COMMENTARY: Am I “woke”?

by Jul 8, 2020OPINIONS





I must admit, the older I get, the harder it is to keep up with the trends. I am a proud Baby Boomer and, with each additional day of life, I find it more difficult to be surprised at humans, human nature, and the actions of humans. Unfortunately, it feels like we have entered a new era of hate. We do not seem to be able to distinguish between love and hate. We also cannot separate the hate of actions from the hate of individuals.

Recent news reports have been exceptionally disheartening. After being mentally handheld in the understanding that masks will protect others, we either stubbornly or ignorantly keep positioning ourselves to be of harm to others. We even create COVID parties where people gather with a person who has a confirmed case of the coronavirus with the intent of catching the disease so that we may win a prize. When I see news like this, it makes me wonder what I am missing.

The “which life matters” debate has also been a head-scratcher (that’s old man speak for “confusing”). I see the phrase “Black Lives Matter”, and I think, of course those lives matter. It would be the height of arrogance, inhumanity, and, yes, racism, to think otherwise. And yet when one of us makes the statement that “All Lives Matter”, voices rise in aggravation and anger. It would seem it is not okay to say that everyone matters or that saying “all” somehow makes lives of color matter less.

Racism as a cultural issue is front and center in our thoughts and lives these days. I was once told by a friend and fellow tribal member that it is impossible to be a racist if you are in a minority. I tried to explain that race hate was not about numbers per se, but my friend did not think so.

What we call racism is much more complicated than we make it out to be. And because we over-simplify it, we lump everyone into one camp or another. Racism, as we define it as a society, is not just about color. It is also about culture and history. Unfortunately, some are using the term racism to gain or exert power. Riots, murder, and vandalism have all been justified or excused in the name of racism.

Meriam Webster’s definition of racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” The definition assumes physical and psychologic differences that would cause one or another person of a race to think it is better than the other.

There are historic and current societal examples of this mentality being the case in our history.

Beginning with European contact, at least in America, there have been numerous incidents of immigrant Europeans subjugating people of color for the purposes of acquiring land and forced labor. There are horrific examples of people of color being thought of and treated like pets, livestock, and worse. Clearly, there have been atrocities committed and justified in the name of racial superiority. Within the issues that face us currently is a massive gap in knowledge of our history as American peoples as a single society and as individual cultural groups.

I have always been a hobbyist when it comes to history, particularly when it comes to Civil War history. Having ancestral roots in Cherokee, the “South”, and Africa, it was natural for me to want to know more about a pivotal time that impacts all three of my historic roots. We miss so much and anger too quickly by not getting into the particulars of our shared history. How many times have we witnessed, maybe have been a party to, having a family member, a bad apple, if you will, who does atrocious things, and the family stand behind them. Or, maybe we have a loved one who has done good and charitable things but has a very nasty habit that we deplore. We will say that we do not condone that behavior, but they are still family and we still accept them. Because we know our family members intimately, we base our valuation of them on the totality of their actions and their relationship to the family. We know their personal histories intimately and we take the good with the bad.

Our national community resists generalizing and labeling, and yet one group or another, in order to get their point or points across will categorize people as this or that. I did it in my opening paragraph when I identified myself as a Baby Boomer, a member of an age group. And we assume things about people in a group. Tourism and economic consultants paint with broad strokes how Baby Boomers are and will respond to certain stimuli.

Another age group, the Millennials, have a whole different set of traits and responses. And yet there are Millennials who think and act like Boomers and visa versa. We are many times labeling and, indeed, are being labeled before all the facts are in. “You want to keep the statues, well then you must be racist”. “You’re a police officer, well then you must want to hurt and kill people”. “You’re a protester, well then you must be a rioter”.

While race has been a dividing factor in our history, there is much more to it than the color of our skins. In our desire to be right, we portray those who do not agree with our point of view in the most negative light possible. We accentuate the negative. We downplay and hide the positive. The object is to win, and it does not help the cause to transparently discuss all sides of the situation.

I absolutely understand and agree with much of the outrage we all feel on all sides of the issues. The atrocities of the past are well documented. And yet, they are only part of the history. As some have said we need reminders of how we lived out history. We need the good reminders so that we honor and cherish that which is good about us. We need the bad reminders so that we do not repeat the bad about us. And sometimes a single symbol may be a reminder of both good and bad.

A contributing writer for the Macon County News, Brittany Lofthouse, last week wrote about the role of a community in western North Carolina in the Civil War. It is a very interesting read, and I encourage you to find it and read it in its entirety ( She spoke to Robert Shook, who is the curator for the Macon County Historical Society Museum.

She wrote, “Out of the more than 889 volunteers to fight for the Confederacy, 300 men didn’t return home. Shook has a three-ring binder which lists the name, regiment, company, age and rank of every Macon County native who died during the way. Shook’s records also include three Native Americans who fought in the war as part of William Holland Thomas’ Native American Unit. Macon County’s history in the Civil War extends beyond white and black soldiers and encompasses the history of more than 400 Cherokee soldiers who pledged their loyalty to the Confederacy. Confederate Col. William H. Thomas organized Thomas’s Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers in Western North Carolina who were largely responsible in preventing the Union being able to occupy Western North Carolina during the war. The names of the Cherokee soldiers who died during the War have been added to a comprehensive list of names of Macon County residents who died even though Thomas’s Legion is recorded as being from “Quallatown” due to being comprised of Native American Soldiers. Several Cherokee who volunteered to fight in the war hailed from Sandtown, a village just west of Franklin in the Cartoogechaye area. Thomas plays further significance in local history as being the first and only white man to serve as Cherokee Chief.”

There are those who look at certain statues and see them as reminders of a time of national failing, a condoning of slavery that dates to the founding of the nation. Those statues are a slap in the face to those who have loved ones in their ancestry who suffered and even today are disadvantaged because of the legacy of slavery. There are those who look at those same statues and see them as memorials to lost loved ones during the most violent war that America has known to date. For example, the majority of those who fought on the side of the Confederacy in North Carolina did not own nor did they necessarily condone slavery. Most soldiers were dirt farmers and common laborers, particularly in western North Carolina, who were fighting because of impending invasion and promised takeover of their homes. Tearing down or removing the statues, the ancestors of those lost in the war, is also a slap in the face.

And both views have merit and deserve respect. One does not have to be wrong if the other is right. They may both be right. If we can ever get past all the noise of people cussing, finger-pointing, and hating long enough to sit and listen to each other, we will find that we have much more in common than what divides us. What would be devastating to us as a community and a nation is if we let hate, rioting, criminal behavior, and chaos dictate the decisions we make as a society. Solutions to the issues at hand are attainable, likely in a way that will be beneficial or at least satisfactory to everyone. But we must listen and talk to each other without rhetoric and with honest, full disclosure. The yelling and violence is a distraction that is intended to divide us. The issues of race have been used an as excuse to murder and destroy on both sides of the issue. We, as a community and society, have prescribed lawful ways to make change if we want it. We put those remedies in place so that we could make change in peace and be sure that it is the will of the people to make change. Let’s do it together and in peace.

I grabbed an urban dictionary because I was having difficulty understanding the latest buzz word “woke”. For my Boomer buddies out there, here is the definition…” Urban Dictionary defines ‘woke as being aware, and ‘knowing what’s going on in the community.’ It also mentions its specific ties to racism and social injustice. To use ‘woke’ accurately in a sentence, one that captures its connotations and nuances, you’d need to reference someone who is thinking for themselves, who sees the ways in which racism, sexism and classism affect how we live our lives on a daily basis. Or, alternatively, someone who doesn’t.” (

Clear as mud, right?