal theory that has consumed white suburbia. For those who do not know, CRT originated in the 1970s by several scholars to better understand how our legal system interacts with the concept of race and inherently disadvantages people of color (i.e. redlining and racial profiling). Every conservative with a microphone (talk show hosts, cable news hosts, congresspeople, school board, parents) claims that CRT is being taught in public schools and that it is systematically destroying our children's lives. Similar to the Color Revolutions in communist China. Nightmarish stuff!
Newsflash: CRT is not being taught in schools. It is hardly being taught at the college level except in specialized courses on race. But conservatives do not care about this reality. They have successfully conflated it with all things racial. Diversity training? CRT! Kids learning about slavery? CRT! Colin Kaepernick is a spokesman for Nike? CRT! CRT has become a catch-all phrase for anything to do with race. The Right cleverly packaged it under the umbrella of CRT. Don’t believe me? Believe the guy who started it all, Christopher Rufo. Rufo is a conservative activist most responsible for our exposure to the concept of CRT, ironically:
Congressional Republicans and right-wing media push a “color-blind” agenda but the real goal is to ignore racism altogether. They pretend to be culture warrior saviors willing to defend this country against the “tyrannical left.” During the 1950s and 1960s, when people of color finally began to have full rights as a citizen, the Right began equating this to “socialism” and “communism”. School integration was considered “Soviet-era tyranny” in their world. And this was a convenient foible as the United States was in a prolonged cold war with the Russians, so anything conservatives didn’t like was representative of our national enemy. In 2021, they are saying nearly the same thing about CRT. A derivative of this fake culture war outrage was central to the Southern Strategy, a scheme developed by Republican administrations to shore up its racist White voter bloc without sounding overtly racist. In fact, key Republicans have admitted to employing this kind of dog-whistling for a variety of purposes. The most famous is an admission from Reagan’s senior advisor, Lee Atwater in response to a question about the Southern Strategy: “Y’all don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger’. By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
It is important to recognize that opportunity for people of color has changed quite a bit since that time, but let’s consider that starting from a time when a person of color couldn’t even cast a vote or go to the same school as a white person is a very low bar. There’s plenty of racism and gaps in opportunity that still exists today, a lot of which can be lethal to people of color. Aiming to fix this is anything but annoying or cringy. Perhaps the way corporate America, Hollywood and a handful of teachers go about it is frustrating, but let’s not lose sight of the real problem here.
Sadly, we often do.
We need to discuss racism. Just because some efforts are misplaced, does not mean we default to “color-blindness,” a seemingly neutral yet underhanded strategy conservatives employ to ignore the issue altogether.
In the backdrop of today’s environment, Democrats need to be more forceful about addressing racism. According to a recent survey by the libertarian Cato Institute, 66 percent of respondents claim they are afraid to speak their minds. The average person seems to be fed up with sensitivity trainings and the knee-jerk reaction of left-wing media emphasizing race over everything else as the cause of societal problems. And they seem to be fed up with “woke” corporations’ fake outrage over police violence and voting rights when they hardly do anything but make statements. While actual racism continues to be a much bigger problem, Democrats hurt their chances of addressing it if they do not address overly woke culture.
Perhaps we need to try what Professor Loretta Ross refers to as “calling in”, not “calling out.” Too often in today’s culture, people are called out for something they did or said in an unproductive manner: on Twitter in front of millions of followers with the sole intent of garnering likes and retweets via shaming. The end result is usually a “canceling” of sorts, and no one learns anything. Worse, conservatives get yet another chance to call out the tyrannical left (no pun intended), despite the fact that they engage in cancel culture quite a bit. Professor Ross advocates privately messaging someone or calling them on the phone to talk about the matter. Or she says to simply “take a breath” before making a nasty comment. Whatever the approach, do it with the intent of changing this person for the better, not trying to garner retweets. Do it with love and respect rather than intimidation and hate.