I broke from my wellness regimen and opened an account on Truth Social, Donald Trump’s social media platform. I did this as a public service, just to follow Dan Cox, the Republican candidate for governor of Maryland who thinks the 2020 presidential election was stolen from the nation’s leading hoarder of top-secret documents.
Cox went on Truth Social the other day and posted a meme that said, “Maryland Does Not Need A Woke Governor.”
Trumpies frequently invoke “woke,” suggesting that being so is bad and that calling someone “woke” is a searing insult. In Cox’s meme, it refers to Wes Moore, his Democratic opponent in November’s general election; the meme includes a quotation about historic racism.
Woke ridicule has become stale, but Republican politicians and talking hotheads keep using it. Cox, if anything, is late to the custom. The fellow running for another term as governor of Florida throws “woke” and “wokeness” shade all the time. He went wild with woke on Wednesday, echoing Winston Churchill’s defiant speech from the early days of World War II.
“At the end of the day,” Ron DeSantis said, “we’re not going to let this state be overrun by woke ideology. We will fight the woke in the businesses, we will fight the woke in government agencies, we will fight the woke in our schools. We will never, ever surrender to the woke agenda.”
I wonder why DeSantis, in a state with hundreds of miles of coastline, didn’t go full Churchill and pledge to “fight the woke on the beaches.”
That he, Cox and other Republicans hammer away at wokeness, as if it’s a bad thing, confirms that it must be a good thing.
While there are multiple, nuanced interpretations of woke’s meaning, I’ve kept my understanding of it simple and, until now, to myself: The injury and deaths of several Black Americans in encounters with police officers heightened fear and outrage and sparked a greater awareness of the role of racism in not only policing but in many aspects of life — in criminal justice, in health and educational outcomes, in housing, employment and wealth.
Woke is not where you were, but where you are. If you’ve become concerned about racial and social justice, if you see equality among Americans as foundational to the common good and a thriving democracy — and if you can say you feel this way now, more than ever — then you are woke. You might not use the word to describe yourself, but that’s where you are: Eyes wide open.
That’s my idea of it, though I can’t say I’ve ever invoked “woke” as a description of anyone, including myself.
There’s a debate among progressives about whether “woke,” as an admonition or state of mind, should have been appropriated by white liberals. I’ve listened to that argument and, while interesting and enlightening, I find it beside the greater point — that, as a result of some horrible events, advances in technology and the expansion of social media, there’s a much greater awareness of the hard challenges faced historically or contemporarily by people of color across the country.
And what’s wrong with that?
I’ll tell you why the right hates “woke.” It’s similar to why the right has historically found the mainstream news media to be skewed toward liberal ideology: We report problems. We’re the bearers of bad news. We get into issues that challenge the belief in American exceptionalism. We focus on things that a lot of Americans — mostly those living a comfortable existence, but also many who aren’t — would rather not think about: Income inequality and the concentration of wealth, discriminatory practices in housing and finance, environmental degradation, the opioid epidemic, the scope of gun violence across the country, the mass incarceration experienced during the long and futile war on drugs.
I take woke beyond racial and social justice.
When Cox says Maryland doesn’t need a woke governor, he’s saying we don’t need a governor who thinks racial diversity is important in, say, the state judiciary. But he’s also saying we don’t need a governor who cares about seeding investment in Baltimore, or who thinks the corrections system should be more restorative than punitive for the majority of offenders we send into it, or that coal mining in Maryland needs to come to an end as we address climate change.
By knocking Moore as “woke,” Cox is saying a Black man’s acknowledgment of historic racism should disqualify him from holding statewide office and serving a diverse population from Ocean City to Oakland. He’s suggesting that there’s no place for leadership that’s broad-minded and compassionate.
With his meme about wokeness on Truth Social, Cox amplified what his running mate, lieutenant governor candidate Gordana Schifanelli, said about Queen Anne’s County during her battle with the former schools superintendent, Andrea Kane: There’s no racism, so no need to talk about it, especially in school.
Wokeness — that is, the acknowledgment that life is, or has been, not so sweet for everyone — makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
And it should definitely not be disqualifying for a governor.
A good governor sees that state government functions smartly and efficiently and serves Marylanders well.
But a great governor goes to Annapolis with a profound understanding of the state’s history and a vision for its future, with eyes wide open to problems and opportunities, and an empathetic heart. If that’s woke, that’s good.