By Andre López Turner
It is not a coincidence that the most racist immigration and public order policies in UK’s history have been delivered by a procession of Asian Home Secretaries on behalf of The Conservative Party. This is a case of tokenism versus wokeism. Both isms are products of the new awareness of a globalised world, but the former has become a political baton to attack the demands for recognition and justice sought by the latter. The result: a deep political schism made evident by most recent elections in liberal democracies
This “war on wokeism” is fascinating to observe. I see a reason for this “culture war.” “Wokeism” appears concerned about racism, sexism, chauvinism, inequality, climate change, historical grievances, colonialism, unfair trade deals and animal cruelty. Being “Woke” appears to say we will not tolerate casual sexism, wolf whistling attractive women and men, and the espousing of nasty “off the cuff” remarks that when challenged are dismissed as ‘just jokes, having a bit of fun, one is being overly sensitive etc.” Being “woke” is accepting of anyone’s multi layered sexuality – gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, queer, and the like. In the majority of Western countries I know; the above concerns are normal and being worked upon, legislated for, and discussed because, to coin someone else’s phrase – “its 2022 for god’s sake.”
Nevertheless, there is a constant belittling of “woke,” and in many centre right papers and political parties there’s an open “war on woke, and wokeism.” It’s interesting how many “wars” are declared on things – wars on drugs, obesity, terror, truth. “Wokeism” is often highly specific and semantic. It doesn’t like the use of “isms,” stereotypes in general. As we know stereotypes are complicated – “non binary” if you like – in that they place things, people, culture, and various cultures (say hip hop culture, Opera lovers, Americans etc) into general boxes and categories based on a large percentage of people meeting certain characteristics. Basketballers in general are tall. UFC fighters are brutal. Americans are loud etc etc. We are all guilty of stereotypes, and many have validity. From what I know about “wokeism” is that it’s aware of “isms” and wants to point them out. There are always exceptions. There are some basketball stars under six feet (remember Spud Web), there are some UFC fighters who have pedicures, there are some classical musicians who love hip hop and vice – versa, many Americans are reserved. I think those labelled “Woke” have got into trouble for upholding their passionate awareness of the use of “isms” and stereotypes, and those often criticising the woke share the same charge. We all do it. Some of us are more aware of this than others.
“Culture war” and “war on woke.” In my opinion these phrases are used to distract and divert us from serious issues
I prefer the word awareness instead of “woke.” Partly because I haven’t put deep time into researching “wokeism,” and partly because it’s used as a smear. I think “wokeism” is about – awareness, sharing and inclusivity. I think the internet, travel, immigration, and “globalisation” have made contemporary humans more aware of numerous things than ever before. From food, people, culture, history, and differing points of view. Multinational corporations and global businesses are often talking about sharing (selling) their products and cleverly include different cultures, customs, and people in “their diverse markets” when they do so. I was shocked to see (twenty years ago) McDonald’s advertising “McNan” bread in Delhi, India. I recall going out into the world as a backpacker and being abhorred by many social and environmental injustices I saw. It made me read fervently about my own country and others, and in many instances I came away thinking the classroom is the last room to tell the truth. I became a little “binary” on issues around injustice, history, colonialism. I have subsequently learned to see things in various “shades of grey,” or with more nuance and complexity as I’ve got older, wiser, better read and informed.
So, if my interpretation of “wokeism” is one of awareness, sharing and inclusivity, then I’ve been wondering lately why some people, publications, and movements, possibly demographics, are declaring a “war on wokeism.” Suella Braverman, the recent Great Britain foreign secretary, snarled in the house of commons that she was, quote, “sick of the Labour Party, the Lib Dems, the tofu eating, Guardian reading wokerati, anti-growth coalition for the disruption on our roads today, and that members of the opposite other place ( the Labour Party is whom she was addressing) need to respect the rights of the law-abiding majority and support this bill.” Suella was referring to climate change protestors and her Public Order Bill that attempts to shut down and censor democratic protests. Suella’s bill has a clause defining illegal protests to be “acts causing serious disruption to two or more individuals, or to an organisation.” This comes after the former home secretary Priti Patel’s Police act that defined “serious disruption” to include “noise.” Now climate protestors can be sentenced to 51 weeks in prison for obstructing fracking machinery, pipelines, oil and gas infrastructure, airports, and printing presses.
How to respond to this war on wokeism”? There’s much to digest, much of it unpalatable, especially if you’re into ideas like sharing and inclusivity, equality, and justice. Here we have two women of Indian and African descent, lawyers, now ex conservative party foreign and home secretaries railing against anyone who is concerned about climate change, its effects and solutions, and both are hostile to immigrants escaping horrendous situations from the continents of their parents and ancestors’ origins. Two women in a constitutional democracy (just like Tony Blair once did) attempting to shut down and censor democratic protests, backed by their political party and newspapers like The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, GB News, Fox News and others.
The phrase “culture war” is often used alongside “woke” in our contemporary public and political discourse. I note both phrases come from the centre right of the political spectrum. And one thing us “woke brigade” cannot be accused of, and should never do, is slander this side of the spectrum with the “old white men” smear. Though one could argue it has some general validity one needs to be aware and remember the names of the last four chancellors in England – Sajid, Rishi, Nadim and Kwarsi. Likewise, the multi-ethnic Tory cabinet of late, and the last two home and foreign secretaries, colloquially and disdainfully addressed by the “wokerati” as Ugly Patel and Cruella Braverman. I’m reminded of Barack Obama’s answer to those who were rude to him and his family – “when they go low, we go high.” Speaking of Barack; he has been wise in encouraging the “woke” to be less attacking, cancelling and judgmental about people in public life and politics, mentioning that “everyone has to see the tough complexities, shades of grey and messiness of politics and activism.” Or words to that effect. I think the “woke” and the “centre right,” if they could be more honest or aware, may find they have more in common than what they think. I’ve observed both sides to be quick to judge, condemn, smear, entitled to cast judgement, often acting superior in knowledge and understanding than others, and lazy with facts to name a few commonalities.
Staying with the “culture war” and “war on woke.” In my opinion these phrases are used to distract and divert us from serious issues, they’re also designed to simply, encourage lazy analysis and play the age-old game called divide and rule. They have been created, implemented, and employed by those humans (of all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, sexualities) who don’t want change, whether this is addressing past historical injustices, present woes and future concerns. There are obvious reasons for this – those who benefit from the status quo don’t want it to change, privilege protects privilege, wealth and power don’t want to lose or share it, historical events can be shameful, and guilt ridden, thus are often dismissed, hidden, compartmentalised, and change can be scary too.
If sharing, inclusivity, greater equality, and the protecting and nurturing of the earth we stand upon make me part of the “wokerati” then so be it. And if distraction, divide, and rule are still the old games that those in positions of influence still play then fine too. Part of becoming “woke” is to know this. We need to be playing new games and it’s happening, from LGBTQ rights to footballers taking the knee against racism and discrimination, to various environmental movements to solar energy. Nevertheless, I prefer the word “aware.” And the phrase – “Be aware.”
Andre López Turner is a podcaster, writer, keen open-air swimmer and a mental and physically well being practitioner. He is the author of the book D-Pendency dealing with drugs and alcohol abuse. He is Co-presenter of the podcast The Programme in ZTR Radio. He lives in North London