top of page

Wake Up! Woke Is a Sign of Intelligence

By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sees “woke” everywhere … even when it’s not there
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sees “woke” everywhere...even when it’s not there

Intended to mean social awareness, “woke” is now being used — like communist, socialist or pedophile — by the radical right in such absurd instances that it ceases to have any clear meaning to anyone who does not smother their brain under a MAGA hat. And even to some who do.

The latest eye-roll-inducing example: arch-conservative stalwarts such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Rep. James Comer of Kentucky blaming the failure of Silicon Valley Bank on “woke” things like diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs, and (presumed) investments in green technology.

The dust was still in the air from the bank’s collapse when these scapegoats were already in the GOP’s crosshairs. “I mean, this bank, they’re so concerned with D.E.I. and politics and all kinds of stuff. I think that really diverted from them focusing on their core mission,” DeSantis told — who else? — Fox News.

Um, I’m really supposed to believe that the bank’s directors were so impaired by trying to be fair and responsible that they were unable to effectively perform their primary jobs? How exactly did their supposed obsession with wokeness manifest itself? Has anyone cited even one example of a competent (presumably white) person who was passed over in favor of an incompetent minority who played a consequential role in the bank tanking?

Is it really not possible to be socially responsible and make money at the same time? The folks at Conscious Capitalism would dispute that notion. Yet, DeSantis pushes legislation like the bill President Biden just vetoed that would have forbidden managers of retirement funds to consider climate change and other environmental, social and governance factors when picking investments.

Never mind that people with actual knowledge of the industry cite far more likely culprits in the panic that has now rattled regional and world banks: among them, over-investing in long-term Treasury bonds, which took a beating as interest rates rose. Dalliance with dicey cryptocurrency along with a rollback of the measures and oversight that prevented risks of the kind that caused the 2008 financial crisis may also have played a role, as did undue customer anxiety and a venture capitalist herd mentality.

Apparently, if your cereal grows soggy in the bowl it’s because the manufacturer is woke. Then again, whenever the right cries “woke,” whatever it alleges tends to crumble when given even a modest amount of thought.

As usual, matters such as this investment mess are a bit more complex than meets the politically angry eye. But GOP leaders like DeSantis bank on their followers permanently checking their minds at the door, as the MAGA minions have done with their belief that the 2020 election was stolen despite a constant glaring lack of evidence and Fox News’ admission of lying about it. Do I need mention Tucker Carlson’s pathetically blatant attempt to portray the violence of Jan. 6, witnessed by millions on TV, as peaceful?

Only those who remain willfully asleep will buy Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 “investigation”
Only those who remain willfully asleep will buy Tucker Carlson’s Jan. 6 “investigation”

To hear the radical right tell it, any concern about racism (historical and current, especially with regard to police brutality), sexism and misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, climate change, the threat to democracy, income inequality, and the inhumane treatment of refugees is “woke madness” and political correctness run amok, even a kind of derangement that precludes the ability to do anything else but pompously hector and lecture.

When former Vice President Mike Pence made a derisive, homophobic joke about Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Pence’s former chief of staff Marc Short responded to the Biden White House’s objection by saying the administration “should spare America the faux outrage” and that it “would be wise to focus less on placating the woke police and focus more on bank failures, planes nearly colliding in mid-air, train derailments, and the continued supply chain crisis.”

It’s not surprising that simple decency, consideration and empathy are automatically seen as phony by people who fly “F—k your feelings” flags and welcome being lied to by the likes of Carlson, Donald Trump, George Santos and more in their world of transparently expedient “alternative” facts.

You may also have noticed that the right also has its own woke police and cancel culture. It’s seeking to dictate what is taught in schools, ban books, and even forbid doing business with socially and environmentally responsible companies. These intrepid folks are quick to disparage “snowflakes” and “crybabies” while loudly voicing their own grievances. They are constantly being told by Carlson and his ilk that liberal “elites” look down on them. Well, is it any wonder?

“What I say to people when they start talking about woke is, well what’s the opposite, sleep? You’d rather be asleep?” civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton told MSNBC.

Whether things like DEI and green energy initiatives are effective is a matter of valid debate and best taken case-by case. But to those who see them as a tyrannical denial of their rights (to do what, discriminate, insult and pollute?), all I can say is we wouldn’t need inclusivity efforts and laws against discrimination and a host of other ills if more people were and had been fair and responsible throughout America’s often ugly history.

How about blaming the ones who created and still defend these conditions, not the ones who are trying to level the playing field so America lives up to its lofty ideals?

If the radical right is trying to convince anyone other than its hardcore ranks that awareness is bad, it is failing miserably. According to a recent USA Today/Ipsos poll, 56% of Americans surveyed (including 44% of Republicans) find “woke” to be a largely positive term that means "to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices."

Radical Republicans might want to get woke to the reality that insulting people’s intelligence is not the smart way to win them over.


John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website ( with the meter running.



bottom of page