In the wake of conservative author Bethany Mandel’s viral gaffe on Tuesday—where she couldn’t define “woke”—conservatives want people to know exactly what their rallying cry over the past several years actually means.
Only just about everyone speaking up is offering different definitions.
Mandel’s struggle came when she went on Rising—a web series produced by the Hill—to promote her new book “Stolen Youth: How Radicals are Erasing Innocence and Indoctrinating a Generation.”
The conservative commentator and anti-woke mom stammered while explaining the term after being directly asked by host Briahna Joy Gray.
She then blamed the whole gaffe on comments she said Joy made about parenting before the show.
Conservatives on Twitter were prodded by a number of users in the video’s wake who boasted the movement didn’t know the basic definition of their most-used term over the past few years meant.
“I have still not found one conservative who’s able to define woke,” wrote political commentator Touré.
In response, right-wing social media users stepped up, but their definitions were all over the place, ranging from riffs about Marxism to the desire to oppress white men to efforts to push critical race theory.
“I can define ‘woke’ in 15 seconds,” said the founder of California succession movement CalExit Louis Marinelli. “It’s a flawed ideology of social justice and radical social transformation that blames the woes of minorities on white people and, in particular, white men. It promotes identity politics to demonstrate one’s virtue over sound public policy.”
Mandel also offered her own definition, a more succinct version than the one wrapped in stammering and stuttering.
“A radical belief system suggesting that our institutions are built around discrimination, and claiming that all disparity is a result of that discrimination,” she said. “It seeks a radical redefinition of society in which equality of group result is the endpoint, enforced by an angry mob.”
Conservative commentator Jim Hanson said the term is defined by anything that the political left believes.
“Wokeness- An ideology that imposes Identity Politics, Social ‘Justice’, Thought Policing, Climate Hysteria, NeoRacism, Queer Pedagogy & Socialist Equity using statist/corporatist/cultural enforcement,” he said.
His comments came in response to anti-trans figurehead Matt Walsh, who also said that anyone on the political left is automatically “woke.”
Other conservatives said woke was the “new term for ‘politically correct,’” or “anti-white” or “brainwashed.”
Christopher Rufo, who has led the conservative charge against critical race theory, used a meme to try to prove that the opposite was true, that only the left was unable to define woke, and that they ignored whenever their opponents offered clear and concise definitions.
Rufo’s succinct belief that woke meant society was intentionally structured to oppress people aligns with Mandel’s explanation of discrimination.
Unfortunately, those definitions had to compete with people claiming “woke” meant that the out-and-out destruction of society.
Robby Starbuck, a longtime MAGA fixture and former congressional candidate, offered a meandering definition, where he said woke is “an ideology that seeks to destroy all of our shared norms, language, and understanding while replacing it with new norms” and “spreads like a virus largely from far left universities with full support from the Democratic Party.”
But as pointed out by some, the ambiguity of the term woke is the point, because if any left-wing political thought can be branded as “woke,” it can be used to swiftly rally the troops, be it teachers in schools discussing the impact of slavert or something as far afield of the political realm as a bank collapsing.
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*First Published: Mar 16, 2023, 10:27 am CDT
Jacob Seitz is a freelance journalist originally from Columbus, Ohio, interested in the intersection of culture and politics.