Update (26 May 2022): I have changed my opinion on this. Woke is a term of AAVE origin that I misunderstood and is now being misused by many others.
If woke means I care for people that are different to me and I believe that everyone should have equal rights. Call me woke. If it means that I believe loving people is more important than being right. Call me woke.
Here is a blog that could be controvesial. Probably not with the people that actually read the whole thing but if you share it and all people read is the title then it might be controvesial. That being said over the last year I have come to the decision to no longer identify as woke. Let me explain.
Accoding to wikipedia woke means the following:
Woke (/ˈwoʊk/) as a political term of African American origin refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It is derived from the African-American Vernacular English expression “stay woke”, whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues.
I know I quoted wikipedia and if you think that’s trash, get ready…I’m about to quote the Urban dictionary:
Self-righteousness masquerading as enlightenment.
The Urban Dictionary just summarised what I am about to argue. Whenever someone called me woke in the past, I saw that as a status of having arrived as a white liberal. I felt it and it was meant positively. No begrudgement to those people. Now though, whenever I hear the term woke, all I think about is cancel culture, people shouting about how we should be talking, the word problematic, shouting at men for the sake of it, twitter, anger, resentment, toxic the concept but also the word being used, and all that falls under those ideas. What is missing? Well, specifically for white people it’s for us to actually take the awkward and uncomfortable step of getting to know people who have a different skin colour to us.
We use wokeness as an excuse to perpetuate othering. *Spoken word poetry snaps*
When you really think about it we do though. As white people we use it for reasoning tons of things, but we don’t think about how that impacts what the dynamics of our friendships look like. It’s convenient to call other white people out for being problematic and not self-assessing as to whether you are actually engaging with people who look different to you.
As a white dude, when I try live by every woke tenet it also becomes impossible to exist:
- If I have a black girlfriend, according to wokeness I am probably fetishizing her. But if I were to only date white women I would be considered racist.
- If I believe women and men are different but that those differences need to be celebrated, I am supporting the patriarchy.
- If I wear something with an African print to show that I travelled to Kenya for example, I am culturally appopriating.
- If I move to a suburb that is predominantly filled with people of colour, I am gentrifying but if I only stay in white suburbs then I am perpetuating Apartheid spatial planning.
- If I apply for a bursary to write a thesis against toxic masculinity, even though I can’t technically afford it myself, according to wokeness I am stealing an opportunity from a person of colour.
- If I try to learn Xhosa… okay I can’t find anything problematic with that myself, but I guarantee you right now there is someone on twitter coming up with why that is problematic. Told you:
It was a whiteguyspeaking broken vernac in the worst accent possible and it got a lot of retweets and likes because us blacks get excited when whites do the bare minimal of learning our languages. As long as I don’t get applauded for speaking English they must VOETSEK.
I agree with the sentiments of this tweet. I should not be applauded for speaking the tiny amount of Xhosa that I can, I believe that every white South African should speak at least one South African native language. Over and above Afrikaans, Johan. Even so, sentiments like this do make one feel incredibly self-conscious if you’re trying your darndest not to be problematic.
Let me attack white wokeness again for a second. This may not be true for every good white, but more often than not within white wokeness feminism gets prioritised. While that isn’t a problem, there are people that get left out, namely black and coloured men. For a white woke to admit that a white women often has more privilege than a man of colour is nearly impossible.
A sidebar, I was sitting at a book launch the other day and I heard the author express something to the extent of this; “It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to educate the oppressor about their pain.” The statement was in reference to correcting white people when they say something hurtful in regards to race. I have few issues with the statement, if I did not listen to my black and coloured counter parts about their pain how in the world would I ever have been able to see my privilege? If I didn’t take the risk of spending time with people of colour knowing that there is potential for me to say something hurtful, what else would I do? Just hang out with my white friends, and miss out on the opportunity of growing and engaging. No, I need my friends to correct me when I am wrong and to help me grow into a white person that can help South Africa move forward. Also, we need to kill the idea of white people as the oppressor. Which is what wokeness would have you believe. Now I am not saying that white people do not have more privileges than people of colour — we do. Middle to upper management at almost any company in Cape Town is probably around 90% white. There is no pretending we don’t have that. However, when you call white people as a whole the oppressor you other them. As a consequence of that, white people become the villain.
What happens then? Rather then creating a more connected and diverse society, we push ourselves further into our bubbles. White families that were teetering on the edge of social integration, now put their fences up higher as they edge farther and farther into Constantia. Because when you are told you are the villain, what do you do? Firstly, you defend yourself; “No I’m not racist”. Secondly, you go where you feel safe and not attacked. Or thirdly, you attack back. Do you see the problem there? I am not sure about you, but I have never seen someone truly change because they were told that they are the villain. I have however seen people change when they have been encouraged to do better, and shown that they can be better. Correction is necessary. That, though, is a different thing to the way wokeness operates.
There are white people that are oppressors — Trump, Putin, Oppenheimer, Rupert, to name a few. White privilege is real, white monopoly capital, while a silly phrase, has truth to it. However vilifying whiteness only pushes white people further away rather than drawing them in to a common goal. Which is what wokeness preaches right? Well, it used to.
Let me make this more practical, this might hit close to home. More often than not, when I have interacted with people who identify as in the woke squad or take part in every woke cause, after a while I start to see something. It is a strange sensation, viewing a woke person engage with every day people of whatever race. Slowly but surely, it becomes clear like the first moment after you turn on the light in the morning. It hurts. What I see is someone, that actually just doesn’t treat other people that well. Shouting at lecturers that believe the same thing as you but use different words, so they must be problematic. Swearing as much as they possibly can as they wear as little clothes as possible, even though no one in the room consented to seeing you naked. Yup, I said it. You can’t shout about consent and then force me to see parts of your body I did not consent to seeing. Another problem with wokeness, it ignores the whole picture of most things. Ps. That being said no man ever has the right to touch a woman without her consent no matter what she is wearing — so I am not arguing for that.
What a lot of wokeness boils down to is this: directionless unresolved anger. So then everything about society is wrong and needs to be attacked. With that, a woke individual attacks everything but fixes nothing. Wokeness and being socially conscious have become two different things.
I now am working to be socially conscious. I will try every day to be less racist, I am white I know I have racist tendencies, I have to fight them every day. I will try every day to treat women better and to call men out when they treat women badly. I will work with people of all races to try make South Africa a more inclusive space. I will try and help reshape the economy so that wealth is more equally distributed. I want to fight for all of that, but not through calling things problematic. Not through using the word womxn, which just further pushes a lot of men away from your cause. Not through angry tweets. Not through trying to find what is wrong with everything. Not through cancelling people unless they commit an actual criminal and unforgiveable offence. Not through trying to support every single cause.
I do not want to further divide people around me under the banner of “being woke” rather I want to connect people by being gracious to my slow to learn white brethren. Making mistakes around my friends of colour and asking for forgiveness when I am wrong. Knowing when to fight and when to sit down. Realising that often times older people have wisdom I could never get, so I need to listen to them even if they are boomer. Talking things through with them if I disagree and actually connecting on a human level.
The main problem with wokeness is right there in the Urban dictionary definition. “self-rightousness masquerading as enlightenment”. A woke person only corrects but is never willing to be corrected.
If we are genuinely going to grow, we need to be teachable. When we are constantly pointing to the speck in someone else’s eye we are then never learning, which means we never grow. That’s risky because it means we are going to make mistakes. Mistakes suck, they hurt. However, every single person in the world makes them. The key is how you handle your mistakes.
Here is a word from Obama:
I am going to close with this. I want to move away from wokeness to a space of self-awareness and social consciousness. I hope others will too. To be aware that racism is real (sorry, Steve, white people don’t experience it), to fight gender-based violence, to believe in better work environments, economic equality and a multi-racial society. I just don’t want to constantly judge other people and in doing so not allow myself to actually experience life.