The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Opinion | What does woke even mean?

“Woke” is one of the most prevalent scare words in politics, but it doesn’t seem to have a clear definition
Cody Blissett
2024 Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis interacts with attendees during “Joni’s Roast and Ride” a Republican-hosted event in Des Moines, Iowa on Saturday, June 3, 2023.

You’ve probably heard the word “woke” a lot recently, but do you have any idea what it means?

Republican presidential candidates like Chris Christie and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have been using this word heavily and loosely, slapping it as a label on anything or anyone they disagree with. However, in all the countless times they’ve used it, the candidates themselves have offered little to no explanation of what it actually means.

Buzzwords like “woke” are and have always been prevalent tools of parties, politicians, media, etc., to attack opposing parties, people, and policies. They are used in lieu of critical analysis and thought, and voters would be wise to learn these words and to be wary of them.

“Woke” is the newest in a long line of right-wing scare words. The scars of the Red Scare and McCarthyism still run deep in the U.S., as any word related to or in the vicinity of “socialism” or “communism” is often used negatively to this day.

Scare words can come in many forms, including the names of countries. In recent years, right-wing media has been milking the negative connotations associated with China, calling pretty much anything they don’t like “Chinese propaganda”. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) recently claimed that President Biden was financially linked to the Chinese Communist Party, but provided no evidence.

They have crammed their scare words into almost any facet of life they can possibly dig up. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Fox News decided that the new Barbie movie was Chinese propaganda because one poorly-drawn map in the movie, which obviously gives no regard to the actual proportions of the Earth, apparently depicted China as being the owners of the entire South China Sea. In case you’re wondering, no, Cruz did not see the movie.

Scare words are one of the most intriguing facets of political rhetoric and marketing. They are used so commonly because they can be sprinkled easily into any sentence or description.

Political strategists and presidential campaign managers know their audiences and know that scare words are the Holy Grail to a viewer watching their program with confirmation bias. It becomes a cue of sorts: as soon as these viewers hear anything deemed as “woke,” they will oppose it vehemently without any further critical thought.

Unfortunately, “anti-wokeness” is no longer just a rhetorical tool, it is being used to justify extremely harmful and dangerous legislation and policy.

DeSantis’ war on wokeness has spilled into Florida’s public schools. Just this week, Florida’s State Board of Education approved a new curriculum pertaining to African American studies that requires that students learn about some of the ways that Black people benefited from slavery.

It is just the latest in DeSantis’ and the Republican Party’s delusional campaign that is based on the inability to process the fact that much of American history is not all sunshine and rainbows for everyone.

Governor DeSantis’ desperate attempts to kill “wokeness,” also known in many cases as simple history or a valid criticism of the U.S., has now started to take on objective reality and truth. There cannot possibly be a benefit to students in not learning the dark sides of American history and present reality.

Whether it’s “woke” or “socialist” or anything of the sort, scare words are a dangerously common tool meant to discourage critical thinking, and all voters must look out for them and understand their power in construing misinformation.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.


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About the Contributors
Evan Weidl
Evan Weidl, Opinions Editor
Evan Weidl is a senior majoring in political science. He previously worked in the opinions section as a columnist.
Cody Blissett
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.