Society is riddled with poisonous and contagious views, that is undeniable. We have a long history of racism, sexism, discrimination, homophobia, bigotry, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, we have not left history in the past either, nor should we (fundamentally). Inequality and unfairness are still present today, which is why our lessons should be taught and learned from past mistakes so as to not make them again. However, it is hard to learn anything with all of this noise.
By definition, the word ‘woke’, although it has evolved drastically from its original use as the evolution of wording persists, today it technically means to be “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social injustice).” However, it evokes more than this now, one extreme side of the word is seen as a rock to be thrown by the self-proclaimed cultural elite, while the other claims a constant victim status. Both are shoddy examples of ‘doing what is right’ by any means, but can I say what I think is right? If you answered no, you’re welcome to mute me—I support you as a human being with choices either way.
In an interview for the Obama Foundation on youth activism, President Obama stated that “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly.” He went on to say that “the world is messy; there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.”
The idea of ‘cancel culture’ refers to a behaviour mostly played out on the internet, when someone says something that others object to. In this interview, Obama refers to how people today act as though creating change comes about by judging other people. He says “Like, if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, cause, ‘Man, you see how woke I was, I called you out.’”
“That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change,” Obama continues. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.” And it is too easy to do. Social media is flooded with opinions, but they are filtered. Exactly how politically correct (PC) do we need to be before we are all fully censored? Is there any topic that technically cannot be torn into pieces by the woke brigade? Now, I am actively leaving particularities of opinion out of it, because I am exhausted by particulars, and even if this is an opinion piece, you are not owed mine in particular, and neither will I force it on to you.
What I want to talk about is righteousness, as a tone of voice—in using the term ‘woke’ as it is used today, as more of an action through speech than action itself. Being woke today is actually not what being woke was intended to be at all, and it is doing more harm than good. How can being woke become more important than the issues that wokeness enlightens? The issues that are under the umbrella of what it means to be woke are inherently important issues, and ones that need to be spoken about.
When someone who hasn’t had the chance to understand such issues says or does something wrong (through the eyes of our generation) the last thing that we should do is address them with a righteous tone of voice, as if one that understands is automatically better than those who do not. Being shamed for illeducation will only cut off whatever willingness there was to understand and be educated in the first place.
Enlightenment and understanding is a good thing, but a bombardment of righteous voices that say more than do is not. Our generation loves to hate, social media has given everyone a place to enforce hate freely too.
PC culture is stripping culture itself of its freedom to adapt and evolve, and this is arguably one of humanity’s greatest strengths. If we continue to travel the brash and thorny road we are going down currently, we will inevitably hit a dead end, and possibly more war than we can surely survive. Will it take for us all to be wrong for us to finally reach an understanding?
If I slip into a cow pat, you can bet I’ll choose to laugh about it, because the slipping into shit is done. What else is there to do but clean up and go on? But in light of the world now, all I can say is that I hope I don’t laugh in the wrong accent. What is important to read here is that discovery is found in what we do not already know, and understanding is found by recognising the source of the misunderstanding. With that in mind, I will not live in fear of modern wokeness, of doing or saying the wrong thing, because that will result in me doing nothing—and a world without movement is the most wronged of all.
As the global fight against racial injustice gains steam, meaningful change is beginning to materialise. From mayors pledging to defund police forces and racial justice organisations receiving an outpouring of support to a sharp rise in public discussions around issues of systemic racism—evidence of progress trails behind the swelling wave of protest and outrage. It is important to build on this historic momentum and keep the foot on the gas.
What can you do to support the movement for black rights and racial justice?
Taking to the streets to demonstrate remains one of the most effective ways to protest injustice and demand immediate change. Check the Black Lives Matter website, local community websites and social media for information about protests taking place in your area. If your circumstances don’t allow you to march in the streets, you may want to inquire about virtual protests happening, like the one recently arranged by Black Lives Matter London.
Protesters marching in the streets are in need of various supplies, including water, masks, food, and more. Visit the webpage of a protest happening near you to learn about its designated supply drop-off locations, or contact protest organisers for information on how to help.
As a growing number of protesters are being arrested by police forces, bail money is urgently needed for people who cannot afford to purchase their freedom. This Google Doc contains a list of bailout and legal funds categorised by city and state.
Systemic racism has robbed black communities of funds and resources and stilted progress among its residents. Contributing to initiatives designed to empower black communities is a crucial step in rectifying the ravages of centuries of racial discrimination. Black Visions Collective, National Bailout and Campaign Zero are three organisations that work in varying ways to achieve long term improvement for black communities, end their oppression and promote their rights and safety. You may want to research similar organisations operating in your city or state.
Make it a point to support black-owned businesses, restaurants and shops in your area. You should also research which companies are complicit in perpetuating systemic racism and refrain from supporting them—L’Oréal, Reformation and Zimmerman, I’m looking at you.
Immigrants of colour are disproportionately targeted, terrorised, and abused by the government—at the border, in detention facilities, and in black and brown communities repeatedly raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). At the invitation of the NYPD, ICE agents have been infiltrating Black Lives Matter protests in New York City, and have already detained one immigrant. Research and donate to organisations working to protect and advocate on behalf of immigrants of colour.
Queer people of colour are at an increased risk of experiencing violence, exclusion, police brutality and oppression. They are also more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues as a result of what is commonly referred to as ‘compounded minority stress’—being both queer and black or brown. The LGBTQ Racial Justice Fund and the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts Collective are two out of numerous organisations working to protect and uplift black queer people in the US. If you’re based in the UK, you may want to check out UK Black Pride, IMAAN and NAZ Project.
While the focus tends to revolve around national politics—it is local authorities that are often hotbeds of racial injustice. Inquire about your mayor, comptroller, chief of police, and district attorney, demand accountability for their actions, and be sure to vote in local elections and get involved in your community.
Across the US, and around the world, more and more people are demanding to defund the police and invest their budget in community projects and infrastructure and locally-run emergency-response teams. Minneapolis may be the first US city to completely disband its police force, and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti had already pledged to slash the city’s police budget and invest the money in communities of colour. Join the growing demand to defund the police by supporting #8toAbolition, the Movement for Black Lives or other NGOs operating in your city or county.
Challenge yourself with daily and rigorous reflections on how the concept of Whiteness may affect your life; in what ways does it limit or impact your actions, your perceptions, your opinions, your circle of friends? Policies are important milestones in the fight against systemic racism, but they alone cannot herald real, long-lasting change on societal and institutional scales. Slavery had been abolished, Jim Crow laws had been eradicated, and yet here we are still battling the plague of racism. Ultimately, racial justice could only be achieved when we fundamentally change the ways we see ourselves and obliterate the institution and concept of Whiteness.