At what point can a person be declared ‘woke?’
This new buzz-word has been flying through social media and blogs as a new way to point fingers to those considered by some to be the unenlightened elite. But is it valid? And is it productive?
Even when the word is not flung as ammunition, there are innuendos that, when taken to their logical conclusion, indicate that a person just doesn’t get it. Conservatives hear it regularly. Those who do not subscribe to politically-correct narratives are also declared guilty. Since in the last week I have fallen victim to this new form of hate-speech, intimidation and bullying, I thought I might give a tiny view into the life of one considered unworthy by some to weigh in on the current hysteria.
I graduated from high school in 1970 in Northern California, just south of San Francisco. If anywhere was to be a mecca of peace and brotherly love, this was it. We were the generation of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. Some say that liberal philosophy in its best form was present in the 1960’s. And so in 1966 during PE one day when a girl who was a practicing Mormon announced to me that Blacks had dark skin because they were ‘cursed’ by God, I bristled and I let her verbally have it. I declared to this very pale girl that perhaps whites were more cursed, since they could sunburn (I was adamant, notwithstanding my ignorance that even Black skin can burn.) Needless to say, she was no longer considered a friend to me. I feel for her now, because at that time she was merely parroting her religious beliefs as imparted from a church that was misinformed. She was a product of her church’s worldview (hopefully she has grown since then.)
I was in high school during the boycott of California table grapes, led by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez. It was an attempt to put economic pressure on growers to recognize the United Farm Workers as the bargaining agent for Mexican pickers in Delano, California. These workers had been on strike since 1965 to improve their working conditions…conditions like being in the fields during pesticide spraying, lean-to shanties for places of abode, lack of sanitation facilities, child labor, and being paid well below the poverty level. In 1967-68, I brought these to the attention of fellow students and staged a small-scale grape boycott. A few years later I was honored to be part of Chavez-led peaceful protests in the city of San Jose. Labor contracts were finally signed in the early 1970’s.
Fast-forward to the late 1980’s. Racism would rear its ugly head in a more personal way. A family member was part of that same high school. Like myself in the 1960’s, he had friends who were Black. One lunch hour, this unsuspecting white student went to an area to visit these friends…an area that apparently the Black student population had claimed as their own. When the student arrived and was told he was told he wasn’t welcome there, he didn’t leave. Consequently, he was physically assaulted. So much for tolerance. Fortunately, it did not result in serious injury.
Then in the early 1990’s when my husband and I decided to adopt, we went through County training for the foster-adopt program of Santa Clara County. We eventually were clearly told by the Social Worker that the only healthy babies available were ‘of color’…and that we would not be allowed to adopt one of them because we were white. Since we did not know if we could care for a severely disabled child, we were forced to adopt from Uzbekistan instead of a US adoption. Again, racism in an unexpected form.
Ironically, someone in my family had DNA testing done, and we may have about 1/32- 1/16 Black heritage. A photo of my great-grandmother was discovered, and it actually appears quite possible.
As disclosed in my last Blogpost, my extended family also has in its history direct bigotry that transpired during WWII, where two distant relatives were not allowed to conduct their businesses in the California coastal area (Joe DiMaggio’s dad was one of them), and at least one was relocated to the Midwest. All because they were Italian.
And as far as my immediate family, we are truly a mixed, motley crew. In addition to the Italian and Portuguese-Hawaiian heritage (with the possibility of some Black mixed in) I have grandchildren who have heritages that include Russian, Filipino, Vietnamese-Chinese and Black. We are (as Tom Hanks said in You’ve Got Mail) an American Family.
So when this week it was implied that I may not quite ‘get it,’ I was the recipient of a new, more acceptable form of discrimination. Simply because my conclusions to current events were not the same as the Status Quo, I was grilled and verbally chastised. But my understanding and assessment of events that does not mirror the current thought is no indication that I am not ‘woke’—my own people and I personally have been ‘woke’ enough to bigotry in several forms.
My personal history (though interesting) should not be the deciding factor in the discussion of topics and events. Even if a person has not had my experiences, can’t he/she assess and analyze, then come up with what he/she believes is a valid conclusion without being brow-beaten for thinking differently?
We are on the edge of a dark and dangerous rabbit hole, and need to be very careful. Thought police are watching and listening to every citizen, and assessing whether they are worthy of a voice in the public square. This is not the America I grew up in. This does not promote discourse that might lead to greater understanding. The stifling of speech doesn’t simply quiet the opposition…it kills the remote possibility of lessening racial tensions.
Whether a person qualifies in someone’s arbitrary definition of being ‘woke’ or not is not an indication of their right to be heard. And maybe—just maybe—one on the opposite side can learn that this ‘un-woke’ marginalized person might actually have something valid to say.