Opinion | A Conservative’s View of What ‘Woke’ Means

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To the Editor:

Re “Trying to Define a Label,” by Ross Douthat (column, March 19):

It is hard to overstate the irony of Ross Douthat’s offering a definition of the “‘woke’ worldview.” “Woke” is not a worldview. It is a boogeyman, a pejorative epithet, a cudgel used by conservatives like Mr. Douthat to strike fear in people’s hearts.

But I accept his invitation to embrace the label if he agrees that the idea of being “woke” means being open to the fullness of truth about our shared past, present and future: the good, the bad, the ugly.

Wokeness, if anything, is understanding that our pluralistic, complex democracy must be open to all our voices, perspectives, stories, histories and visions of the future, even and especially those of the most marginalized. In this way, wokeness is a commitment to truth and justice as the American way.

Staying asleep among the ranks of the unwoke is a choice. It may be more comfortable. It is also fundamentally undemocratic and un-American.

Philip Walsh
Cape Elizabeth, Maine

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat defines “woke” for his readers, expressing a lot of progressive hopes, desires and accomplishments. But woke certainly doesn’t lend itself to an easily understood or repeatable definition. Mr. Douthat is making it much harder than it needs to be.

Forget all the verbal salad. Woke stresses the value and goodness of being human, emphasizing common human needs, and seeking rational ways of solving human problems. It is similar to humanism. “Woke” has become and should be called “neo-humanism.”

Neo-humanists, stand up and be heard!

Liane M. Lee
Winter Park, Fla.

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat takes a liberal argument to the extreme. In his mind, “woke” now means intolerance, rigidity and a narrow view of the world — terms best understood to be the hallmarks of conservatism.

To understand that persistent systemic racism and various sexist beliefs permeate our history is a simple idea that allows us to better appreciate the bias of the status quo. We are in a better position to make changes when we see the world from this larger context.

All movements overshoot. There have been mistakes: Intolerance of conservative speakers on campuses, defining our need to demilitarize the police with the ill-stated “defund the police” are examples. But these errors do not condemn us to surrender the basic idea — seeing the world as it truly is in all of its complexity.

No liberal I know discounts biological differences. To become aware of the range of sexual orientations is no sin. Today young people see sex as it is, infinitely more complicated and mysterious.

In sum, you either become better informed or you remain asleep. And you stop blaming the world’s problems on those who have learned to appreciate seeing more of reality.

Bill Fyfe

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat offers an object lesson in clear and constructive thinking. His conservative’s swing at sensibly and respectfully defining “woke” while remaining adamantly unwoke provides a teaching moment in how Americans of different ideological persuasions need to address one another: thoughtfully and with all the understanding we can muster.

Arthur Zegelbone

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat attempts to define the word “woke” but doesn’t mention the origin of the word. The word “woke” came from Black American slang in the mid-1900s, meaning awake or aware. During the 2014 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Mo., many Black Americans used the phrase “Stay Woke” to encourage others to become aware of the injustices happening to Black people in America.

In recent years, white conservative commentators like Tucker Carlson have co-opted the word as a catchall for cultural progressive politics that scare them.

The word “woke” was created by and for Black people, to describe a specific cultural message, not for the use of aggrieved cultural commentators.

Ethan Ready
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Budget Realities: Proposals and Actual Spending

To the Editor:

“How 31 Presidential Budgets Compared With Reality” (The Upshot, March 11), about the differences between proposed budgets and actual spending, offers an insightful analysis of the challenges governments have in accurately projecting expenditures and revenues, and the effect these miscalculations can have on deficits and fiscal sustainability.

Around the world, we see great deviations between what executives promise in their budgets and what they prioritize in their actual spending. When faced with less rosy revenue projections, governments are forced to decide which services to cut.

Our research on budget credibility — which measures how governments deviate from the budgets approved by their legislatures — shows that governments tend to shortchange funding for health, agriculture and other social sectors that most affect underserved communities.

Tracking these deviations can ensure that officials are held to account for the accuracy of their projections, and do not succumb to political pressure to inflate revenue projections, hide large deficits or underestimate the costs of new policies.

However, in many countries, budget processes lack transparency, and our latest Open Budget Survey found that almost a third of countries do not publish an annual report on the execution of their budget.

Improving the availability of this data is not just a technocratic exercise. Doing so can ensure that governments can realistically fund crucial services for their people and propel progress on sustainable development goals.

Sally Torbert
The writer is a policy manager for the International Budget Partnership, a nonprofit that promotes more equitable management of public money.

When It Comes to Music, Don’t Forget FM Radio

To the Editor:

Re “A Music Newsletter Nostalgic for the Mixtape” (The Story Behind the Story, March 21):

It is bittersweet reading about The Times’s new music newsletter, The Amplifier. I surely understand the generous impulse to share recommendations of music and “musings” about pop culture from a critic steeped in the stuff. But in this streaming era, I am struck again by the omission of a long-tested and trusted source of diverse music offerings and commentary: FM radio!

WPKN, the free-form station where I host a show, has a devoted base of listeners who are passionate about the form. You actually listen and discover in real time! It’s an experience.

And it’s presented by, of all things … humans, with quirky and enthusiastic personalities. Most of the D.J.s volunteer their time and have been for decades.

I’ll likely check out The Amplifier because I do what its author does — soak up daily music exposure and create soundtracks, with special care toward the segues and juxtapositions. I just don’t call them “mixtapes.” I call them radio shows.

Don’t forget us.

Binnie Klein
Hamden, Conn.

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