Back in 1980, I attended an interdepartmental meeting at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California. A staff member pointed to a situation where a person had acted in an obviously hypocritical manner so I commented on what he had expressed by saying: “That’s like the pot calling the kettle black.” To my utter surprise, a black recreation therapist, named Cliff, who attended the meeting, told me that was a racist comment. When I explained to him that in no sense did I have race in mind when I made the comment, he said that did not matter. Because I had a good relationship with Cliff, I did not deem it necessary to defend myself any further but simply apologized if I had offended him. I felt vindicated when several white staff members did not believe that the proverb had any racial connotations.
Let us now turn to present day. A few weeks ago, journal reporter, Jason Riley, wrote that a Jeopardy contestant, Kelly Donohue, had made a gesture with three fingers extended during the show’s introduction. Although he was merely indicating that he had been on the show for three consecutive days, many progressives that had been earlier contestants of Jeopardy, signed an open letting contending that his gesture, “whether intentional or not, resembled very closely a gesture that has been coopted by white power groups.” Furthermore, Mr. Donohue’s explanation of the gesture was not acceptable to those that condemned him, and so he felt obligated to post an additional statement “regretting this terrible understanding” so he would not be rejected by the ranting of former progressive contestants.
Many of us who have made an effort in being liberal now have to be extremely careful on how we choose our words or we will find ourselves cancelled by those that consider themselves more in the know than we are. There is no one currently that remains immune to the criticism of Critical Race Theorists (CRT). Even Rita Moreno, the famous Puerto Rican actress, when on the Steve Colbert late show, gave voice to defending Lin-Manuel Miranda’s choice of cast for the movie version of his play In the Heights, came under siege from the progressives. The next day she withdrew her complimentary posture saying that her friend, Lin-Manuel, had erred by not having a sufficient number of blacks playing key roles in his movie. Through all the bickering about equal representation in Miranda’s film, sadly, what appeared forgotten was the fantasy element in which the protagonist’s dream comes true, not in the Dominican Republic, but in a Latino neighborhood in New York City. This fantasy evoked the possibility that people, no matter what their race or gender is, can still dream with successful results in America.
The woke generation of the political left reminds me of Minority Report, a movie Steven Spielberg directed in 2002. In this movie, a special police unit is able to arrest criminals before they actually commit a crime. Nowadays, progressives believe people are racially tainted if they have implicit thoughts (often defined as implicit bias) that might not fit the category of being an anti-racist. In the past, when people stated they were “color blind,” it meant that they did not see others in terms of race. Today, however, it has taken on an entirely different meaning: One that is color blind does not understand the difficulties that those of color may have in a society the latter believe is rooted in systemic racism. The next step will have thought censors deleting any thought that is not deemed congruent with identity or racial politics. Any nano-aggression or implicit thought that a person may have will be ferreted out resulting in his/her cancelation.
I will not argue the validity of whether or not systemic racism exists currently in America, but rather will point out that the reality of racial progress in our country. Back in 1970 when I was a Psychology Trainee at Marion V.A. Hospital in Marion, Indiana, the Assistant Chief Executive Officer of the hospital told me that anyone contemplating interracial marriage best not do it because the country was simply not ready for that type of social change. It is a verified statistic where in 1958 4% of whites approved of intermarriage. However, in 1995 45% approved and in 2013 84% approved of intermarriage. In this same time period, the actual incidence of intermarriage has risen significantly. I have no doubt that there are still people in America that are racists but clearly the problem has been greatly mitigated. Steve Pinker, a cognitive psychologist at Harvard University, has labeled this phenomenon of progressive denial in race relations as progressophobia.
Moreover, the Oppressed-Oppressive binary way of seeing reality only applies to whites being the ones guilty of racism freeing people of color from any prejudice that they may have. Thus, only whites can be considered as racists because of the strong and privileged position they have in American society. I wonder what a poor, white Appalachian thinks about the “strong privileged” position they have in America. Identity politics weighs far too heavily on skin color rather than socio-economic class differences.
But throwing out the baby with the bath water is not my intention here inasmuch as I do not wish to discard all contemporary thinking on identity or race politics. No doubt history today needs to be taught differently, with a greater focus on the legacy of slavery and how it fit into American culture. But I don’t think the absolute vilification of America is an improvement over the omissions made by historians. After all, America was not the inventor of slavery; it existed among black people themselves. Because young minds are very malleable to ideas, it is important that a balanced viewpoint be presented when the textbooks are rewritten for the grade school classes. Slavery was prevalent in many West and Central African societies before and during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Everyone now knows how wrong slavery was but, in context, several other societies accompanied America in this very inhumane occurrence. Furthermore, we know that a good part of America, led by abolitionists, were very much against slavery in any form. No one can deny the history of racism and oppression in America but we would be remiss if we forget the tradition of liberty and freedom that opposed it. Focusing on only the wrongs in America is similar to denying the hardships faced by blacks in the past.
I will conclude this essay by saying I am very much in favor of President Biden’s recognition of June 19th as a federal holiday. This date commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans on June 19th, 1865 when Texas, the last state of the Confederacy, proclaimed and enforced freedom of enslaved people in Texas. As this day becomes engrained in the America character, I believe the cultural gap between the two races will experience further closure.
7 replies on “The Woke Standard”
I agree with your blog. We are at a point in the United States that advancement and new positions should be based entirely on ability and not on a racial profile. We should be race blind and only consider the ability of the individual. I believe that universities should not admit people to their schools to obtain racial diversity. Asians are excluded from certain universities for this reason. This is wrong.
I believe each individual can use their own language and does not need to use the “woke” dictionary. I will continue to refer to mothers as mothers and not “baby delivery persons.”
Very good essay, Bernard. So called “woke” progressivists must remember that they, too, are subject to being judged by other “woke” people. Their conscience becomes very muddled and uncomfortable then. Perhaps the point is: Maybe our evolution is fluid and not static? Perhaps we not judge lest ye be judged? Thank you. Warmest regards, Lynda Amsell
Good point, Lynda. It is easy to do the judging but not so easy to accept other people’s judgment (i.e. if negative) about you.
That kettle proverb indeed does not have any racial connotations. People are too quick to call things racist when in some cases, like your Norwalk story, it is not correct, Similar, people are sometimes too quick to call things anti-Semitic, when sometimes the situation may contain a criticism that is not motivated by anything other than the incident being commented on.
I do not believe there is any comparison between the false or “wok” racial connotations and false or “wok” anti-Semitic connotations. People are called racist if they do not want to defund the police or if they criticize Chicago’s mayor for her refusal to talk to Caucasion reporters. This does not happen at all in anti-Semiticism
Also, David in Long Beach, I do NOT consider your comments at all racist or anti-semitic.
When my daughter was in high school, her super wonderful social studies teacher was discussing consumer scams and unethical sales pitches, etc. She advised not to get “gypped”. Later that day the assistant principal who had passed by the classroom when she used the word “gypped” spoke with her privately, advising her not to use it as the origin referred to his ethnic background, Roma/Sinti, or “gypsies,” as scam artists.
In the last 20 yearsof my career I conducted trainings in the human rights and ethical interaction with people with intellectual/developmental disabilities. Some did not believe the word “retarded” or “mental retardation” was inherently derogatory. I have had to trot out the formal definition of the specific definition. I would follow this definition up with statistical details that 80% of people with such a definition are mildly impaired onltly; that such people are legally competent IN FACT; that absent other factors they do not live in institutions; that they grow up, work, marry, VOTE, etc.
In deciding on a properly respectful word with which to refer to any group, the primary source owed consultation about respectful reference would be members of the group referred to.
Words of all kinds change over time. We need to learn to deal with it.
So, even if a term has no derivation from racism or even classism, someone offended by it should be so informed politely and calmly with reassurance that offense was unintended. Jusr be aware terms or phrases do come to be used differently from that intendedat their origin.
The “R” word is perceivedby peoplewith IDD like the “N” word. People with intellectual/developmental disability organize and advocate as an interest group, as they have a right to. While that word once had a clear definition, their point seems to be that it’s come to be used in a derogatory manner. If a term offends someone, ask them what’s the right”, while understanding that could change in anther generation.
I once met with residents of a group home in the Roxbury section of Boston to discuss human rights and answer questions. One young woman told me a white co- resident called her a “black b-tch”. Obviously I said she certainly had a right not to be called names whether racist or otherwise. I advised her to discuss this with her staff. At a later meeting I had with the staff of the home , I was told by her staff member (also African-American) that she’d discussed this complaint with the white resident who called the name. She explained that she’d grown up in a black community and the epithet was not that uncommon among black people, of which the comp,ainant was unaware. I advised the staff member to explain this to the complainant while affirming her right to object to being called names. Also to explain to the white resident that a black person she didn’t know well would not understand her background and would be offendec. Hopefully this might lead the two residents to understand each other better and perhaps get along positively.
Facts, folks. Facts. Forget the bogeymen and work with facts. Get real facts about words that trigger you.
Sorry for going on.