Short Take: Overwoke

Damon Young makes a pretty good argument for the revitalization of “woke,” a word that I admittedly use in a derogatory manner as reflecting people with impulse control issues and an excess of passion where a modicum of reason should be. I have to admit, he caught me off guard with his opening graf.

It was quaint, really. That feeling I had in the months after the 2016 presidential election, where I convinced myself I’d do everything possible in the next four years to prevent Donald Trump from becoming normalized.

Realizing, just a few years later, that it was “quaint,” introduced a bit of charm into what might otherwise be childish and churlish. It has nothing to do with one’s views of Trump, per se, as one can find him a vulgar, amoral ignoramus and still not “convince” oneself to dedicate the next four years of one’s life to fighting his every word, movement, “normalization.”

But there was a subset of society that not only believed him to be an existential threat to humanity, but that it was their most sacred duty to spend every waking moment shrieking about him. it might have taken a few years, but Young recognizes now that it was, if not largely ineffective and an exceptionally poor tactic, quaint.

It was our duty to never stop shouting about his abnormalities, and I believed that this conscientiousness had an unlimited bandwidth. (How could it not?) I’d be obstinate and cantankerous. I’d be unflinching. I’d be resolute. The fate of the republic depended on it.

Trump is still there. So is the nation. The sky didn’t fall. But as much as his worldview has failed, costing him time he could have otherwise spent “search[ing] for the what’s in the chorizo that Steel Cactus uses in its tacos,” he has no regrets. Except for what’s become of “woke.”

Admittedly, woke’s current iteration has been earned. It became a thing you can accessorize like a hoodie. But to be woke, essentially, is to recognize and reject the damage power inflicts on the most vulnerable. And when the president’s only real purpose is to maintain the status of whiteness, he and his supporters have clear incentives for the rest of us to stay asleep.

When he defines “woke,” it’s his definition. It may not be yours or mine.

Today, however, when I turn on the news and attempt to slog through the impeachment inquiry, I’m reminded of some of the inane conspiracy theories my wokest college classmates considered gospel. There was the Tommy Hilfiger one, where we shouldn’t buy his clothes because he went on Oprah and expressed disgust at black people wearing them. There was the Timberland one, where we should stop buying those boots because the emblem (a tree) represented lynchings.

These conspiracies could be debunked with superficial research. (Tommy Hilfiger hadn’t even appeared on Oprah’s show before that rumor circulated, the Timberland rumor apparently came from a poem wrongly attributed to Maya Angelou.) But even as we’d roll our eyes at them for believing these untruths, we knew they weren’t wrong about America. They just had bad information.

It’s not at all surprising that the woke are just as inclined to believe lies as their right wing brothers. It’s not surprising how easily they can slough off their own idiocy with an empty excuse which would be outrageous if used by the other tribe. To many of us, they’re just two sides of the same coin, or maybe the ends of a horseshoe, if you prefer some gap in between. Whatever.

Young, however, has burned out after remaining awake 24/7 to be at the forefront of wokeness.

But I am bored out of my mind with the impeachment proceedings and would rather watch my shower faucet drip. Or perhaps just go to bed early and catch up on some sleep.

And he lived for this over the past couple of years.

And when I find myself giving the insufferably woke a hard time, I remember: Someone has to stay awake.

It’s not that he’s abandoned his dreams of Trump imploding, but that this “duty to never stop” isn’t nearly as much fun as it seemed, and so he’s given himself permission to retreat to his safe space. He just hopes someone else will be woke, even if insufferably so, while he googles chorizo.

6 thoughts on “Short Take: Overwoke

  1. Richard G. Kopf


    That the New York Times considers Damon Young’s “In Defense of ‘Woke’” worthy of publication strikes me as very odd.

    First, it is incomprehensible despite the fact you seem to be able to discern some vague New Yorkish meaning from it.

    Second, to the degree his essay can be understood, it is boring.

    Third, Young’s piece convinces me again that if the Times was worth a damn it would give you a gig. At least I can understand you without difficulty even when you are wrong–a not infrequent event, by the way–and you are also never boring.

    By the way, the word “woke” can’t be defended (except as a well deserved slur). I am reminded of the following slightly altered exchange:

    “When I use a woke,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make woke mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master*—that’s all.”

    All the best.


    * Lewis Carroll was, of course, a racist.

  2. B. McLeod

    Wokieness is like one of those special interest hobbies. It enables people who have never contributed anything to society (and who never will) to nevertheless rack up “likes” on social media as acolytes of the ideology. They can take some solace in the thought that there is one thing they are good at, even if it is pointless idiocy.

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