By Joshua Adams, The Nation
Something happened to Black discourse on the way to the backlash—and that’s no joke.
US politics has been deluged by heated debates surrounding cancel culture, “wokeness,” and critical race theory. What do these three topics have in common? Some would say that they are all ostensibly progressive ideas that seek understanding and accountability regarding histories of oppression. Others might argue they are all facets of an illiberal and regressive left trying to shame everyone into submission. Yet if you ask most people (regardless of their political background) to define these terms, you would likely get Justice Potter Stewart “I know it when I see it”–type answers.
It’s telling that all three stem from Black communal, online, or academic discourses that got co-opted—and then caricatured—as they traveled across the political spectrum. CRT is a legal theory looking at how historic and contemporary racial injustices are embedded in laws and policies that are on their face color-blind. Though it isn’t taught widely outside of grad school, it has been accused of murdering the souls of white children. Professor Meredith Clark and writer Clyde McGrady have written about how the word “cancel“ traveled from Black digital discourse to become a mainstream buzzword about censorship and mob justice. But, in my opinion, the mutation of “woke” has been the most egregious.