Woke as a definition of the inevitable: the alternative is simply intolerable…

Vince Rizzo
6 min readNov 9, 2021

Staying Woke

They are really good at it. “Woke”, a good term, has been given a whole other meaning by those who would rebrand it in an attempt to cover up centuries of injustice are not even. Many use it as a cudgel to bash the progressive movement are woefully unaware of its meaning and intent. They just know they were told they shouldn’t like it-that it should be pronounced with a sneer. Let’s start here; to be woke in the current usage is to be culturally alert and aware of longstanding injustices:

WOKE chiefly US slang

aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)

— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

woke, adjective: Originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice; frequently in stay woke.


One would be hard-pressed to advocate for being “unwoke” given the primary definitions above, however, turning a word or phrase into a slur is what the disingenuous do. Terms like “liberal” and “socialism” have been earlier victims of right-wing rebranding. It works, to an extent. because those inclined to agree with conservative policies require shorthand to simplify their arguments and reduce them to a word, or in some cases, a syllable. And for their mindless followers who mimic and retweet in the great echo chambers of their Twitterverse, words needn’t be defined to become weaponized. In their post-truth world cynicism blithely clouds what is real.

Branding misses the point

“Progressive” has become another useful term for Republicans and even some Democrats to redefine and mock. “Owning libs” is a past-time worthy of a chyron on some talking heads program dedicated to reengineering reality to fit their audience’s biases. In its current form, woke is used to denigrate the long due investments in our society found in the BBB bill — — or as facile excuses for the loss of an election. It is au courant (see Maureen Dowd and James Carville)to point out the massive spending contained in the bill while refusing to admit that the costs are offset by tax reforms that will enhance even those who are asked to pay their fair share. Only the truly greedy and morally blind can look beyond -provisions in the bill to curb the oncoming climate crisis, child care, and education benefits, health care reforms, affordable housing, among other programs that will benefit the economy in general and the middle class in particular. That is not to deny the overall benefits that would accrue to all levels of society including the wealthy.

For the Republicans, there is not one dollar that could be spent as a wise investment in the future. They are determined to maintain a society that governs for the rich and powerful at the expense of the rest of us. Rich and powerful who hide within faceless corporations whose investment in even their own futures is a risk they are unwilling to bear. Call them the wokeless, or the unwoke, but their position is untenable. They are like the carriage makers who doubled down on wagon wheels and scoffed at the impracticality of the newfangled horseless carriage. They are fighting the inevitable progress that dooms all who trade in holding onto the past, finding comfort and personal advantage in the status quo. Theirs is a future on tenterhooks, denying an inevitability that cannot help but swallow them up.

The unwoke rail against movements like Black Lives Matter that arise out of the lingering injustices of the past. While terms like “defund the police” may be a less than artful expression for the anger and frustration of a black community under siege by renegade police, unarmed black men and women being wantonly murdered is real:

the trend of fatal police shootings in the United States seems to only be increasing, with a total 716 civilians having been shot, 111 of whom were Black, as of October 2021. In 2020, there were 1,021 fatal police shootings, and in 2019 there were 999 fatal shootings. Additionally, the rate of fatal police shootings among Black Americans was much higher than that for any other ethnicity, standing at 37 fatal shootings per million of the population as of October 2021.

— statista.com

Et Tu?

And the opposition from Republicans and moderates within the Democratic Party that Biden is experiencing with his “progressive” agenda, denies that the greatest portion of the agenda is both necessary and prudent. Polling indicates that the programs promised in the bill are widely popular among voters. Taken in the context of history, the reconciliation bill is less “progressive” than it is pragmatic. The effects of climate change that we are experiencing worldwide are alone a convincing argument for action. Those opposed seem to have all been tricked by the wait-and-see police who govern the pace of progress. They would have us slow-walk an end to racism — — as if justice requires caution; drag out action on global warming — — as if the climate will accommodate the urgency of greed and inaction while modern-day Thernardiers exact the last bit of profit from fossil fuels and carbon. These may meet progressive ends, the concepts, however, are more rational than political.

In an article entitled “What does woke mean?” Michael Ruiz, a Fox News reporter, traces its etymology back to a 1962 New York Times article about Fox aficionadoes’ favorite scapegoats:

So an addition to meaning aware and progressive, many people now interpret woke to be a way to describe people who would rather silence their critics than listen to them.

That’s entirely different than what the word meant when it first appeared in print.

That was in a 1962 New York Times article about beatniks and pop culture absorbing jazz music and African American slang from Harlem, Oxford revealed in a June 2017 article about new words heading into the dictionary.

That article, written by the Black New York City novelist William Melvin Kelley was titled, “If you’re woke, you dig it” — meaning if you’re in the know, you understand…

— -Michael Ruiz, foxnews.com

As the Jon Lovitz character and inveterate liar Tommy Flanagan would retort, “Yeah, that’s the ticket!”


Building Back Better, despite the claims of those who believe progressives are alien spawns and that Democrats eat babies, is more pragmatic than visionary. There is a surrender on the part of opponents to the immediacy of the future. Is there anyone who doubts the inevitability of EV’s dominating our highways or of the economic foolishness of investing in the future of fossil fuels? Do we question today the wisdom of ponying up the dollars for the federal highway system?

The stubborn denial of the future being orchestrated in Congress by Republicans and some moderates is a vestige of their fear. Leadership requires an ability to forge solutions that test the understanding of voters who need to be advised but not necessarily advisors. For them, the future is a scary thought rife with a potential for personal discomfort. The curse for elected leaders who fear their constituents and, therefore, yield their authority to maintain favor,is that tomorrow is as invidious and intolerable as today and yesterday are to the so-called woke. It is always too late to undo the past and never too soon to envision the future. Those who reject change are represented by the Roman mythical goddess, Invidia (Nemesis in Greek mythology), goddess of greed and envy. Renaissance artists depicted her as unflatteringly self-destructive:

Cesare Ripa’s influential Iconologia (Rome, 1603) represented with a serpent coiled round her breast and biting her heart, “to signify her self-devouring bitterness; she also raises one hand to her mouth to show she cares only for herself”.

Ovid describes her thus:

Her face was sickly pale, her whole body lean and wasted, and she squinted horribly; her teeth were discoloured and decayed, her poisonous breast of a greenish hue, and her tongue dripped venom. … Gnawing at others, and being gnawed, she was herself her own torment.

— Ovid, Metamorphoses

Like her modern descendants who act as their own worst enemy by fighting off a future they cannot avoid, these are the unwoke-a species doomed by their own bitterness and self-loathing to a future surely determined by others.

Originally published at https://vincerizzo.substack.com on November 9, 2021.



Vince Rizzo

Former president of the International Association of Laboratory Schools (IALS) and a founder of a charter school based on MI theory.