Poor Bethany Mandel.
The mother of six and co-author of the new right-wing gripe tract Stolen Youth: How Radicals Are Erasing Innocence and Indoctrinating a Generation made a major flub. Not in her prose contribution to the Wilks Bros. trade imprint, mind you, but in that more dangerous arena: live broadcast debate. During an online interview, Mandel was given the simple task of dictionary definition.
Easy-peasy in the age of Google, right? Who can’t decipher a word or concept in seconds anymore?
Not so fast—or rather, it’s way too fast in our age of hyper-speed virality.
Mid-interview, Mandel was asked by “Rising” host Briahna Joy Gray: “Would you mind defining woke, as this came up a couple of times? I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.”
Between punctuated “ums” and awkward silence, Mandel made a hash of the moment. She predicted her verbal idling would go viral before mustering a more coherent explanation that was the antithesis of wokeism: “It is sort of the understanding that… we need to… redo society in order to create hierarchies of oppression.”
Mandel was on the mark, but not with that distillation. The moment did enter the viral success sequence, turning her mumble-fumble into a Twitter meme of conservative cluelessness.
Mandel maintained that “woke” is “hard to define” yet she managed to describe what wokesters view as western society’s overarching problem: every racial and sexual identity suffers under a straight, white, Christian heel. Thus, the only moral imperative is to smash the hierarchies to redistribute said power. So it’s Marxism with remixing amorphous power instead of tangible capital—though I doubt any dyed-in-the-wool wokeshivik would object to getting one of Bill Gates’s summer homes. Black Lives Matter founders have a proud tradition of parrying whitey’s predations by buying up multiple mansions. (Because there’s nothing more all those colonizer-run banks really hate than administering property escrow accounts. No justice, no peace, no 30-year 6% APR!)
Wokeness, we’re assured by leftists of all bluetick stripes, doesn’t actually exist. It’s now a right-wing bugbear used to scare easily startled suburbanites into voting Republican. “There’s a reason why conservatives won’t define ‘woke,’” claims progressive journalist Michelangelo Signorile. “It’s a code word for the GOP meant to disparage anyone seeking justice and fighting against discrimination for people of color, LGBTQ people, women and other groups.” Conservative-turned-suck-up columnist David French played his own linguistic game, defining woke as, among other things, “anything even one millimeter to the tweeter’s left.” “Rising” host Gray herself went heavy on the Heraclitus, declaring that woke now means anything and everything.
The “define woke” dilemma sparked a Webster’s roulette of primary and secondary definitions to the point where diminishing marginal returns kicked in and Google News stopped refreshing new wokesplainers. But not before veteran liberal journo Freddie de Boer declared “enough,” asserting that “Of Course You Know What ‘Woke’ Means.”
The sophistry around woke, de Boer explains, is purposeful obfuscation. Everyone intuits what “being woke” means even if they’ve never listened to Lead Belly or read Audre Lorde. There’s probably some technical definition buried deep in a college dissertation on Erykah Badu’s “Master Teacher.” But deBoer provides a sufficient summary: woke is “emotionalist” and “immaterial.” He continues: “woke politics are overwhelmingly concerned with the linguistic, the symbolic, and the emotional to the detriment of the material, the economic, and the real.”
Similar to how Russel Kirk described conservatism, woke isn’t so much an ideology as a disposition. To #staywoke is to stay indescribable because wokeness is, at its core, subjective.
“A technical objection is the first refuge of a scoundrel,” said sports writer Heywood Broun. Mandel fell for the seemingly innocuous but insidious inquiry. She was asked to describe the political equivalent of the Crichton Leprechaun—the best anyone can manage is a rudimentary sketch.
Wokeism can’t be pinned and defeated because the entire way of thinking is flexible enough to wriggle free of any counter-argument. Think that proving Kendism is really reverse-racism and that being racist is un-woke and thus inimical to socially just ends? Ha! You sweet summer child! That’s not what woke means and I will not tell you why. It’s not my job to educate you.
You can’t argue against a feeling, but as Kirk Van Houten sang, you can borrow one. Which is what a growing number of young Americans are doing: adopting a woke posture, either for occupational benefit or spiritual fulfillment. Corporate America’s adoption of DEI standards is creating a race-to-the-top-victim dynamic in the workplace. Want to advance to that open director of online sales position? Come out as some boutique sexual identity to pad your company’s diversity quotient!
Or maybe you’re feeling low and listless, dissatisfied in cashing a biweekly paycheck and brunching on weekends. Now’s your chance to join a cause! Declare woke allyship and fight the power—while never surrendering your Sunday-morning bottomless mimosas! What’s a better woke worship session than complaining with your friends about cis-white-heteronormativy while being served week-old breakfast hash by an underpaid migrant server from El Salvador?
“Intentional obscurity is itself a discourse of power,” wrote Carl Trueman. Stripping wokeness of any discernible essence has left it vulnerable to capitalist assimilation, whether it be through Nike ads or the own-the-libs online ecosystem. It wouldn’t make a difference had Mandel given an off-the-shelf description on cue. We’d still be told woke lacks definition, and that raging against the straight white machine is just a good, old American value.
Even Uncle Sam stays woke. And who can argue with him?