The Awokening–about to break or getting started?

Razib Khan is one of the people I follow on twitter who makes me think–that is why I follow him. His recent tweet below harkens a question folks have been asking me lately–has “woke” culture gotten out of control on campus and where does it stop?

Let me provide a practical definition of how I understand “wokeness” in the best sense of the word, with respect to myself. Only within the past few years did I come to understand my identity as being White. I would always have checked “White” on a demographic survey, but I viewed being White as a fact, and thought of my perception of most everything as being the obvious default. Anyone compared to my views was bringing an identity–I was just bringing me. My daughter tells me stumbling through life without this realization was also related to being a White man.

The best of wokeness is being open to new information that you may have missed altogether in the past. Understanding how people of different identities have experienced the world is not a toxic thing, it is just a part of seeking to be a more practical Bayesian in a diverse society, meaning striving to be someone who is not fully convinced of everything and is willing to consider new evidence, and to be persuadable. If you never change your mind, that is a bad sign.

Of course some folks go to far, and illiberalism is antithetical to the life of the mind that is the best of the University community, regardless of the ideology of the imposer. The biggest blind spot in the pushback about “wokeness” on campus and the broad discussion of safe spaces is as follows.

1. Students live on campus at a place like Duke. The first Amendment principle of “freedom to assemble” includes sometimes not wanting to be subjected to unfettered speech. I go home at night.

2. Much of the worst speech, has a disproportionate impact on historically marginalized groups, and someone who is fearful for their safety, or who does not feel as if they belong, has little chance to engage in full dialogue. It is very difficult to walk the line of making a college campus a place where all who are willing to defend their words can speak up, while ensuring that all have a chance to join the fray.

My two cents.

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute), and Chair of the Academic Council at Duke University . I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy. My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

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