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You’ve heard, no doubt, that Florida is “where Woke goes to die.”
Governor Ron DeSantis is all wrapped up in opposition to “wokeism” He declared victory in his fight with Disney World, calling Disney “a woke corporation.” And of course, he’s championed the Stop WOKE Act, to limit teaching about racism and some other history in Florida schools.
Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders touched on the topic in her response to President Biden’s State of the Union speech. He’s surrendered his presidency to a woke mob, she said, and later accused him of pursuing “woke fantasies.”
And Indiana Congressman Jim Banks has created what he calls the Anti-Woke Caucus. He’s demanding “a recorded vote on an amendment to defund wokeness” on any bill that spends money on what he calls “leftist activities.”
Turns out the mission is to remove “diversity, equity, and inclusion” from federal agencies. Banks told Semafor DEI initiatives represent “a cancer in the federal government and American culture. We need to identify it and uproot it.”
This anti-woke blathering gives me a headache. Reminds me of my talk show host days, being berated as “politically correct.” Remember when P.C. was the way conservatives described anything they didn’t like?
The funny thing is, we don’t all agree about the meaning of “woke.”
Even in that place where Woke goes to die, a focus group found huge difference of opinion when it comes to the governor’s crusade against “wokeism.”
The research firm Engagious specializes in message-testing. They concluded this message is garbled. Best description from their participants? The woke ones are “the people that come up with things that have nothing to do with anything.” Alrighty then.
You know what I say: “Everything rests on your ability to communicate.”
The anti-woke brigade needs to up their communication game. And the rest of us can learn something, those of us whose speaking and writing revolves around business rather than politics.
First, it’s easy for words to expand and even change in meaning as they’re used. Think about the way we used to use “cancel” – back before it referred to a culture. “Snowflake” once meant white stuff falling from the sky. “Trolls” used to live under fairy tale bridges. Now they populate the internet waiting to trip up their targets.
Are you thinking about the language of your business and how it’s transformed?
In mine, “interaction” has an expanded meaning now. There was a time when speakers did the talking and audiences sat back listening. Guys could tell people to raise their hand about something and call that interaction.
Now those people in the seats expect to participate, maybe by registering their thoughts through an app, sharing them with someone nearby, or standing up and speaking their piece. And speakers ignore that desire at their peril.
Fresh language wins out.
A business leader who starts yammering about synergy, leverage, or the new normal invites inattention. Why do we find all those lists of business buzzwords on the internet? Because we’re tired of hearing the same old thing over and over and over.
Magazines, universities, and associations regularly outline the lingo that’s grown tired and stale. And yes, some of those words have been on similar lists going back years or even decades. The suggestions to update our language don’t seem to hold much sway with the heaviest biz-speak users. Maybe they’re traditionalists? Or maybe they’re just stuck in their ways.
Okay, it’s true, there can be a benefit to a shared language.
When we all use a word or phrase the same way, it binds us together, creates a connection between speaker and listener, or between writer and reader. That has a real value.
And in politics, that’s what the woke-mockers are counting on. Disparaging concern about issues of racial and social justice binds them to the voters who share their view that there’s way too much of that concern, that we’ve gone overboard with all this talk about diversity, and it’s time to reel it back.
That wink-and-nod to the like-minded has worked for a good long while now. You can think of a number of politicians who’ve won elections by speaking to their strongest supporters using words they all understand the same way. And ignoring those other folks who see the world differently.
That can’t work forever, though, can it?
At some point, whether we’re building a political career or a business, it seems to me we need to grow by attracting new people. And that just might mean speaking in a new way.
It also might mean listening to the feedback we get. Noticing the eye rolls when we go into our tired routine saying the same old thing in the same old way. Freshening the way we talk by adding the words our clients/customers/listeners use, even if they seem unsophisticated. Maybe especially if they seem unsophisticated.
In my world, the aforementioned “interaction” feels like it’s past its prime. It doesn’t rise to the level of “woke”—but it’s definitely diluted by overuse. I’ve started substituting “conversation,” “back-and-forth,” and “dialogue” when I speak about my speaking. Yes, my work is interactive. And, that seems like a description that’s lost its punch.
Are you thinking about your business? The words you use? The fresh ones you might adopt? I can’t wait to hear about it. Because of course, even my newsletter is “interactive.”😉
Excellent thought provoking and true, Catherine. I myself am very pro social justice and spend my life fighting for the rights of the marginalized, but wokeism invokes a very different feel for me, one of anger and politicized rhetoric that elevates some groups over others. As my aunt used to say, “Some people become so open minded that their brains fall out” Thanks for your message…listening is so important…!
Your aunt was a character, wasn’t she, Teri? I guess what bothers me about all this is that some people ascribe anything they disagree with, especially in the area of social justice, to “wokeism.” Wanting everyone to have a fair shot at housing, jobs, vocational programs, whatever … to me that’s not “woke” it’s fair play.
As someone who lives in FL and detests almost everything DeSantis does, I concluded that I must be “woke” even before I went to the trouble to research the word. It has a long and interesting history but as you pointed out, its meaning has changed over the years … my husband is still trying to figure it out. 🤣 I sympathize with every speaker who has to try to keep up with all the new lingo while trying not to step on anyone’s toes. Those toes have gotten very sensitive! Fortunately, as a yoga instructor, I can avoid the current language issues in my work and only have to sort it out when I read the newspapers. Thank you Catherine!
Amen to “sensitive toes,” Linda. You’re right … it’s easy to offend people these days. And that goes for people at both ends of the political spectrum. Sometimes it seems we go around looking for reasons to feel aggrieved. Good politics, maybe, but bad citizenship.
Diversity is overused now. Color race and gender.
But…. Not only the above but WHO IS RIGHT FOR THE JOB
INCLUDING … intelligence, talent, Education and training for the job.
However we get answers from questions like What is a woman? Answer was .. I DONT KNOW.. And there u go. REALLY??
That gets me every time..
I don’t know, Charlene, I think in some ways “diversity” is under-used. What if we focused on diversity of opinion and diversity of experience rather than just the usual race/gender/ethnicity song and dance. I know that my life is richer for my connections with people who don’t all share the same points of view.
To me, “woke” just means having respect for others even if they are different to you, recognising inequity and injustice and seeking to right those wrongs. Anyone who is against that sure seems sus to me.
Clearly many of these politicians and social media ranters define “woke” very differently, Patrick. I agree that it’s hard to argue with recognizing injustice and righting wrongs. (No matter how we spell “recognis/zing”😉)