There are a couple of modern tropes that I’ve gotten very tired of: “Cancel Culture” and “Woke.”
I’m tired of them because they’ve been co-opted by the right to devalue what they mean. They’ve made them into newer tropes to illustrate “how the left is ruining America.”
What became known as “Cancel Culture” was a movement to boycott anyone deemed unapproachable by their opinions or behavior. Being “woke” was about new awareness of discrimination and injustices, especially those emerging from new consciousness.
The intention is positive. The Me-Too movement is an example of putting a stop to injustices to women that previously had no consequences. Black Lives Matter is another example of saying “Enough!” The idea is to shut down hateful voices and move society toward justice.
But it can also backfire. It often takes short cuts that create too many casualties and discards context to cast a wide net. Opposition has risen and real systemic change falters.
I saw a version of this dilemma up close and personal last week. My wife and I have a favorite wine bistro in Evanston, Illinois that we’ve been going to since 2020. The staff knows us and jokes with us. We sit at the bar, try new wines, talk, laugh, and often have dinner.
Last week we were settling in, and the manager pulled me aside. “You and your wife must leave. One of our employees is not comfortable around you.”
I was incredulous. “What??”
“A comment about Henry Ford last time you were here” was the only explanation I received.
With my brain reeling, I vaguely recalled saying Ford was an antisemite in a conversation with my wife about how issues we face today (antisemitism, fascism) have been part of America for generations.
Did an employee think we were praising that reality? My wife and I have very complex discussions about issues and an eavesdropper may hear words without hearing context.
Anyone who knows us knows it’s impossible for us to be antisemitic fascists or to have sympathies for such vile ideology.
Nothing I said mattered. The die was cast, and we were shown the door.
Stunned, we told friends who were equally baffled. A couple of predictable acquaintances, however, said: “Now you know what it’s like to be cancelled by the left!”
Another called me a “hypocrite” presumably because I’ve defended “wokeness” in the past.
For the record, I still support the expansion of heightened consciousness; broader awareness is not the problem. Neither is the manager who supported their employee or the employee who doesn’t have to justify feelings.
The problem is a social climate that gives personal interpretations sole authority and is policing an idea that everyone is accountable to them.
That creates an oppression of its own: If someone is uncomfortable, social parameters are being determined according to that reaction, and truth is of less consequence.
For the “woke” movement to counter its opposition it has to embrace that change requires being “awakened” by a vigorous examination of truth. And without communication and a forum to solve, no real change takes place.
Solutions lie in how we extend equal justice even when it’s uncomfortable.