Wokeness is what folks on the political right love to declare themselves as being against these days. But, what is it, really, that they oppose?
The term “woke” was derived from African American vernacular English, meaning alertness to racial prejudice. For those who have used the term positively, something I am not sure anyone actually does anymore, its meaning evolved to encompass awareness of other social inequities and forms of oppression, such as sexism, misogyny, white privilege, the oppression of any minority person or community, and human and environmental predations of exploitive corporations. This is sometimes called “intersectionality,” another term that is often denigrated.
The opposite of “wokeness” could be characterized as indifference by those with privileged status to the suffering of others.
For those on the right, it has become a generalized pejorative, almost an expletive for any attitudes they attribute to those who see the patterns of oppressions in the world differently than they do, who strive to bring those oppressions out of the darkness of ignorance, to ease the despair of those who dwell under their yoke, to contemplate how these cultural oppressions can be remedied and to actively work to actualize those remediations.
When I hear or read someone put down “wokeness,” I perform a simultaneous mental translation and substitute “kindness” for “wokeness,” and this clarifies their actual sentiment.
Simple kindness is a recognition that we are all in our essential human nature of the same kind, and it is imperative that we recognize we have far more similarities to one another than differences between us. This includes equal entitlement to the essentials of a healthy and comfortable life, safety in communities, and a sustainable environment in which to live and to bequeath to those who follow on.
Placing kindness in the foreground of thinking, including opening to all the facts of shared heritage, even those that may make some feel uncomfortable, can lead to a spiritual renewal. Opposing equal rights for those who may in some respect differ is not just anti-wokeness, it is anti-kindness.
Jonathan Klate writes regularly about spirituality, political ideology and the relationship between these two.