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Cori Bush: “Anti-Woke” Is Barely Disguised Code for “Anti-Black”

“Don’t let a fascist tell you what being woke means,” she said.

Rep. Cori Bush speaks to reporters as she arrives for a House Democrat caucus meeting with White House debt negotiators at the U.S. Capitol on May 31, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) lifted the veil on Republicans’ war on “woke,” saying aloud what the GOP won’t admit: that their use of the word as a pejorative is just a thin disguise for their contempt toward Black people.

In a House Oversight Committee hearing about environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment — a longtime milquetoast corporate initiative that’s become Republican’s latest boogeyman — Bush, a Black racial justice activist, explained that the word “woke” originated within Black communities standing up against anti-Black violence wrought by police and the government. She recounted marching on the streets protesting the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, when Black activists advised each other to “stay woke” to oppressive anti-Black forces.

“When that came about, we said we ‘woke up’ because we won’t allow anyone else to do this to us without us fighting back,” she said. “And so when you say ‘I’m anti-woke,’ when you talk about wokeness, you’re saying ‘I’m anti-Black and I don’t want Black people to speak up for themselves.’”

“Unless you are saying ‘I’m racist, white supremacist and I’m bigoted,’ stop talking about wokeness. And you can’t tell me that I’m wrong because I’m from the very movement where this came about,” she continued. “Don’t let a fascist tell you what being woke means.”

Moving on, she continued, “Now. Responsible investment, which has nothing to do with being woke.”

Republicans have indeed been hurling the word “woke” at essentially anything they dislike. ESG, so-called cultural Marxism (a far right conspiracy theory with roots in virulent antisemitism), any corporation (including Christian-owned Chick-fil-A) that so much as hires a “diversity officer” dedicated to ensuring that a company doesn’t violate equal opportunity hiring laws — all entities and individuals are fair game for becoming “woke,” and therefore contemptible, for the right.

As such, “woke” means both nothing and everything to Republicans. Recently, in an embarrassing clip in a news show on The Hill hosted by Briahna Joy Gray, right-wing writer Bethany Mandel froze up when asked to define the word “woke” — despite having gone on the show to promote her book supposedly exposing the “woke agenda.” While stammering to find a definition that never came, Mandel dejectedly said, “this is going to be one of those moments that goes viral.” Indeed, it did.

Even Donald Trump has admitted that the word holds no meaning — despite himself describing the military as “woke” just hours after mocking the use of the word (which is, notably, a favorite of his presidential opponent Ron DeSantis).

In reality, however, there are many conservatives who seem to understand that the use and misuse of the word is just cover for Republicans to be as racist or bigoted as they want without directly saying what they mean, as Bush pointed out.

The progressive lawmaker said that Democrats must push against the GOP’s campaign against “wokeness,” saying that, if it’s obvious to conscious observers that they’re really attacking Black and other marginalized communities, then Democrats should push back against the campaign.

“As Democrats, we’ve got to push back on the GOP’s ‘war on woke.’ We know it’s rooted in anti-Blackness. We cannot sit idly by as these folks get in front of cameras and yell ‘woke’ at everything,” she said on Twitter on Wednesday. “It’s our communities that the GOP is targeting. We have to stand up for us.”

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