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Press: It’s even worse than COVID-19: The ‘woke’ pandemic

The Hill logo The Hill 3/21/2023 Bill Press, opinion contributor
© Provided by The Hill

Where’s Anthony Fauci when we need him? There’s a new pandemic sweeping the country. It’s called “Wokeism.” And it’s worse than COVID-19, because it impacts everything: the banks, our schools, the courts, federal agencies, sports teams, the media and even the military. According to conservatives, all of those institutions are in trouble today. They’re doing everything wrong because they’re all too “woke.” 

When Silicon Valley Bank hit the skids this month, conservatives pounced. Ignoring all the evidence, they insisted that the bank didn’t fail because it made fundamentally bad business decisions; it failed because it was “woke.” Declared Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.): “So these SVB guys spend all their time funding woke garbage (climate change solutions) rather than actual banking.” 

In May 2021, when the U.S. Army posted commercials on social media aimed at recruiting new women soldiers, conservatives rolled in, accusing the military of going too “woke” and forcing them to take down the ads. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea,” tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). 

And in the Sunshine State, where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has proudly proclaimed “Florida is where woke goes to die,” Florida textbooks have been amended to remove all references to race in telling the story of Rosa Parks. As reported in The Hill, the earlier version of “She was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin” was changed to read simply: “She was told to move to a different seat.” 

Should we all be afraid of catching this “woke” bug? Well, first, you have to find out what it really means — which is not so easy. The definition of “woke” depends on whom you ask. To some, it means “aware of social injustices.” To others, it means “overly politically correct.”  

Actually, the term first emerged as African American slang for understanding discrimination faced by Black people. In one version of his 1938 song about the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine Black teenagers accused of raping two white women, folk singer Lead Belly warned Black people they should “Best stay woke, keep their eyes open.” In 2014, “woke” resurfaced as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, meaning people informed and aware of social injustices. In other words, people who “got it.” 

Its use became so popular that in 2017 Merriam-Webster added “woke” to the dictionary, defining it as applying to those who are “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).”  

But, of course, that’s not how DeSantis and other conservatives use the word. They’ve turned “woke” into the latest in a string of meaningless, pejorative terms — “liberal,” “politically correct,” “cancel culture” — to cover anything progressives believe in, from racial justice to climate change.  

If you believe that systemic racism has permeated, and still continues to permeate, every aspect of American endeavor — health care, transportation, hiring practices, Hollywood, television, corporate boardrooms, etc. — then you’re “woke.”  

If you believe we have a moral obligation to save the planet by fighting climate change, or that diversity in hiring is a good thing, or that women have a right to control their own bodies, or that LGBTQ Americans deserve equal rights, or that all Americans should pay their fair share of taxes, or that students should be taught history as it happened and not some white-washed version — then you’re “woke.” 

In other words, the more you learn about what “woke” really means, the more you realize it’s not something to be ashamed of, it’s something to feel good about. Yes, I’m “woke.” And I’m proud.  

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is also the author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.” 

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