Speaking Woke

Speaking Woke


Leonard Zwelling


In a front page article in The New York Times on November 1, Amy Harmon does a great job of getting all of us unwoke to wake up by describing the language being used on the left to describe individuals in groups that have historically been excluded, or at least that’s what it seems she is trying to say. I learned about groups I had never heard of in her piece. Here are a few.

BIPOC means Black, Indigenous, or other person of color.

Latinx refers to people o Latin American descent exclusive of their sexual proclivities or gender identity. That’s what the x means.

Birthing parent or pregnant people so as not to discriminate against trans people.

The list is pretty extensive. It is very hard for anyone not fluent in this language to keep up. Most of the people fluent in this language are, not surprisingly, on the left of the political spectrum.

For a more complete list of all of the up- and-coming terms for people and groups, please consult the article. Or you can do what I do and acknowledge that you cannot keep up and that not keeping up means you risk getting labeled as a sexist, racist or a just plain unwoke person. This in turn can get you cancelled, which fortunately for me means people won’t read my blog, but is otherwise without consequence given my retired status. But if I was still in a heavily political environment like an academic medical center, my choice of words would matter a lot and I would probably be tripping over myself so as not to offend someone and probably grow exhausted from the effort.

My point here is not to belittle attempts to right past wrongs like racial or gender discrimination. Such efforts to express ourselves in a more sensitive way are good ideas, but there needs to be an app to pre-censor your words before you open your mouth if your goal is to make sure you never offend anyone. Chances are, you will.

Somewhere in all of this, as is true of our political battles, there must be a middle ground where those who are different educate and enlighten without cancelling the unwoke (like me, I suppose). Leaders and speakers should make an effort not to offend, but let’s cut everyone some slack because keeping woke is getting hard.

That being said, if I got bent out of shape every time I heard a microaggression about my ethnicity or religion, I would be mad all the time. At some point, it might be a good idea for everyone to grow up and realize that everyone does not spend his or her day on Twitter keeping up with the language of the moment. I struggle at finding that balance. It is true in all aspects of our culture. For those of us brought up on the Beatles, grasping the attraction of rap music is very hard. I find most of the music on Saturday Night Live awful unless Taylor Swift is on, but I also don’t get many of the jokes either. Getting your information from the printed word is not a formula for wokeness or even to be “with it.” I read newspapers (obviously), so I am among the barely woke.

Those of us who grew up in the 1960s are more than aware of the various changes to the language that grew out of the need to respect all people and acknowledge both the uniqueness and diversity of America. However, the battles on the left over language rather than over real change to help the cause of historically disadvantaged groups whether they be BIPOC, Latinx or houseless (more PC than homeless—who knew?) is leaving many of us lost and tuning out.

My favorite of all of these terms is LGBTQIA+. This not only includes lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and queers, but intersex and asexual people with the + added to make sure no one has been left out. Just say for me, language is indeed important and connotes great meaning, but actions still speak louder than words. If we treat each other as individuals, the language will take care of itself and may fall away in importance.

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