Woke. An adjective weaponised by the right and used in a derogatory way against those who are awake to sensitive social issues.
Society would prolly have you believe being woke is a negative thing. But, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to be woke. And I’d be in good company too, with Kathy Burke having recently tweeted, “I love being ‘woke’. It’s much nice than being an ignorant f*****g t**t.”
Woke-ism provokes a visceral reaction in some. It is usually used to close down a conversation that perhaps makes them feel uncomfortable, attacks their world view, or that they feel has no consequence to them, or their friends or family. Topics include, but are not limited to:
- Black Lives Matter
- Society censorship, or otherwise, of slave trade statues
- Pride marches
- Attempts to close the gender pay gap
- Dedicated cycle lanes
- Climate change
You only need to look at how female politician, Greta Thunberg, or drag queen story hours at local libraries are treated on Twitter, in newspapers and in the pub to realise that there is also a very ugly side to showing compassion.
In so many ways, much of this comes down to visual representation. To quote Marian Wright Edelman: “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and whilst written originally to title a book on the benefits of a high-quality youth program in Chicago, it has taken on a new meaning recently, having been referred to by Johannes Radebe, who shot to fame with fellow dancer John Whaite, as Strictly Come Dancing’s first ever male same-sex dance duo.
In popular culture and consumer marketing alike, having representation means that despite any personal characteristics, that person is seen and is a part of society. Did anyone see the negative reaction to a gay couple featured in McCain’s TV advert for chips?
But what happens when representation in the media isn’t quite enough? We regularly see black people on TV and in movies, but still black people are statistically more likely to be stopped-and-searched. Asking nicely is obviously not enough.
Let’s consider the toppling of Edward Colston, the 17th-century slave trader, in Bristol in June 2020. Four people were tried in court on charges of criminal damage- unsuccessfully. This action started a conversation about what indeed should happen to these figures from the past, when their actions don’t meet our expectations in 2022. Should we install a contextual plaque? Do we relocate them to a museum, where the statue can be understood in the context of its tragedies? Do we remove them completely? Or what about something more novel such as retrofitting a blindfold, or rotating the statue 180° so that it shamefully faces away from society? All of these solutions are possible, and society needs to decide on the best way forward. However, doing nothing can’t be the answer.
Civil disobedience, in my opinion, is the only way to effect great societal change. Whether it’s the right of women to vote, gay and trans rights, equal statues to the Welsh language, or improvements in work and pay conditions. None of these changes happened because someone politely asked: “please, sir”– and yes, it’s usually necessary to ask someone who is male, pale and stale.
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