Woke vs. Broke

If the Republican Party is any indication of the state of things within the conservative movement, there are some real problems for folks on the other side of the cultural aisle. The most cohesive position that folks on the “right” seem to be able to take is in opposition to what they regularly refer to as “woke” culture (see Ron DeSantis[1]).  This involves making it illegal to refer to someone as “Latin-x”[2], attacking drag queens as “groomers”[3] and exporting asylum seekers to other states[4].  Oh, and let’s not forget the biggest bogeyman of them all… “CRT” (Critical Race Theory[5]) that seems to find itself at the center of almost as many legislative agendas as anti-transgender bills and policies[6].

Conservative Republicans want a big tent as long as they can control and anticipate who is coming inside…and what they do once they are there.

A lot of this anti-woke rhetoric came to full flower during the worst of the resistance to the emergent Black Lives Matter movement and echoes the ignorant media point-scoring narratives spewed by the former president and his biggest supporters.  But therein lies the rub.  With so much to complain about, there is precious little that we actually know of what conservatives want.  They don’t want abortion…but who does? Progressives want the right to determine the decision to have one without government intervention (i.e. small government…but not so small it fits in a uterus). They don’t want immigration of rapists and drug smugglers…but who does?  Progressives want a clear and legal path for migrants and asylum seekers to have a way to participate in our country without adding to their trauma (i.e. fair and humane government based on reason and facts).  They don’t want heterosexual cisgender identity to be compromised…but who does?  Progressives just want a place for those who sit outside of that definition to have a way to be recognized as fully human (i.e. actually living into the 14th Amendment…you know the big tent).  In truth, the Progressive agenda and what progressive Democrats have clearly stated they want to see in our world sounds an awful lot like the lost goals and ambitions of conservatives of a bygone era.

This is the problem.  Conservative Republicans want a big tent as long as they can control and anticipate who is coming inside…and what they do once they are there.  The other problem is that the Republican party, as the political advertising arm of conservatism, has been operating inside its tent entirely without a platform since 2020[7].  Its last platform, adopted in 2016 was less of a battle cry and more of a death wail[8].  Despite starting with its declaration about “American exceptionalism”, it paints a picture of America as a failed experiment, due in part to the work of the (so far) only black president.  There are unmistakable shades of D.W. Griffith’s “A Birth of a Nation” (1915) in the fear it works hard to conjure up.  Still, it is the last time that politically active conservatives have come together to plainly state what their agenda is.  In the absence of a platform, this means that anyone who is willing to generate a cult of negative messaging against anything perceived as progressive or inclusive or “woke” becomes a de facto conservative hero.

Enter Rep.(?) George Santos and Rep. Ryan Zinke.  George Santos (a.k.a. Anthony Devolder…and probably any number of names) is a serial liar and truly has no place being anywhere near the governance of a sandbox, let alone the United States.  He is a myth of his own making yet the most vocally conservative of conservatives in the House (among them Matt Gaetz[9]) have embraced him with open arms making his failings out to be harmless standard practice.  These aren’t lies, they are “embellishments”; everyone does it…most of all Democrats!  Next up, Ryan Zinke, recently delivered a speech in the House of Representatives (now that it is actually open for business) that speaks of the conspiracy theory of the “deep state” as proven fact.[10]  So, apparently, without a platform or an agenda or any clear sense of what one is for one can now just make it up, out of thin air and fearmongering if you are in charge…and want to stay there.

Note: this is at least part of the mentality that justified slavery…

…and what created the myth about women being incapable of voting.

…and intentionally exterminated swaths of native people.

…and developed eugenics (at Harvard)

…and well, the Holocaust.

These kind of lies for political gain only have traction because they are pasted on a blank backdrop.  But any student of how race and empire has worked in global colonial histories, particularly the United States, knows that this is also the primary tool of white Christian hegemony as a tool of conquest.  If the most powerful force in the room is entirely invisible, it is nearly impossible to point a finger at it and accuse it of any harm.  Racism doesn’t exist…because we don’t see race; race isn’t real. I’m not racist!…but you still can’t come inside the tent.

I actually have nothing against actual “conservative” values.  What I have something against is the fabrication of a nouveau conservatism built in a vacuum of lies and political myths.  Admittedly, the position I come from as a proud progressive religious leader could be labeled as decidedly “woke”.  But I think it is much worse and proving to be significantly more dangerous that the current conservative movement is not just vacant of morals and values or any kind of agenda, but that it is ethically bankrupt and unrecognizably, and maybe irreparably damaged.

In a word, it is “broke”.

[1] The Associated Press, “Judge Blocks Fla. ‘anti-Woke’ Law as Violating First Amendment,” accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.mtsu.edu/first-amendment/post/3324/judge-blocks-fla-anti-woke-law-as-violating-first-amendment.

[2] Ayana Archie, “Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders Is Banning ‘Latinx’ from State Documents,” NPR, January 13, 2023, sec. Politics, https://www.npr.org/2023/01/13/1148966968/sarah-huckabee-sanders-arkansas-latinx.

[3] “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Administration Targets Holiday Drag Shows,” December 29, 2022, https://www.advocate.com/news/2022/12/29/florida-gov-ron-desantiss-administration-targets-holiday-drag-shows.

[4] Giulia Heyward, “Busloads of Migrants Dropped off near Kamala Harris’s Home on Christmas Eve,” NPR, December 25, 2022, sec. National, https://www.npr.org/2022/12/25/1145481615/busloads-of-migrants-dropped-off-at-kamala-harriss-home-on-christmas-eve.

[5] “Critical Race Theory FAQ,” Legal Defense Fund (blog), accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.naacpldf.org/critical-race-theory-faq/.

[6] Jayne Swift, “Gendered Racial Projects: Anti-Trans, Anti-CRT, and Anti-Abortion Legislation,” Gender Policy Report (blog), July 14, 2022, https://genderpolicyreport.umn.edu/gendered-racial-projects-anti-trans-anti-crt-and-anti-abortion-legislation/.

[7] “Resolution Regarding the Republican Party Platform | The American Presidency Project,” accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/resolution-regarding-the-republican-party-platform.

[8] “2016 Republican Party Platform | The American Presidency Project,” accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/2016-republican-party-platform.

[9] “Matt Gaetz Goes To Bat For Team George Santos And His Game Of Lies | HuffPost Latest News,” accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/matt-gaetz-defends-george-santos_n_63c0c0efe4b0ae9de1c669d5.

[10] “Ryan Zinke Rants That ‘Deep State’ Wants To ‘Wipe Out The American Cowboy’ | HuffPost Latest News,” accessed January 13, 2023, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/ryan-zinke-deep-state-cowboys_n_63bea99be4b0cbfd55ee5f4b.

The Anti-Equity Agenda

Link to original Washington Post Article here and below…

…The comfort of invisibility, the ease of ignorance

As I continue to study the ethical foundations of equity, particularly as those foundations show up in public policy, I learn more about the various personal motivations that seem to sit at the heart of cultural belief.  I’m struck by how, in a very general way, when I engage ‘non-people-of-color’ on questions of race, they are frequently at a loss as to how to speak of themselves.  This is most vibrantly true when engaging white liberals, which I do an awful lot of as a Unitarian Universalist minister.  Asking white liberals to talk about not just race but specifically what it means to be white, I have regularly heard the reply “well, ‘white’ is nothing” right before I hear an embarrassed laundry list of ways in which white people have oppressed non-whites across the globe as part of the European colonial project for centuries.

They might be intimidated by being asked this question by a black man.  True.  Yet, this lack of fluency about the self is troubling in a world that becomes more racially volatile every day.  It also plays into the narrative being fostered by conservatives who criticize the potential “discomfort” in talking about race.  All humans throughout time have done horrific and wonderful things.  They have done these things as cultural and ethnic groups and as individuals.  For that reason, I believe it is better to take an historian’s posture and consider those histories objectively through hard fact.  Howard French’s new book Born in Blackness: Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War does this beautifully and reveals the complexity in the origins of blackness and offers a lucid perspective on how it has been handed down to us today.

Facing Realities

Regardless of our individual racial identities and regardless of the un-scientific politics that created race as a social construct, we all need to have a language and an understanding of race in today’s world.  Whether we want to accept it or not, race impacts all humans.  But, applying modern, subjective perspectives of good and bad, guilt and innocence to historical racial actions and attitudes is counterproductive.  History is meant to inform us so that we can change and grow and maybe even be better.  It is not there to simply affirm what we want to believe after the fact.  The current impulse to erase, retell and reframe racial histories because of modern embarrassment comes from the same flawed motivation that gave us Confederate statuary.  Trying to be post-racial like this is a bit like trying to put toothpaste back in a tube.  Race is a mess, and we are better off focusing on recognizing it for everything it is, cleaning up what we can and making use of what we can’t.

There are examples in human experience of what better use of challenging or unwanted information might look like.  In the 1980s no one wanted or asked for the horror of AIDS.  In the gay community, we used the slogan “silence=death” with regards to being able to speak about HIV/AIDS.  We had to look at the destruction squarely and honestly and speak up.  This meant coming out of the closet, educating ourselves and educating anyone who would listen.  We became experts in the disease and how it was transmitted in order to just stay alive…and vaguely sane.  We learned objectively about our sexual practices and choices and how they could impact our lives and those we loved.  We didn’t stop having sex…we had smarter better informed sex.  This allowed us and the rest of humanity to be better for what we learned in the trenches.  The same holds true of race, racialization and racism for all humans. Silence=Death.

Where this lack of self-awareness about race is becoming truly dangerous today is in the silencing of educators and historians in the interest of not causing certain students “discomfort” in their learning process.  This metaphoric (and sometimes literal) book burning[1] is manifesting through legislation that portends to provide parents with more autonomy around how their children are educated[2].

Don’t mention anything to do with sexuality or gender because you as a parent aren’t ready for them to know about it…and certainly, children, adolescents and teens have never been willing to take sexuality into their own hands. 

Don’t talk about the history of racism because we fixed that…right?  I was sure we already overcame…right?

What You Don’t Know

From the perspective of this black gay body, it seems that the (largely) conservative reluctance to name whiteness in the conversation of race and the liberal position of helpless ignorance about whiteness have a lot in common.  Both positions seem to have a close relationship with an assumed invisibility that is cultivated in cultural whiteness and how that invisibility affords a rather plush ease in navigating society in a cloud of ignorance.  I’m naming invisibility as ignorance here while resisting the urge to point a finger or lay blame.  Not to save anyone discomfort, but because I have a deep faith-driven belief in redemption.  Embedded in this fairly stark assessment is a generous sense of respect for the intellect of the scholars and politicians who are invested in shutting down any conversations about race as a system or theory.

Sharing some of my personal perspective may be useful here. I have never lived in a world where I could be invisible.  I have always lived with the unexpected possibility of sudden and extreme verbal, physical, professional, or social violence aimed at my race or sexuality (or both) lurking around the corner.  It has been overt (being called the N-word, being spat at, etc.), but most often it is subtle and unintentional (“do you have a wife?”).  Women of all types can identify with this.  They never know when or where or to what extent they will encounter weaponized masculinity.  Hypervigilance for us becomes hardwired.  We are not fragile or “snowflakes”, rather we are exhausted and fed up because it is a constant in our lives.

When I encounter those who operate entirely outside of a similar on-guard relationship to the world, it is very easy for me to recognize.  While I am at constant threat of being capsized, they sail through the sea of conflict and challenge oblivious to even the slightest breeze. And it is intentional, they are well equipped.  This is more than just carrying Peggy McIntosh’s invisible knapsack[3].  It is knowingly loading the knapsack with additional items…a hat, goggles, headphones, gloves, a compass, a lifeboat, an oxygen tank and if necessary, a full hazmat suit as protection.

I don’t necessarily believe that this this indoctrination into ignorance is entirely or even intentionally hostile.  I am sure that many of the good people of Florida and Texas and South Dakota (and Boston) plain and simple don’t want to talk about this stuff.  They would rather go watch football or hockey.  They’d rather keep things binary…on, off; good, bad; male, female…so that they don’t have to learn a new language or try to understand something more complex than a tic-tack-toe game.  It’s just easier (for them.)  Frankly, human beings can sometimes appear on the surface quite a lot like dogs…wanting to take the path of least resistance to pleasure…more belly rubs and ear scratchies please!

But the dastardly complication of all this is that we aren’t dogs.  We are complex creatures with big brains that invite us to understand our complexity whether we like it or not.  Although we increasingly allow machines to do some of our big brain work, as human beings we thrive on understanding and having the opportunity to decipher and explore.  We have never been just a simple string of zeros and ones.  We are .5s and .0007s and 1.56879s and everything unmeasurable in between.  We are thoroughly analog and so is the world in which we exist.  On a very basic level of our shared humanity we crave the complexity of our analog life…along with some belly rubs.


As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am engaged in an ongoing study of equity and ethics.  One of the most important principles that has emerged for me is how equity can only thrive in collaboration with representation.  An equitable education will not be presented in safe dollops of homogenous, manicured meringue.  An equitable education will offer full pictures and representations of what actually exists in all of its shapes sizes and colors.  Likewise, equitable systems of government, community and religion can only emerge if there is the opportunity for full representation of what is possible and who can be at the table.  Equity does not filter out reality to avoid “discomfort.” Equity embraces the messiness and conflict and seeks equilibrium between the parts.

Take note: you can’t be at the table if you are invisible.  The politicians, and strategists and leaders who are invested in these efforts to counter “woke” culture and paint whiteness as a victim of an over intellectualized liberal elite don’t want to be at the table and they don’t want to work harder.  What is more, they don’t want anyone else to be at the table. They want everyone to be as invisible (and ignorant) as they see themselves.  This isn’t a matter of “anti-woke”, this is anti-equity.  It is a dangerous agenda that embraces the comfort of invisibility and the ease of ignorance.  It turns its back on one of the most fundamental principles of education: the desire to learn how to learn.

The anti-equity agenda is actively being manufactured and refined and it is growing.  More than technology, it is the new super commodity.  This agenda is as lethal and potentially far reaching as the commercialization, manufacture and refinement of sugar was centuries ago…and you see where that got us.


Full Text of “Anti-Woke” Florida Bill https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/148/BillText/Filed/HTML

[1] Maya Yang, “Tennessee Pastor Leads Burning of Harry Potter and Twilight Novels,” The Guardian, February 4, 2022, sec. US news, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/feb/04/book-burning-harry-potter-twilight-us-pastor-tennessee.

[2] “In His Fight against ‘Woke’ Schools, DeSantis Tears at the Seams of a Diverse Florida,” Washington Post, accessed February 8, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/02/07/desantis-anti-woke-act/.

[3] Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Upacking the Invisible Knapsack,” Peace and Freedom, August 1989, chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/viewer.html?pdfurl=https%3A%2F%2Fpsychology.umbc.edu%2Ffiles%2F2016%2F10%2FWhite-Privilege_McIntosh-1989.pdf.