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A Memo to My Fellow "Woke Mob" Members
Things are getting real
So, he’s running.
His awful Twitter Spaces conversation hobnobbing with silicon valley techbros will not be the end of listening to claims from Ron DeSantis as he attempts to use his anti-wokeness as a springboard to the Republican nomination.
There was no shortage of invocations of the word “woke,” of course. Biden “takes his cues from the woke mob” and has “allowed woke ideology to drive his agenda,” DeSantis said in the Twitter conversation. America needs to “replac[e] the woke mind virus with reality, facts, and enduring principles.” He wanted to ensure that college students were not “going to be roadkill in some type of woke Olympics,” mixing metaphors a bit.
“We will never surrender to the woke mob and we will leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history,” he insisted both on Twitter and, with slightly different phrasing, on Fox News.
Okay. So what’s “woke ideology?” Well, it was simply assumed that you, the listener, would know.
Those of us in the Woke Mob of course have a sense as to what Woke means. It is to be aware (Awake) of the ways in which life experiences are different for those parts of the population that are not white, male, middle class, heterosexuals. Not that the dominant group is necessarily bad (although sometimes willfully ignorant) but that the hegemonic perspective they assume keeps them from seeing clearly. We need to think much more deeply about how to bring that awareness to the surface. Name-calling will certainly not accomplish it.
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In her soon-to-be-released book (she gave me to access to an ARC), my friend Karen Swallow Prior notes that “being woke” goes back to the 1930s and have their roots in W.E.B. DuBois’ “double consciousness”. Of course, this technical definition is irrelevant to the RDS crowd.
Having a vague definition serves their ends. That’s how one can label DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) programs as “indoctrination” when they are designed to support current students or employees in ways that affirm their experiences, help in retention, and drive long-term success. Given that they don’t have a clear definition to point to, they can simply cherry-pick one isolated example; a gay couple of animated kids in Strange World and turn it into an exemplar of “everything that is wrong”.
It doesn’t seem effective to simply say, “you’re making way too much of this” — which is true. Any attempt to defend against the accusation of indoctrination leads to counterclaims of “grooming” children. The video from the teacher explains why she showed this science based film to students who had completed their science assessments. But her logic didn’t matter.
So how DO we respond? A first step is to provide ongoing and affirmative messaging about what we are trying to do. Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education daily update had this essay from James Ryan, president of the University of Virginia. While he offers a solid educational defense of DEI programs, he offers a comment for the critics:
Colleges, finally, should ensure as best they can that resources spent on DEI are not being wasted. Some efforts, like those focused on inclusion, can be difficult to measure. Others, such as the demographic composition of students and faculty, retention rates, and graduation rates, are easier. Still others require ongoing evidence-based assessment. For example, mandatory diversity trainings have received mixed reviews from social scientists, with some studies suggesting they may worsen the climate or culture of an institution. Those involved in DEI work need to be sincerely committed to assessing the impact of their efforts, and shifting away from what is not working and doubling down on what is.
Unfortunately, the critics stopped reading at the “not being wasted” line. They’ve already decided it’s wasteful, so the evidence-based assessments will be ignored. As I wrote on Monday, critics deny the entire efficacy of diversity statements and programs. They are so committed to Not Being Woke that they refuse to see why DEI would be beneficial to someone else.
I certainly wish that those on the other side of this argument would call out their extremists but that doesn’t ever happen. Because that would be giving in to us, the Woke Mob.
It might help if those of us in the Woke Mob called out our own extremists. Speakers shouldn’t be shouted down on campuses. When an adjunct faculty member disrupts an antiabortion rally and then threatens a journalist with a machete, we can’t say “well, she’s one of ours”.
We also face the problem of false parallels. When critics attack Target2 for their Pride Month displays, the store moved the merchandise to the back of the store so as not to put employees at risk. Am I the only one who remembers pro-military displays in local stores? Greg Sargent wrote about the Target situation in yesterday’s Washington Post:
Nevertheless, the right’s telling of the story is all wrong. In its reading, woke corporate elites are scheming in boardrooms to push the culture in a more progressive direction against the wishes of disempowered, silent culturally conservative majorities. That’s why right-wing figures have trained their fire on “woke corporations,” often insisting this justifies the use of state power against them.
In reality, corporations are acting in response to the broader culture. They are making self-interested decisions about how to profit off cultural shifts, and while such decisions do reinforce that evolution, they are a reaction to real, on-the-ground change.
This “decrying the Woke” is everywhere. The LA Dodgers were going to sponsor a drag group at the stadium, then they weren’t, then they were again. It provided lots of uproar. But the Dodgers also announced a “Christian Faith and Family Day” for late July. The former is seen as advocacy and the latter is just “normal promotion”.3
I don’t have an answer yet, but this asymmetry in anti-Woke sentiments has to be addressed. I heard this week from a friend whose middle schooler is regularly getting Praeger U videos in his social studies class. Nobody pushes back on that while Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem is deemed inappropriate by a Florida parent.
We in the Woke Mob need to find ways of regularly telling the story of why we are committed to the things we are. We need to make clear that students’ well-being is at stake. If the War on Woke is now upon us, we have to treat it like the battle it is. It won’t change Ron DeSantis’ perspective, but it might just expose it as the cynical opportunism that it is.
If you aren’t paying attention to Bump’s Saturday newsletter, “How to Read This Chart”, you are really missing out.
A very quick Google search shows that you can buy Pride merchandise on Amazon, at Walmart, at J. Crew, at Kohl’s, and a host of other places. Why Target?
And don’t get me started on the military buying stadium seats in bulk so that the stadium can recognize the military in a great display of civil religion!