From Woke to Intersectional: How Words Obscure Ideology

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Today, I want to talk about how the use of certain words can obscure important differences in worldview, and effectively hide an ideological framing of the issues, which is why I don’t tend to use such words anymore.

Woke is Whatever One Disagrees With Nowadays

Let’s start with the word ‘woke’, and its opposite, ‘anti woke’. There was once a time, a few years ago, when I used these terms quite a bit myself. Back then, ‘woke’, in its current form, had just entered our everyday vocabulary, and I saw that it was generally attached to views and movements inspired by critical theory. To me, therefore, ‘woke’ meant pro-criticalism, and ‘anti woke’ meant being against criticalism. The ‘woke’ were not old-school liberals, they instead subscribed to another ideology that aims to supplant liberalism. Hence old-school liberals were not ‘woke’, and this was a useful distinction. And I’m sure that many people did, and still do, use the terms roughly this way.

However, over the years, I saw more and more people throwing the ‘woke’ word around to mean something else. For example, opponents of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill have been called ‘woke’. Trans rights supporters in the UK have also been called ‘woke’. This has happened even where arguments from critical theory were clearly not involved, and people were arguing from traditional liberal grounds. Hence, at least for some people, the usage of ‘woke’ appears to extend to old-school liberals too!

You see, the reason why I don’t use the descriptions ‘woke’ and ‘anti woke’ anymore is because they are clearly being used by different people to mean different things, usually to frame the debate in a particular way. Hence, for example, while old-school liberals can say that proponents of critical race theory are ‘woke’, conservatives can also say that the old-school liberals themselves are ‘woke’. Indeed, one can argue that nowadays, ‘woke’ is basically whatever you don’t agree with. This clearly obscures and confuses important ideological distinctions, and is bad if what we want is clear communication. Hence, I have stopped using the word ‘woke’, for the sake of maintaining clear communication. I guess it’s like how many people decided to stop using the term ‘SJW’ several years ago, again for similar reasons.

Intersectionality is More than Meets The Eye

Now, let’s talk about another way in which fancy labels and descriptions can obscure ideological thinking.

There was a brief period (in around 2016–17) when I sort of embraced the then-popular idea of intersectionality. Basically, intersectionality is about emphasizing how one can be discriminated or disadvantaged by multiple intersecting identity characteristics, such as gender, race, sexual orientation and so on. It was used to critique how mainstream feminism was dominated by the views of white middle-class women with a certain kind of background, for example. Back then, I thought that this concept could be useful in other ways. For example, LGBT activists clearly don’t represent the diversity of LGBT people very well, especially those from more conservative or non-Western backgrounds. Also, in general, so-called progressive circles often don’t live up to their ideal of being equally inclusive to all, because there are often long-standing dominant views on certain issues, and other perspectives are often effectively silenced. I thought intersectionality could be used to solve these problems.

However, I soon found that, in pro-intersectionality circles, there are unspoken rules about what counts as an ‘intersectional’ issue. For example, if a non-white person talked about how they experienced racism even in supposedly progressive circles, their views are very welcome. However, if the same person then started talking about feeling excluded because of their cultural views and values, which might not always align well with the mainstream views of the Western left, they could be made to feel unwelcome. In other words, what is considered ‘intersectional’ is guarded by gatekeepers, and the theoretical ideal picture of intersectionality is thus prevented from being achieved.

For about a year, I still thought that I could use reason to challenge the gatekeeping of intersectionality, so that its true ideal could be fully realized. But the more I argued, the more I read, and the more I reflected on all of it, the more I came to my final realization: that the concept of ‘intersectionality’ has a deeper component that is not included in the definition given by its proponents. Intersectionality is basically rooted in the ideology of critical theory, which sees society as being divided into oppressor and oppressed groups, and sees cultural ideas and institutions as a product of these oppressive relations. Therefore, intersectionality is effectively limited and biased in its application, because of the assumptions of the critical theory ideology. That intersectionality cannot live up to its ideals is therefore a birth defect that cannot be cured. This is why I ultimately left intersectionality behind.

I mean, I still like what intersectionality theoretically stands for. But I can’t support a movement that is rooted in the critical theory worldview, with all its divisiveness and its problematic assumptions about the world.

TaraElla is a singer-songwriter and author, who recently published her autobiography The TaraElla Story, in which she described the events that inspired her writing.

She is also the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which argue that liberalism is still the most moral and effective value system for Western democracies in the 21st century.

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