One of the most problematic parts about attending a liberal arts school is the arbitrary manner in which the term “woke” is used. People use the term in their everyday language because it’s one of those buzzwords that indicates a person is “down for the cause.” But, in my opinion, I believe the term “woke” signifies the complete opposite.
Now, hear me out. I know what you’re thinking: I missed the message of what it means to be “woke” or I could be reaching–I’m not. I know the term “woke” is suppose to highlight and acknowledge those who are aware of and who are actively challenging systems that oppress individuals in marginalized communities. However, I don’t believe that definition is as prevalent today.
I see “woke” as a way for people with structural power to escape scrutiny and denounce their power when it’s convenient. What I mean by this is that we are currently in a political environment (P.C. culture), and because of P.C. culture, people are very particular about how they express their thoughts and opinions on social issues.
And it has come to a point where people don’t even want to be associated with structural power dynamics, like white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, xenophobia, and classism. So, instead of admitting how they pander to those unjust systems and trying to dismantle them, they use “woke” as a cop out.
People, especially at Bates, say that they’re “woke” because they don’t want to admit that they benefit from an unjust system. And do you want to know why? Because that would mean these same people would have to realize that their success is dependent on the labor and pain of others, which is a hard pill to swallow for most people.
So, naturally, people would gravitate towards the idea of “wokeness” because it insinuates that they are aware of all of the social injustices that are out in the world, which is horrible because everyone can learn something about marginalized identities. The idea of “wokeness,” in my mind, shuts people off from trying to learn about identities that weren’t even on their radar, or even going in depth about the issues they are familiar with.
Many people would assume that because I am a queer, Black male that I would be “woke” or at least be in favor of the term. But I don’t believe I’m “woke.” I still have to learn.
Although I’m queer, I don’t know nor can I speak on other people’s experiences with sexuality. I also can’t speak to the experience cisgendered women and trans individuals face when it comes to being oppressed by cis-gendered men. I also have a level of privilege tethered to my American identity. There is so much for me to learn that there is no way for me to say that I have a well developed understanding of all of the social injustices people face.
And if you don’t think this article applies to you, it does. Just like how I have a lot to learn, I’ve been in several classes where people shielded themselves behind the “I’m woke” veil instead of admitting that they are unaware of certain social injustices and desire to learn more.
In many of my classes, I’ve had white students say “to play Devil’s advocate…” or “I don’t feel this way, but some people think like…” and follow those phrases up by some racially charged stereotypes. And the real thing they wanted to say was “I was raised to think like [blank], but I know that’s not right. Can you please explain to me?”
Even within the people of color community, I’m constantly get microaggressions thrown at me. Whether it’s people complaining about seeing a man shake their hips or singing along to female hip-hop artist, I constantly get targeted by people who call themselves “social activists.”
I think, overall, we as a Bates community need to be more cognizance about the struggles each other face, and acknowledge where we can grow.