It’s time for awakening the steel snowflakes

The left need to take a strong stand about values, just as the right has done

October 31, 2022 5:30 am

Protesters for “woke” culture push for equal rights for all. (JoslynLM via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0).

Goll darn it (and I’m using those words so I don’t get clobbered with emails tsk-tsking me about being a vulgarian), sometimes those who lean left earn the withering criticism of being snowflakes – the epithet hurled by those on the right that characterize liberals as a bunch of fainting eggheads afraid of their own shadows.

Especially during the election season of amped-up rhetoric and impossible promises, it seems pointless to push back against those on the right, including some of its leading media luminaries, who hurl epithets like “woke” and “elitist” to describe those who would be so bold as to acknowledge the harm done by racism, and the awesome transformative power of education and science.

Quite frankly, if we reject the basic decency of becoming more attuned to the systemic racial injustices that have been historically embedded in our society, then we not only risk becoming unwitting participants in perpetuating them, but we would also seem to fail at being empathetic human beings by recognizing that we can always do better by making sure those around us are treated equitably and justly.

And if we accept only the facts that agree with our carefully cultivated worldview, and cleverly curated by a social media algorithm or Facebook, then we don’t risk becoming an elitist, we risk becoming manipulated. American ingenuity and science is truly what has made America great, and the basic foundation of such a prolonged period of prosperity can rightly be traced back to our public school system and education, which needs more support in a global economy, not being mocked because of supposed elitism or disparaged because of critical race theory — a social concept that is usually reserved for graduate school.

But my concern isn’t with the MAGA crowd that has been backed into ridiculous positions like supporting book bans while preaching the virtues of the Constitution, or defending the sanctity of life while railing against disease vaccinations.

Instead, it’s that the bullies have literally taken over the pulpit.

Every time a conservative wants to “own the libs,” they just have to throw out a few terms like “woke” or “elitist” and those who stand just to the left of say, Eisenhower, get flustered trying to explain why they’re good ol’ fashion Americans who like cheap beer, baseball and all other things American.

Isn’t it about time for liberals to start wearing the labels proudly? Is it time for liberals to become steel snowflakes?

Fine, if you want to call me “woke,” which at its most basic means that I am not sleeping, not ignorant of the ways that my fellow citizens have been harmed by racial injustice. Anyone who wants to deny those facts hasn’t taken a drive through some of the reservations of Montana to see how housing, medical centers and even economic means have been foreclosed in those places.

I grew up and acknowledge that I have been given advantages by accident of birth and skin color. I can’t believe someone would argue that, say, a gay man of color would have been given all the opportunities that I have been in a racially homogeneous place like Montana. And, maybe the most accurate term shouldn’t just be “woke,” but “awakening,” as the process of learning how to empathize with others who do not share your background is a lifelong process, not something that just happens like a graduation.

And elitist has become a code word for educated, something which may inadvertently make the case for American exceptionalism. America is elite because we have coalesced around the idea that all children, regardless of socioeconomic background, deserve the opportunity of public education – a destiny that isn’t fixed or assigned at birth and determined by hereditary wealth. That is an elite system – one that would take on any student regardless of background.

I still remain a steadfast optimist when it comes to our country’s ability to solve problems. Look at how quickly we came up with a viable, effective solution to the greatest pandemic, COVID-19, seen in at least four generations. Then, look how quickly and cheaply we rushed that same vaccine to everyone who wanted it. That is nothing if not an elite system.

When it comes to energy and innovation, consider how American ingenuity continues to develop energy solutions from off-shore wind to solar and even the nascent hydrogen solution that may help meet our electricity needs while decreasing our carbon footprint.

Maybe instead of cowering every time a conservative says something insulting, how about liberals wear it with pride, accept the label and then start the conversation? For too long those words, meant as combination of code and epithet, have neutralized moderates and liberals.

Let’s think about this for a second: The worst conservatives can do is accuse the other side of being awake and educated? That doesn’t sound like being elitist; it sounds more like being alive.

The right has put on a masterclass when it comes to talking about their values.

Maybe it’s time for the left to embrace theirs.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.