Friday, June 8, 2018

Woke af

Drawing by gackhammer/Imgur.

 Slang. (often used in the phrase stay woke)

  1. actively aware of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights:In light of recent incidents of police brutality, it’s important to stay woke.He took one African American history class and now he thinks he’s woke.
  2. aware of the facts, true situation, etc. (sometimes used facetiously):The moon landing was staged. Stay woke!A tomato is a fruit and not a vegetable. Stay woke.


"Hey, black people? David F. Brooks called, he said he wanted to borrow one of your words for a minute."

"Which one?"

"Ah, 'woke'."

"The fuck, again? Last time he did that he got it filthy and I never did get all the stains out."

He wants ("The Problem with Wokeness") to use it as a synonym for "apoplectic rigidity", as in
In 1952 Reinhold Niebuhr complained that many of his fellow anti-communists were constantly requiring “that the foe is hated with sufficient vigor.” This led to “apoplectic rigidity.” Screaming about the imminent communist menace became a sort of display art for politicians.
These days we think of wokeness as a left-wing phenomenon. But it is an iron law of politics that every mental habit conservatives fault in liberals is one they also practice themselves.
In the old days it was Senators McCarthy and Nixon who were "woke". Now it's DeRay McKesson. Who knew?

Or the deep gloom of Ta-Nehisi Coates's recent writing is identical to the lively hysteria of that deeply woke Republican freak Michael Anton claiming 2016 was the "Flight 93 Election" and everybody must vote for Trump because it's the heroic equivalent of committing mass suicide in order to save, um, the wherever terrorist Hillary Clinton is trying to head us. Because it's an iron law of the David Brooks column that whatever it may be, bothsides do it.

There's a point Brooks could have been making, in the Coates bit:
Coates is very honest about his pessimism and his hopeless view of the situation. But a number of writers have criticized his stance. Cornel West has argued that it’s all words; it doesn’t lead to collective action. In The New York Review of Books, Darryl Pinckney argues, “Afro-pessimism threatens no one, and white audiences confuse having been chastised with learning.”
I’d add that it’s a blunt fact that most great social reforms have happened in moments of optimism, not moments of pessimism, in moments of encouraging progress, not in moments of perceived threat.
That Brooksian "I'd add", as if to say "If I were good enough to be writing in NYRB I'd be an improvement on Pinckney", is what really makes me insane. What was I going to say?

I was going to say that if what you mean by "woke" is "lost in despair at the certainty that nothing you do can make a difference" then wokeness isn't a very productive attitude to bring to the fight for justice and openness, only of course that isn't what anybody means by it except David F. Brooks.

I'll add that the correct word for that, "declinist", has always been a potent weapon of the conservative struggle to prevent change from happening: if everything's so bad already, and governed by vast, cruel forces beyond our control, surely any change will make it worse. All we can do is die in the attempt, like the Spartan 300, or Anton's Trump voters, and retain our sense of wounded superiority for the few seconds we have left to live. Better to stay humble and quiet, and cling to the rags of order and hierarchy that remain to us to cover our shame with.

In this sense, since "every mental habit" Brooks faults in those he sees as extremists, from a failure to make your marriage work to a failure to study the humanities instead of mooning your day away reading self-help manuals, is in fact practiced by Brooks, you can see there's something pretty funky about the optimism he keeps recommending to us. It's an optimism he doesn't feel. It's an exoteric optimism like Ronald Reagan's, preached to the plebeians as his followers work to despoil them of everything they have, or it's a personal cry of pain, Brooks wishing he felt better about things. And it's not bothsides (I almost feel like trying to construct an argument that Coates is our greatest living conservative writer, maybe some other time). If you're awakening,
Eventually, you realize (and hope) that America's consciousness is evolving. There's a light in the distance. You can’t focus only on the negative, otherwise it'll swallow you whole. So, you stay aware, check your privilege, and keep your anger productive.
Above all, you remember to hope for something better, to believe it can happen. Change isn't happening all at once, but it is happening. (From "The 7 Stages of White People Getting Woke", by Jamie Varon.)

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