We don't know exactly when casual use of the word "woke" hit critical mass, but it probably was destined to become doubly edged.
What began as a decent analogy for the acknowledgment of social realities morphed first into a badge of superiority and then into a parody of excess. As happens with so many subjects in contemporary society, it got reduced.
"Reductionism" isn't as good of a meme word as "woke," but we wish it would catch on as a cautionary counterpoint, because the complexities of social justice remain. Two recent examples from the local news illustrate. They are the sort of stories that can lend themselves to reductionism if the people reacting to them don't look more deeply:
• Coon Rapids and the creek that runs through it weren't named for a racial slur but rather for Procyon lotor, a dexterous nocturnal omnivore prevalent in the area. The common raccoon. Yet because of potential associations with the slur, a nonprofit group is trying to gauge interest in changing the northern Twin Cities suburb's name.
There are probably some "Beavis and Butt-Head" types around who chortle over the dual meaning, but they're not prevalent. Ask yourself nonetheless if the lesser usage hasn't at least been present at the edge of your awareness when you hear the town mentioned, and weigh that against the feelings of all residents in a community of growing diversity. And weigh that again against the inconvenience that name changes create for households and businesses, and against the human desire for constancy.
• The football coach in Caledonia, Minn., recently caused a stir by writing a letter to the editor of the local paper with concerns about the new high school Diversity Club. Would someone — for instance, a Christian — who thought homosexuality was wrong be allowed under the umbrella, he asked?
Some found Coach Carl Fruechte's mere raising of the question to be discriminatory. Others argued that his worry is for intellectual diversity. Clearly it's a sticky subject when the free expression of one group's values can by nature inhibit those of others. Just ask the courts.
Then again, Christians themselves are a diverse bunch.
We suspect that Caledonia, like many rural communities, can benefit from having a place like a Diversity Club where people who don't fit comfortably into other groups can simply feel safe. We'd also suspect that there's room for yet another kind of club, one that hosts frank but respectful debate.
Participation might even overlap.