Commentary: Confronting the Snake Oil of Woke Ideology

Group protesting; "no justice no peace" sign
by J. Peder Zane


Woke ideology is proof that the world has gone Mad – as in Mad Magazine. What passes as penetrating insight on the left is just a newfangled version of the old fill-in-the-blanks word game Mad Libs. Try to guess what the Princeton University students are talking about here:

  • We aim to decolonize our practice of ____, even as ____ remains an imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist art form. (Answer: ballet)

How would you complete this statement from Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau?

  • ____ are extremists who don’t believe in science. ____ are often misogynists, also often racists. (Answer: the unvaccinated)

For extra credit, take a crack at this doozy crafted by an American feminist author named Carol J. Adams who was invited to speak at Oxford University last November:

  • ____ is a racist belief. ____ requires our complicity in a new colonialism. These events especially affect girls and young women. Your ____ comes with a dose of misogyny. (Answer: eating meat)

If you didn’t guess right, don’t fret: There are no wrong answers in Woke Mad Libs. Pick a subject, any subject – from healthhighways and fashion, to moviesmathematicsbiotechnology and, of course, America itself – they all work just as well.

For the hammer that is woke ideology, everything is a nail forged by racism, misogyny, transphobia and systems of oppression. In this collectivist mindset, no idea, institution or person has its own particular history. Nothing has emerged or evolved because of specific and complex circumstances that require close study to unravel and address. Everything and everyone that exists – you, me and even burritos – are just the expression of the inexorable forces of racism and patriarchy. If you’re skeptical, that’s your patriarchal racism at work.

All of this is, of course, absurd – just out and out, head-slapping simple-mindedness. The claim that the rich history and complex desires of people, institutions and ideas can be understood through fill-in-the-blanks analysis is a modern version of snake oil.

Like the traveling medicine show hucksters of old, these wokesters promise to cure a legitimate malady – instead of your aches and pains, it’s tribalism and inequality. Step right up, drink the magic elixir that will cure your soul and society. The only thing missing is a complimentary bottle of spray-on hair.

Let’s watch this miracle cure in action by applying it to the tragic situation that black students (especially boys) are less likely to excel in the classroom and more likely to be suspended and wind up in jail than other Americans. Our bottle of Woke promises us that the problem doesn’t hinge on complex issues of family structure, violent popular culture, subpar public schools, secularism, well-meaning (but flawed) government programs, and personal behavior. It’s all just “structural racism.”

But snake oil is, well, snake oil, so the best its peddlers can do is wish away the problems they pretend to solve. African American students get lower test scores? Abolish the tests. They get suspended more often? Limit suspensions. Too many of them wind up in jail? Stop incarcerating lawbreakers.

How is this helping anyone, especially those who are not reaching their potential? Their answer: If the cure isn’t working, buy another bottle.

Unfortunately, with repeated applications Woke appears to affect brain function, pushing seemingly intelligent people to spout absurdities. On Feb. 18, the Baltimore Sun ran a long apology for its racist past. Among its transgressions was “the identification of Black people by race in articles into the early 1960s.” The solution – identifying all people by race:

Our approach today, unlike that of the country’s “colorblind” era of the 1980s and ’90s, is to actively see the differences among us and work to understand: why they exist, what they mean to whom and why, whether they’re real or perceived, and whether they should be honored or struck down. Pretending we were all the same never worked, because it ignored the fact that we’re not all given the same opportunities to succeed or fail on our merits; some are privileged, others are oppressed.

One can only laugh at this muddled word salad – “why they exist, what they mean to whom and why, whether they’re real or perceived.” They sound like dorm room questions following one too many bong hits.

This farce puts thoughtful people in a bind. On the one hand we must work harder to ridicule and mock this nonsense. We legitimize Woke by engaging it on its own terms. But we can’t ignore it. Woke is being applied daily by powerful people in government, academia, business and the media. They may not be serious thinkers – but they are deadly serious. They will not stop insisting that we believe them rather than our own eyes, or else!

As they peddle their snake oil, we must call them out – while never forgetting that laughter is the best medicine.

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J. Peder Zane is an editor for RealClearInvestigations and a columnist for RealClearPolitics.

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