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"Woke" - What's in a Word?

My generation used “woke” as the past tense of waking up, as in “I woke up in the middle of the night.” Today, some conservatives use it as a four-letter word you teach your kids not to say. An excellent example is a recent letter “Mickey needs to reevaluate his roots.” In this letter, the author alleges that Micky Mouse has “woke and decided to reside on the dark side.” Because of this wokeness, Mickey, he continues, has turned his back on generations of Americans and now hates America. What does “woke” mean when used in this context?

Like most Americans, I immediately went to Google. According to the wizards that work at Google, “woke” means the quality of being alert to injustice and discrimination in society, especially racism. OK, now I am really lost. According to the author of this letter, Mickey Mouse has turned against America and even hates America because he is more aware of racism and discrimination. That can't be right. Aren’t all Americans against discrimination? Don’t we all want a world in which we are judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin? Don’t we want a world where we can marry the person we love, no matter their gender?

It seems Google is not the know-all I thought it was. "Woke" has another meaning. In 2013-2014, the word "woke" became entwined with the Black Lives Matter movement; instead of just being a word that signaled awareness of injustice or racial tension, it became a word of action, doing something about racism and injustice. As you can see, over the years, it has evolved and is now intertwined in the public consciousness with canceled culture. So often, someone gets “canceled” after they say something insensitive – something not woke.

The letter targets Mickey Mouse (Disney, I guess, as the writer is unclear) for its position that many of its films, TV shows and other entertainment are based on racial stereotypes and are no longer appropriate. Disney is now aware that it was wrong in the way they showed blacks and slavery. Perhaps princes kissing girls without their permission is inappropriate, they said, so they pulled their films from the shelves. Therefore, Disney will no longer allow these shows to be shown.

The letter writer thinks this is wrong. But unfortunately, he still lives in the ’50s, where ignorance and insensitivity reigned.

Thomas Mitchell Inverness

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