Has The Awokening Gone Too Far?

Stuart Heritage
·3-min read
Photo credit: wildpixel
Photo credit: wildpixel

From Men's Health

There are plenty of words that I’d like to consign to the bin. “Lockdown” is one of them. “Brexit” is another. And, for the sake of my sanity, “Paw Patrol”. But I suspect that I’d get the most peace and quiet if “woke” got canned.

Now, before you get your knickers in a twist, I’m not anti-woke. This column isn’t a prelude to me becoming one of those spluttering, puce-faced, this-is-what’s-wrong-with-the-world reactionary nimrods who spend their days screeching about the horrors of vegan sausage rolls. I’m not suddenly gunning for my own TalkRADIO show.

I’m actually really, bloody woke. My coat is made of recycled ocean plastic. I’m supportive of the trans community. I think that Black lives matter. I even capitalise the B in “Black” now.

Instead, my problem is with the word itself. Though it began with the best intentions – it was coined in a 2008 Erykah Badu song about staying alert to life’s injustices – “woke” has now lost all meaning. We have woke brands now, like Gillette, which once ran a two- minute commercial about the scourge of toxic masculinity. We have woke royals, like Prince Harry, lecturing us about institutional racism when his entire family made its fortune off the back of an aggressively acquired colonial empire. Twitter is now the Great British Woke Off, where every day we pick on someone who fails to observe our agreed threshold of wokeness.

Part of the issue is that there is no definitive line. There isn’t a tangible point where woke tips over into unwoke. Just because you’re a feminist, for instance, it doesn’t mean that you’re automatically woke. If you’re not a trans-inclusive feminist, you’ll be unwoked all the way to the back of the hall. You can agree that racism is bad, but unless you do it by putting a meme on your Instagram stories, you won’t get to join the club.

This is why wokeness scares so many people. They see it as an impossibly high bar that they’ll never be able to clear. So, terrified of being cancelled by an invisible mob, they decide to shy away from the issues altogether.

Nobody will ever complete the game of woke, because it keeps splintering off into infinite less useful avenues. See how quickly the police murder of George Floyd devolved into John Cleese complaining that the BBC had censored a Fawlty Towers episode in which a character says the N-word. See how quickly #MeToo was smothered by middle-aged men complaining about not being able to hug their interns any more. These are big, huge, easy-to- agree-upon ideas – police shouldn’t kill Black people, men shouldn’t rape women – but they’re lost in the dense fog of everyone trying to out-woke each other for sport.

Wokeness is a good thing. We should all be aware that bad things happen in the world, and we should all want to stop them. But it also isn’t a competition. If someone isn’t quite as woke as you yet, they shouldn’t be battered for it. We should want everyone to be woke. But they won’t be if we keep scaring them off.

That’s what wokeness is to me. Once you strip back all the jargon and posturing, it’s just basic consideration. To me, it means trying not to be an arsehole to people all the time. That’s all. Then again, you might disagree. In which case, please tweet at me, so I can screech about you on my upcoming TalkRADIO show.

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