Being Woke means more than reciting information.
It requires each of us to do inner work to expand our conscious and evolve mentally,
physically, energetically and spiritually
– Anika Francis
In the middle of September, a trailer was released for a new live version of the movie The Little Mermaid. The most interesting thing for myself though was not so much that this was a live action film version of a classic cartoon, but the fact that a young black girl, Halle Bailey, had been chosen to play such an iconic character (Marshall, 2023). What I saw next though, sadly, was the spewing up of hate from many quarters decrying the fact that there should not be a black mermaid (a fictional character), and that woke culture had gone too far in its efforts at presenting young black girls with an icon of their own.
This anger against equity was also seen in the backlash against another programme. Rings of Power, a prequel to the legendary Lord of the Rings series, and produced by Amazon, has received a lot of hate for its multi-cultural cast. Non-white elves, humans and other characters propagate the programme, yet its cast have received numerous hate-filled messages decrying their series and accusing it of playing to a woke crowd (Sachdeva, 2022). Whilst Heritage (Heritage, 2022) in his newspaper article here in the United Kingdom expressed his boredom at the ongoing culture wars, , minimising the impact of this ongoing transgenerational invisibility that minorities across of the board have endured.
My other critique is that this is the type of article which belies the struggle of racialised minorities for whom this fight is never ending. There is no end in sight, there is always a struggle. So, whilst we might ourselves feel tired and bemoan the fact we are still ‘protesting this shit’, we the racial other do not yet have the comfort or the white privilege to be able to sit back and be bored. True boredom, which in many ways would be a Rainbow Utopia for those of us who are the racial other, is not on the cards because the insidious unconscious nature of white supremacy has in the last ten years or so revealed its true colours.
This month’s blog therefore speaks to the importance of being WOKE for those of us who are other, and for those who struggle to be heard, acknowledged, and even seen.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains.
But to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedoms of others.
– (Mandela, 1994)
The war against wokeness in many ways is a cover for the continued rolling back of the gains in equality experienced by many groups over these past few generations. The reversal of Roe versus Wade in the United States of America as part of the culture wars has done little more than reinforce the pinnaclisation of the patriarchy in the Global North (Proudfoot, 2022). Here in the United Kingdom the long-mooted post Brexit continual attempts by the British Government to remove itself from the European Court of Human Rights gathers pace. This would be a move which would lead not only to the resumption of flights to remove male refugees to Rwanda, but would also leave the U.K. in a position to undermine or discard rights afforded to the LGBTQ communities as well as other minorities (Sparrow, 2022).
Anti-woke deconstruction (Cammaerts, 2022) is such a factor in society that there have been many attempts to restate the prominence of whatever system of oppression is most at risk by said discussion. One other means of trying to contain the coming tide of wokeness is by the idea of False (Fake) Balance (Imundo & Rapp, 2022). Perhaps most often used in the press, where there is perhaps a greater pressure to present two sides to an argument, the fact that weak under-researched ideas are often presented as an example of equivalence is often a means to justify biases and prejudices as if they have a right to exist. It would be like NASA having flat earthers on their scientific teams just to add scientific balance to their ideas of the universe, its structure and creation.
Woke washing by companies is another means that is employed to stem the tide of equity (Sobande, 2020). The idea here being that within the system of capitalism, where inequality is embedded and in fact nourished, making equality something saleable to the public washes said multinational conglomerate free of its own complicity in the exploitation of millions of workers and consumers alike. The other factor with woke-washing is it allows those who buy said services to feel they have done the right things by said minority group.
Diary Note: True Story. Two days after the announcement that there would be a black Ariel in the new version of The Little Mermaid, I was at home on my own. During the afternoon, there was a knock on the door. I went to check and found a black plastic bag with a note on it from my white working-class neighbours. It said ‘this is for (my daughter) as I have outgrown it. I hope she likes it, but if she doesn’t then feel free to throw it out. Signed M.’ surprised, I decided to leave the package for my daughter to open when she came home from school. When my daughter returned and saw the package, she opened it excitedly. We stared together at the red mermaid tail onesie inside. My daughter immediately put it on, jumping around the house like a mermaid trying to walk on land for the first time. She loved the gift so much that she wanted to sleep in it that night. She loved being a mermaid.
In my research on this topic, I came across a good number of papers and articles which spoke positively of wokeness. For example this excellent article from the United States of America where a group of non-white medical students looked at their process of becoming woke, or in their case of surviving the intersectional oppressions embedded within their training courses, whilst still striving to become themselves (Ashlee et al., 2017).
Wokeness is a growing awareness of things, of oneself, of humans, of how we treat others around us. It especially involves a growing waking up to the pain we cause the actual planet as we ravage it for our own selfish needs. Wokeness is the gradual painful realisation of the evil of human beings, of our individual and collective selfishness as we I-It everything and everyone around us (Buber, 2010). This combined with a growing wellspring of intersectional awareness that one can, nay, that one should, not only be the best version of ourself individually and collectively, but within that we can and will do better by each other.
So Stay Woke.
I know I will do.
Everything is everything
What is meant to be, will be
After winter, must come spring
Change, it comes eventually
– (Hill, 1998)
Ashlee, A. A., Zamora, B., & Karikari, S. N. (2017). We are woke: A collaborative critical autoethnography of three “womxn” of color graduate students in higher education. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 19(1), 89–104. https://doi.org/10.18251/ijme.v19i1.1259
Buber, M. (2010). I and Thou. Martino Publishing Limited.
Cammaerts, B. (2022). The abnormalisation of social justice: The ‘anti-woke culture war’ discourse in the UK. Discourse and Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/09579265221095407
Heritage, S. (2022, September). We are all losers in the ‘woke v racist’ Little Mermaid culture war. Guardian Online, 1. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2022/sep/15/little-mermaid-disney-trailer-culture-war-ariel-black-white
Hill, L. (1998). Everything is Everything. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3_dOWYHS7I&t=4s
Imundo, M. N., & Rapp, D. N. (2022). When Fairness is Flawed: Effects of False Balance Reporting and Weight-of-Evidence Statements on Beliefs and Perceptions of Climate Change. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 11(2), 258–271. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jarmac.2021.10.002
Mandela, N. (1994). Long Walk To Freedom. Abacus Publishing.
Marshall, R. (2023). The Little Mermaid (p. 1). Disney. https://www.bing.com/search?q=the+little+mermaid+2023&qs=SS&pq=the+little+mermaid+2&sc=10-20&cvid=ADCFF2455D954392A96AF546F8F7A09B&FORM=QBRE&sp=11
Proudfoot, J. (2022). What does the end of Roe vs Wade mean for UK abortion rights? Marie Claire. https://www.marieclaire.co.uk/reports/roe-v-wade-uk-abortion-rights-785059
Sachdeva, M. (2022, September). The Rings of Power cast condemn ‘relentless racism’ against fellow actors: ‘We refuse to tolerate it.’ Independent Online, 1. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/rings-of-power-racism-cast-b2162406.html
Sobande, F. (2020). Woke-washing: “intersectional” femvertising and branding “woke” bravery. European Journal of Marketing, 54(11), 2723–2745. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-02-2019-0134
Sparrow, A. (2022, June). No 10 revives prospect of UK leaving European convention on human rights after Labour calls Rwanda plans ‘a shambles’ – as it happened. Guardian Online. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2022/jun/15/rwanda-flight-asylum-echr-priti-patel-boris-johnson-pmqs-uk-politics-latest?filterKeyEvents=false&page=with:block-62a9c7e08f0824f03c0ccb7d