The War on Woke

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Definition of Woke: An adjective derived from African-American Vernacular English meaning “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination.” Beginning in the 2010s, it came to encompass a broader awareness of social inequalities such as racial justice, sexism and LGBT rights

Republicans are pinning their 2024 hopes on the War on Woke. They don’t have a precise definition nailed down yet, but they know it when they see it and they hate it.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who looks in the mirror and tries to see a POTUS, is the leading anti-Woke warrior, and he’s proud to declare the Sunshine State is a Woke-Free Zone.

Here’s a clip of him making Woke sound like a Golden Girl with Marxist tendencies by claiming that “Florida is where woke goes to die.”

Frontrunner Donald Trump hasn’t used the term much, probably because DeSantis beat him to it. But Trump is so far ahead of the rest of the GOP pack that it doesn’t matter. It’s not like he’s going to run out of insults.

Another ambitious right-winger, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, didn’t need to be prodded to pick up the anti-Woke flag and carry it to the Tri-Cities a few months ago to warn Upper East Tennessee Republicans that Woke Culture is a bigger threat to the American way of life than China or the national debt. This means that Job One for the GOP, obviously, is to “push back and build a firewall” to halt the Woke.

“We still believe in the American Dream in Tennessee,” said Jacobs, who noted that is “one of the reasons so many people are leaving liberal-leaning states like Colorado and California to move here.”

Tim Burchett earned a spot on the Anti-Woke First Team last year when he voted against the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to protest the military being brainwashed by Woke politics.

“But that’s exactly what the Democratic Party is forcing on servicemembers in this year’s NDAA. Critical Race Theory classes and diversity and inclusion trainings will not prepare troops for combat, and it’s disgusting to force women into the draft,” he said.

Diversity! Inclusion! Oh, the humanity. What next – equality?

The use of the word Woke in this context has a long history and was most recently revived by the Black Lives Matter movement after a 2020 video of a Minneapolis police officer choking the life out of George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes went viral.

But its history goes back way further than that. The legendary blues singer Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) used the concept in “Scottsboro Boys,” his ballad about nine Black teenagers falsely accused of rape and condemned to death in 1931. The case against them was eventually overturned, but not before the Scottsboro boys had served a collective 100 years in jail, under the threat of the noose.

It is customary for what used to be the Party of Lincoln to ignore history these days, but the appropriation of the concept of “Woke” is silly and shameful and makes me miss the Tim Burchett I used to know – the one who told stories about his family being threatened by the Klan when his daddy chaired the Knoxville Board of Education that integrated the city schools; the one who helped a 28-year-old Black underdog named Danny Mayfield get elected to Knoxville’s city council; the one who voted for a Democrat for Speaker of the state Senate that one time because he had given his word. He was pretty damn woke.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for


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