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Not ‘woke’ enough to understand its meaning
Elwood Watson
Elwood Watson

You have to be “woke” to understand it, I guess.

Last week, conservative activist and author Bethany Mandel went viral for her screeching response on defining the term woke, which has become the catch-all phrase on the right for everything wrong with our country.

During the March 14th edition of The Hill’s web series “Rising” to promote her new book “Stolen Youth,” Mandel had difficulty responding to a question from co-host Briahna Joy Gray. The clip has now amassed millions of hits online and ample amounts of gleeful commentary from progressive journalists and activists mocking Mandel for being unable to describe the very thing she was attacking.

After her fiasco, Mandel claimed Joy Gray made a disparaging remark about parents on a hot mic before the interview began, which effectively threw the right-winger her off her game.

“Just before we went on air, Briahna Joy Gray was on a hot mic. I heard her demeaning parenting in general in colorful and nasty terms, stating parents only have kids in order to perpetuate their own narcissism,” Mandel wrote on Twitter. She went on to tell Fox News she was anxious throughout the entire interview.

Her suspiciously defensive response drew the ire of more than a few social media observers, including some on the right. While there were a number of conservative bloggers who tied themselves up into twisted pretzel knots to defend one of their own, there were other conservatives who were willing to see the forests for the trees and took Mandel to task.

Mind you, this is a person who has actually written a book on the topic of wokeness, yet found herself clueless when asked to define what the term represented. Truth be told, this is hardly surprising. As was/is the case with critical race theory, the social and cultural far right have no idea what the word woke represents, let alone on how to define, or provide an adequate definition to such terms.

We have seen conservatives falsely ranting about the implosion of Silicon Valley Bank being caused by wokeness. Wall Street Journal columnist Andy Kessler’s disingenuously opined that Silicon Valley Bank collapsed because they had “‘1 Black’, ‘1 LGBTQ+’ and ‘2 Veterans’” on the board. He further commented: “I’m not saying 12 white men would have avoided this mess, but the company may have been distracted by diversity demands.”

Kessler is smart enough to know there have been predominantly and/or all white male boards that have demonstrated rampant degrees of incompetence. Has he not studied or followed past and recent history as it relates to bank failures? Instead, he has chosen to engage in a perverse form of intellectual dishonesty in an effort to appease his conservative readership.

The reason why people like Bethany Mandel, Andrew Kessler and many others on the right have such a difficult time defining the term “woke” is twofold. First, they do not know what the term means. Secondly, their intention is to employ vague meanings to the word. It is designed to be void of any concrete definition. Thus, it can be distorted and weaponized to attack anyone, event or movement they either dislike or see as an unalterable political threat to their political, social and cultural advancement.

Needless to say that such an empty value system leaves much to be desired.

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker. Visit