26 January 2024

We need a war on the word 'woke' this Australia Day

| Chris Roe
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Label on a jacket

Let’s stop labelling each other! Photo: mj0007.

I’m here to call for a war on ‘woke’ in Australia this January.

By that, I don’t mean we should target those with progressive political leanings, I mean literally, the word ‘woke’.

And while we’re at it, let’s add all the keyboard warrior favourites like racist, fascist, communist, bigot, cultural-Marxist, Nazi, political-correctness-gone-mad and anything that ends with -phobe into the mix.

While there’s a chance that many of you have already been triggered into a state of mindless rage by one or all of the above buzzwords and have written me off as a right/left extremist, I ask you to please, hear me out.

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Last week I wrote a response to Peter Dutton’s surprise call for a boycott of supermarket giant Woolies for its “woke” position on Australia Day, rather than for its profiteering at the expense of farmers and shoppers.

It seemed to me that the Opposition Leader was keen to rekindle the anti-woke rage that he was able to generate against the “cultural elites” during the referendum rather than any real affinity for plastic flags or a desire to actually cancel Woolies.

I was hardly stating a position on 26 January, but it seems I struck a nerve and people got personal.

Suddenly, I found that I was being accused of being woke!

There were threats to unsubscribe from Region if it appeared I was going down the path of the “leftist ABC” and, worst of all, I was called an “inner city latte sipper”! A surprising allegation to make against a farm boy from the back of Bourke who now lives in Wagga – but that seems to be where we are with political name-calling.

Godwin’s law of Nazi analogies (or just Godwin’s Law) is an internet meme that asserts that “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches”.

We’ve all seen it. We may have done it ourselves. As a television producer covering the same-sex marriage plebiscite in 2017, I watched outspoken activists on either side call each other Nazis at the same rally.

Like Nazi, woke has also become a wedge word that derails any attempts at civil discussion.

It rejects nuance, dials the conflict up to 11 and is the intellectual equivalent of covering one’s ears and shouting, “La-la-la, I can’t hear you!” when someone says something we disagree with.

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Before you accuse me of targeting one side of the culture war over the other, I would argue that the use of ‘racist’, ‘bigot’ and all the ‘-phobes’ have the same effect and get us nowhere.

Those who choose to wear an Australian flag cape and have a barbie on 26 January are unlikely to do it because they are racist. They enjoy the quirks of being an Aussie and are celebrating all the great things we share in the land down under.

For many migrant families, 26 January marks the day that they officially became citizens and is an anniversary that they mark with pride.

But on the other hand, I have many Aboriginal friends for whom there is real pain, and the lived experience of segregation and marginalisation of recent generations remains raw.

I am a student of history and assert without prejudice that 26 January is anchored in the British colonial foundation of NSW.

It is a fact that on this date in 1788 Arthur Phillip paddled ashore in Sydney Cove, raised the flag and thus declared British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of the Australian continent.

It marks both the birth of modern Australia and the beginning of a cultural apocalypse for the Indigenous people.

Like Anzac Day, the sense of loss and sacrifice years after the event and the emotions that come with them are real for many First Nations people.

Reflecting on the complexity of what 26 January means for our First Nations mob does not mean you’ve gone woke and hate Australia.

A few years ago, Biripi man and journalist Jack Lattimore reflected on the whole ‘change the date’ debate, by saying that he felt that the date had already changed.

While Australia Day remained anchored on 26 January, his point was that the discussion and debate around colonial history and a deepening appreciation of Australia’s ancient heritage had, in effect, changed the date.

We can be proud of who we are and of our national story while also being inclusive and sensitive to the pain of others without diminishing our identity. Arguably, our identity as Australians is enriched by embracing millennia of pre-colonial history.

History, like the humans that live through it, is complex and nuanced with light and shade, good and bad. We do ourselves a disservice by trying to cast it as black and white (excuse the pun).

There are no doubt some on either side who are aggressively woke, racist or even literal Nazis [*Godwin’s Law does not apply in the case of literal Nazis], but the majority of us are not.

Let’s try to cut out the name-calling and speak and listen with respect. Like it or not, we are all in this together.

Original Article published by Chris Roe on Region Riverina.

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Don’t we all have 60,000 year histories.

Attacking the meaning of the word itself is a tad authoritarian and communist, I’m sure you’d like a social points system too.

Next thing you will be targeting free speech, oh wait. I just saw paragraph 3.

HiddenDragon8:30 pm 26 Jan 24

“Like Nazi, woke has also become a wedge word that derails any attempts at civil discussion.”

Perhaps, but let’s not pretend that woke has anything like the historical resonance and comes anywhere near Nazi on the Richter scale of provocation and offensiveness – a closer equivalent might be RWNJ (right wing nut job) or even Boomer or “OK, Boomer” to the extent that Boomer has become code for a world view rather than age cohort membership.

The point that Dutton is trying to make would be better expressed by terms such as fake Left and fake progressive which get much closer to the heart of what is really going on – i.e. businesses, including professional sports, run by and for very wealthy people embracing fashionable causes (which they do little of real value to advance) – as a marketing strategy and distraction from their less admirable antics – while continuing to make out like bandits.

Malcolm Roxburgh4:43 pm 26 Jan 24

In a democracy, the majority rules. Why are we pandering to all the minority groups in Australia???

Thanks for telling us you do not understand democracy.

Woke is shorthand for a set of illiberal elitist beliefs based on the simplistic oppressor/oppressed narrative. I can understand why progressive elites and their apparatchiks want the word banned, because it names them, and they don’t want their ideology to be identified. They want it to appear to be neutral and natural, rather than a particular ideology that can be categorized, debated and refuted.

Further straw is available at $16.50 – $18.50 a bale.

You mean, “I wish woke is shorthand for … {fill in the rest of your tripe}”. The fact is it has its origins in African American Vernacular English, Rustygear, and you can pervert it but you can’t change it. Not that I’d expect a non-woke (as per the original meaning) like you to understand.

I’m all for dumping woke. My complaint is more about those of unresearched righteous virtuosity. I’ll call them URVs and look forward to its general adaptation. I don’t care if someone disagrees with me as long as they can provide a balanced view based on researching sources from all sides of the issue. If your argument is better than mine I’ll check your sources and you may convince me to change my view. You will always know that my view is the product of the full spectrum of sources, influenced as well by my lived experience. The whole Aboriginal situation is a prime example of URVs adopting spoon fed myths without real research. I’m still amazed that we spend so much time in schools studying dead poets and playwrights but obviously devote far too little time and import on critical analysis in an era flooded with fake news, deep fakes and malevolent AI.

Speaking of Godwin, let us pay attention to what is now known as his Second Law, as tweeted by the nan himself: “Drawing Bayesian inferences after extensive sampling, I’ve determined that it’s 99-percent certain that anyone who uses “woke” as pejorative will turn out to be a f—ckhead. Please don’t blame me for pointing this out–it’s just science.”

David Watson2:34 pm 26 Jan 24

The repeated call for “a civil discussion” is a patronising term used by the progressives to prolong an issue until the majority become bored and capitulate any interest they may have in the subject. This tactic favours the noisy minority over the complacent majority. The progressive perspective would never survive without the ABC promoting minority inspired “civil discussions”.

Woke isn’t even an Australian term, so trotting it out in discussions on Australia Day makes no sense (reeks of desperation by Dutton when he hijacks whatever is the latest right wing buzz word from the US). Woke is an African American term and it was first used in raising awareness of racism issues in the US.

But now used across the English speaking world to refer to a specific set of post-liberal political beliefs. Your argument, that words not coined in Australia oughtn’t be spoken on Australia Day, also makes no sense. So will you also apply “desperation” to yourself?

Capital Retro6:35 pm 26 Jan 24

Same as “Black Lives Matter” and “Free Palestine”. None of them have any connection with Australia’s history but hey, let’s not let facts get in the way of a good lefty narrative.

A worthy effort, Chris Roe, at even-handedness. Am I being condescending and patronising? Of course not, dear boy! However, your romanticising of Australian aboriginal culture as it was at the time of European settlement is ill-advised. If you do a little impartial reading, including of very level-headed relevant comments by Jacinta Price, you will have a hard time sustaining a case for the romantic fantasy that for Australia’s aborigines, the downside of white settlement was not vastly outweighed by its upside.

For the life of me “WOKE” still has no meaning to me. It doesnt register as anything as far as meaning goes. Seems like one of those stupid social meadia inventions, hopefully it will go the way of the dodo eventually

Thanks, Chris – a relevant article.
It’s a very good point that the date has already changed, or more accurately, the meaning for many has. I don’t celebrate Australia Day for the landing in 1788, and am amazed at the sheer arrogance of the British colonials to think that it was their right to take ownership of the land. I celebrate Australia Day because I’m an Australian, and I know I’m not alone in that thinking. We are a nation of Indigenous and imported people and cultures which makes us very rich indeed.

Actually, Chris, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the term ‘woke’ – an adjective derived from African-American Vernacular English meaning “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination”.

It’s just that the ‘rabid right’ like to use it as a perjorative, when in actual fact those at whom the intended slight is directed should see it as a compliment.

Good article. The more relevant measure is probably when the “cancel” starts ie when one side (usually the progressives) start calling for boycotts or banning of the other side or simply cancel them by refusing to engage.

Aint just the “progressives”. Howard was an expert on dividing everyone with terms like “un-Australian” to manipulate debates and to discredit anyone who thought differently to him. And the right wing has been using “politically correct” and “thought police” for a couple of decades now, conveniently ignoring there have been versions of “correct” thought for centuries (prime example, being expected to follow the rules of whatever religion has power).

Yes. Those progressives who have been calling for a boycott on Woollies for the last fortnight… oh wait.

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