Right-wing writer and commentator Bethany Mandel found herself in a sticky situation when Briahna Joy Gray, National Press Secretary for the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign, asked her to define the term “woke” during an interview. (You might remember Mandel as the “Grandma Killer” from 2020.)

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On “Rising,” a web series presented by The Hill, Mandel was once again blaming all of the world’s problems on this term that originated with the Black community only to become the new “politically correct” for conservatives, but didn’t seem to know what it meant. Gray took the opportunity to press her on it, and the results were spectacular.

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“I think this is a broad concern that a lot of folks have a problem does also recreate this kind of victim paradigm, where you have people saying we’re being under attack by the left instead of kind of coming together and trying to resolve what I think is a broadly understood phenomenon,” Mandel rambled.

“This is sort of a woke reimagining that is very, very, very far left,” she claimed. “Only seven percent of Americans consider themselves very liberal and probably fewer of them consider themselves to be woke.”

“What does that mean to you? Would you mind defining woke?” asked Gray. “It’s come up a couple of times. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page.”

They weren’t, in fact, on the same page. Mandel appeared to be on the page of the new book she was promoting, because people who go on TV to rant and rave about “woke” always have a book to peddle. The right-wing talking head stammered and struggled, and then after a long pause, constructed a beautiful self-fulfilling prophecy.

“This is going to be one of those moments that goes viral,” she said.

It sure it, Beth. It sure is.

Finally, she was able to dredge up some sort of definition of the term, but it was far off the mark of anything that could be called adjacent to reality.

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“I mean, woke is something that’s very hard to define, and we’ve spent an entire chapter defining it. It is sort of the understanding that we need to totally re-imagine and redo society in order to create hierarchies of oppression,” Mandel claimed. “Um, sorry, I — it’s hard to explain in a 15-second sound bite.”

“Take your time,” said Gray.

Mandel almost seemed like she was going in an accurate direction with the assertion that the term means a desire to re-imagine society, but rather than wanting to create hierarchies of oppression, those who are called “woke” explicitly want the opposite. It originated as an AAVE term that, in its broadest definition, meant “social awareness.”

Before the word was appropriated largely by white conservatives, it was often used specifically in relation to racial issues, evoking a state of being aware that racism is not only still a widespread problem, but is built into the legal and political systems of many nations. It increased in popularity after being heavily featured in Erykah Badu’s 2008 song “Master Teacher,” and again in 2014 following the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Mandel’s claim that “woke” is hard to define is contradicted by this history as well as the assertions of the legal counsel of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis back in December. When asked to define the term by opposing attorneys in a court case over the suspension of Democratic State Attorney Andrew Warren by DeSantis, General Counsel Ryan Newman gave a succinct and rather revealing definition. He said that “it would be the belief [that] there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

That’s not a bad summary at all, but accurate definitions like that make conservatives look bad after they’ve spent years railing against the need to address injustices. Mandel, similarly, did not come out looking good during the interview with Gray, and as she predicted, has gone viral for demonstrating once again that the right-wing crusade against “woke” is manufactured outrage porn.

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*First Published: March 15, 2023, 11:23 am