After defining “woke” as “a simple past tense of wake,” Dictionary.com goes on to define it the millennial way. As an adjective, it can be understood to mean:
Actively aware of systematic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights.
So there you go. In case you weren’t in the know before, now you are. Just like you’re about to be in the know about how “woke” creative writing can be these days.
By that, I mean politically correct. On steroids.
I don’t mean to be disrespectful to anyone with a differing view, but wokeness takes cultural consideration to impossible levels.
For an outside example on how true that is, look no further than The New Yorker. It ran a piece early last year called, “In Y.A., Where Is the Line Between Criticism and Cancel Culture?”
While I highly suggest you read or at least browse the whole thing, the gist is this: Authors with big publishing contracts are having to pull their books from the publishing process because they’re not “woke” enough.
So when I ask the question of how woke your creative writing should be, it’s with good reason. This is a very big issue right now.
On the one hand… considering how authors with big publishing contracts are having to pull their books from the publishing process because they’re not woke enough… the answer to our question above might seem obvious.
Go as woke as you can! Be as politically correct as you can! Take those steroids! Avoid microaggressions at all costs!
But before you fully commit to that plan, there’s a problem. Because there’s no way to write a good story without throwing in at least a few microaggressions.
Going back to Dictionary.com, a microaggression is:
A subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.
And don’t think you’re off the hook if you are, in fact, a minority. In the aforementioned New Yorker article, a Chinese-American female immigrant was ripped to shreds for allegedly erasing “a specifically African-American experience” after “an apparently black slave girl dies in an apparently white character’s arms in an act of self-sacrifice.”
One of her biggest detractors was Kosoko Jackson, an African-American who was even then getting ready to publish an LGBTQ-friendly young adult novel. Yet critics ended up taking “issue with Jackson’s treatment of the [Kosovo] war and his portrayal of Muslims.”
He had to pull his book as well.
There’s really no winning here when anything – and I do mean anything, including applause in the form of clapping – can be seen as a microaggression.
Then there’s the issue of accuracy to consider. In the case of Kosoko Jackson’s supposed high crimes and misdemeanors, I’ll admit to knowing nothing about the Kosovo War. But if Muslims were the aggressors, then Muslims were the aggressors.
The same can be said about Christians, whites, blacks, men, women, Americans, non-Americans, etc.
If history’s proven anything, it’s that anyone of any religion, race, sex, nationality, etc., can be a jerk. We’re all selfish creatures who want what we want when we want it.
No amount of wokeness can change that. It’s historically blind to say otherwise.
Therefore, I find the fact that author Stephen O’Rourke even had to ask the following questions disturbing. In an MSN interview, he said:
As a writer, if your starting point is history, it is important but also difficult to think how to write for a multi-cultural ‘woke’ society. Do you give your characters their sense of dignity while not writing a whitewash of the time? Or do you decide history is so problematic, you just ignore it?
Here’s my answer, for anyone who cares: History is problematic. So is the present. But trying to ignore it or literally rewrite it helps absolutely no one.
Not in the past.
Not in the present.
Not in the future.
So instead of trying to out-woke each other in creative writing, how about we just try to be respectful? How about we handle tensions honestly yet considerately?
That’s my story and, unless someone can show me convincing reasons to do otherwise, I’m sticking to it.