THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2021
What's in a word? It would be hard to make less sense than Charles Blow does in his latest column.
Blow is tangled up in a word. The cobweb in question is "woke."
Blow's column appears beneath this headline:
The War on ‘Wokeness’
That headline may be a bit overwrought, but so far, things seem to make sense. There is, in fact, an ongoing set of disputes about various behaviors, impulses and beliefs which get denigrated as "woke."
Different people think different things about those behaviors, impulses and beliefs. But it's those beliefs and behaviors which are being debated, not the word "woke" itself.
Puzzlingly, Blow seems to think that people are somehow arguing about the word. This peculiar conception first shows up in this somewhat peculiar passage:
BLOW (11/11/21): Perhaps no other word of the moment is so under attack as “woke,” a word born as a simple yet powerful way of saying, be aware of and alert to how racism is systemic and pervasive and suffuses American life. Wake up from the slumber of ignorance and passive acceptance.
But because of its petit power, this small word was a prime candidate for co-option, for being turned against the people who used it. The opponents of wokeness—whether they be conservatives who believe it injures the ideal of America as inherently good, or moderate Democrats worried that it handicaps their electoral prospects—want to kill it.
Republicans want to recast “wokeness” as progressive politics run amok, and many establishment Democrats shrink from the term because they either believe that Republicans have succeeded at the task, or, of even more concern, they agree with those Republicans.
As he continues, Blow gets tangled up in the idea that the word "woke"—the word in itself—is now "under attack." He especially heads down this road as he quotes a statement by James Carville about the (politically unhelpful) use of (certain types of) "woke" language, a comment Blow doesn't seem to understand.
(Rightly or wrongly, Carville has said that liberals and Democrats should stop using the unfamiliar, highfalutin language of the academy. Rightly or wrongly, he has said that the use of this unfamiliar academic language may tend to alienate average voters. Blow doesn't seem to understand that this is what Carville has said.)
All in all, what Blow seems to be saying is this:
At one time, when people described themselves as "woke," they meant it as a compliment. But now, many people have started using "woke" as term of a denigration. For that reason, people who once would have called themselves "woke" have often stopped using the word.
Those observations may all be accurate. That said, no one is criticizing, attacking or waging war on the word itself. Rightly or wrongly, certain people—and not just Republicans—are criticizing certain impulses, beliefs and behaviors. They aren't attacking a word.
Blow seems confused by this simple distinction. So it goes at our tribe's smartest newspaper as our nation slides toward the sea.
The New York Times has long branded itself as a high end, brainiac-style publication. Blow's column makes almost no sense, even by current Times standards.
We close with a simple suggestion to Blow. You could call it a discourse on method:
Identify some attitude or belief which is being derided as "woke." Proceed to assess the merits of that attitude or that belief.
Our here in what's left of the rational world, it's really as simple as that. No one is waging war on the word. Amazingly, it may help Blow's future work if he can somehow get clear on that fact.