Columnist J.M. Sorrell: Woke women, loud and proud

Published: 02-28-2023 5:57 PM

Happy Women’s History Month! This year’s theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories” (nationalwomenshistoryalliance.org). Throughout this year, the National Women’s History Alliance is highlighting storytellers, writers, journalists, playwrights and other women who have produced art and contributed to the pursuit of truth, equity and justice. Woke women.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the political right made fun of “politically correct” as it was used by the left and feminists. These days, the religious and political right ridicule wokeness. They have no real platform of public service and progress, so they rant about being “woke.”

Make no mistake: This is code for being against racial justice. During the 1960s, woke meant being well-informed and aware. It made a comeback in the Black Lives Matter movement, and Merriam-Webster defines the current use as “aware of and actively attentive to issues of racial and social justice.”

It may be out of vogue for most white people to declare a pride in racism, yet they are still at it with the anti-woke business. It’s not subtle, and normalizing it is dangerous. We can do something.

Me, I bought my woke T-shirt. It reads, “Woke. adjective, slang. 1. to have or be marked by an active awareness of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights.”

Wear woke well. Get a button or T-shirt. Remember when they made fun of the Affordable Care Act and derisively called it Obamacare? We certainly turned that around. The political right is forever stuck with Obama’s name in a consequential law for equitable health care that has helped millions of Americans.

We are woke because we have compassion and we believe in a kind and equitable world. We are not complicit with pathetic anti-woke tirades. The next time someone you know makes fun of wokeness, ask them what they mean. What precisely are they against? Racial equity? Feminism? Environmental justice? Empathy? What do they stand for instead?

Woke women — unknown and well-known — have inspired me throughout my life, and I owe them the debt of acknowledgment and gratitude. We each have our heroes. Mine are often women who are naturally intersectional in their everyday work. We may agree on some issues and not on others, but we share respect and trust in our core values.

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Local women who are extraordinary to me include Tolley Jones, Lindsay Sabadosa, Rochelle Prunty, Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Seunghee Cha, Sabrina Hamilton, Ellen Story, Leslea Newman and Andrea Ayvazian. We live in a region rife with women in various fields who make the world a better place. Thank you.

Barbara Ransby and other historians know it is important to tell women’s stories. I am grateful to the women who have dedicated their lives to uncovering and presenting historical accounts that may otherwise be forgotten. Today’s journalists such as Cristiane Amanpour, Amy Goodman, Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, Joy Reid, Yvonne Abraham and countless others advance causes through their investigative work.

Poets, songwriters, playwrights and other writers offer the opportunity for life-changing revelations. I consciously realized I was a feminist when I attended an event in 1982 at the University of Louisville where Marge Piercy read her poem, “For Strong Women.” A few years later, reading essays and an auspicious meeting with Audre Lorde caused me to commit to lifelong anti-racism activism in words and action.

My first Broadway experience was to see Lily Tomlin in Jane Wagner’s Tony-award winning play, “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life” in 1985. The combination of humor and social consciousness resonated for me then as it does today. We need Chelsea Handler, Wanda Sykes and Samantha Bee to help us laugh as they validate our experiences with sexism, racism, homophobia and other social justice issues.

During Women’s History Month, we reflect on accomplishments as we fight contemporary battles of misogyny and sexism. Woke women are simply doing the work that needs to be done. Our small acts of storytelling are important and may influence someone who in turn does the same. When one person tells me s/he has thought more fully about an issue I wrote about or a story I told, my heart feels full.

I can’t imagine what it would feel like to influence someone to be “anti-woke.” It seems so soul-crushing and destructive. Woke wisdom is the revolution. It is our imperative to own it and to refuse complicity with the current backlash.

Are you awake for woke?

J.M. Sorrell is a feminist at her core. She believes in celebrating women every month of the year.]]>