The “awakened” debate should be a rational debate, not a mistaken one.
There are those of us who are old enough to remember when the term “political correctness” first appeared in the public sphere. It didn’t take long for warriors of ideological culture and politicians to exploit the term according to their own agendas.
Today, almost three decades later, the term “awake” has become the adjective of the hour.
Like its verbal cousin, alarm clock has been twisted by many on the right (and some on the left) who have perversely attempted to twist the definition of the term into something antithetical to its true meaning.
The Merriam-Webster definition of enlightenment is to be “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”. This very plausible and sensible definition makes sense to me.
Nonetheless, we’ve seen the term used repeatedly as a blunt instrument pitched by bad faith actors, who often display a fierce and ominous pride in not paying attention.
Critics are not confined to one side of the political spectrum. Figures as diverse as far-right Republican Senses Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, centrist Democratic strategist James Carivlle and comedian and cultural critic Bill Maher have all voiced their displeasure. The always irascible Cruz tweeted about “woken up” Democrats, “woken up” emasculated army soldiers, “woken up” CEOs, and of course, “wakeup” media. Notice, that’s the same man that fought with Big Bird. Go figure it out.
Carville went so far as to denounce “stupid awakening”, “teachers’ lounge discussions” and “madness” as serious obstacles to the Democratic Party’s agenda, and berated awakening as a major reason of Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial race last month.
Maher sees the so-called awakened ideology as “a dramatic and pessimistic rhetoric” whose “central idea and ideology is that America is rotten to the root, hopelessly racist … oppressive, sexist and homophobic”.
Indeed, opinions are strong and passion has reached its climax. For the record, as a college professor, I can say that it seems Carville didn’t spend a lot of time in college professors’ lounges. The majority of teachers do not attribute to “the policy of awakening”
In a 1962 New York Times article titled “If You’re Woken, You Dig It”, novelist William Melvin Kelley wrote about the beatnik’s appropriation of black idioms. During the civil rights movement, activists took up the gospel song “Woke Up This Morning With My Mind On Jesus” and changed it to “Woke Up This Morning With My Mind On Freedom”.
Thus, the origins of revival in this milieu – as shaped by black Americans – go back decades to the early 1960s. Yet its conventional universality is a recent phenomenon. Due to the fierce trilogy of black musicians, social media, and the Black Lives Matter movement, the term was included in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017, defined as being astute and sensitive to social issues.
If we’re all being honest, enlightened politics is a bipartisan affair. Individuals from across the political spectrum have aggressively used ill-defined humiliations and fabricated outrage to launch and arm searing, bombastic rhetoric to score “points” against the other side. Awakening is but a powerful smokescreen to lift an icteric political eye against the perceived “other”.
The scorched earth antics that some awakening supporters and critics regularly engage in are a misguided form of aggression that cannot be tolerated or tolerated in a society that prides itself on a healthy, rational, and open debate. . We should definitely remember to keep these sobering thoughts in mind.
Copyright 2021. Elwood Watson, distributed by the Cagle Cartoons Journal Syndicate. Watson is a professor of history, black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and lecturer.