Racists Have Ruined "Woke" for the Rest of Us
Photo: Ben Rothstein/Prime Video

Racists Have Ruined "Woke" for the Rest of Us

Controversy around 'The Lord of the Rings' prequel series' Black castings makes me miss the OG definition of wokeness

Amazon’s new prequel series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has been met with criticism. And I can’t say I’m surprised. Some people are calling the series “too woke.” That’s confusing because it’s not proselytizing about politics like James Baldwin debating William F. Buckley. And even if that’s what the showrunners were up to and they did it in a fun and interesting way, well, good for them.

The issue here is not the show’s politics but that of some of the commentariat. We are all now aware that “woke” has turned into a racial slur, no longer a dog whistle but more like a tornado siren. Take a look at the National Review’s “woke culture” tag and see what types of stories they publish there. This is plainly White supremacist thinking—the same mindset that has resulted in harassment campaigns against the Rings of Power actors. It turns these racists’ stomachs to see non-White people where they feel they don’t belong—in a boat, on a goat, in a tree, in the sea, and damn sure not in Lord of the Rings. Anything that is in opposition to this is what they deem “woke.” I will say, though, I miss the old woke.

I miss the woke before racist people refashioned it into yet another way to badly camouflage their bigotry. I miss the woke when it just meant that you be knowing. Back when it meant you know history and yourself or maybe embrace a couple of outlandish conspiracy theories or are really into tea, incense, and crystals for healing purposes. Sort of like a liberal arts professor with dreads, a hotep-lite, or an Erykah Badu.

And—to get old-school woke, here—the term is yet another thing that has been taken from Black folks. Woke was once a wink and nod in our culture that meant you weren’t asleep at the wheel when it came to the forces of White supremacy. Didn’t matter if your ideas were colored by reality, books, and scholarship, or if they were birthed by old-head barbershop talk. What happened to all that?  

Listen, if somebody cast John David Washington to play John Lennon in a biopic, then people have the right to feel some type of way. But the characters in The Lord of the Rings have never walked this earth. They are make-believe. If viewers can’t wrap their heads around darker-skinned people in fictional worlds where magic is involved, then it says much more about them and their limited imaginations than any so-called agenda by the showrunners. A fantasy story can have elves and a character named Dark Lord Sauron, but nobody with melanin? These Neanderthals are the real snowflakes.

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