Culture Wars/Current Controversies

‘Wokeness’ versus true danger

By Leonard Quart, Berkshire Edge

Although not a fan of cancel culture, Quart reminds us that the real threat to our freedom and democracy is the Republican party.

There are countless instances where becoming fully “woke” can bring on many problems. A working definition of “woke” involves being aware of issues concerning social and racial justice, and absence thereof, and consequently pushing for a mass reaction from the public. The problem grows when a conscious need for social justice leads to a censorious overreaction, which undermines freedom of speech, opinion, and the creation of art.

For example, Chicago’s smart, progressive, and usually equitable mayor, Lori Lightfoot, stated recently that she would only give interviews to journalists of color to help them get more seats at the table. Her decision illustrated one major problem of “wokeness” — it forgets that achieving social justice does not mean, in turn, engaging in exclusionist policies. I can think of additional examples, such as when a retrospective show of Philip Guston’s was postponed because he used images of KKK figures in his later paintings. Clearly, Guston was being critical of racism and the Klan in in his paintings. But there were fears the work would be misunderstood, and racial hypersensitivity triumphed for the moment over art.

Guston’s daughter Musa Mayer eloquently criticized the decision to postpone the retrospective: “Not only had he violated the canon of what a noted abstract artist should be painting at a time of particularly doctrinaire art criticism, but he dared to hold up a mirror to white America, exposing the banality of evil and the systemic racism we are still struggling to confront today.”

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