A woke person is someone who is alert to racial or gendered prejudice in society.
For example, a white person who speaks up against white privilege might be considered woke.
On the political left, it is a positive term. A person who is “awake” (or aware) of systemic identity-based hierarchies is seen as a good ally for the oppressed.
On the political right, it is a pejorative term. It is used to criticize people for seeing injustice where it doesn’t exist.
Woke Examples – Left vs Right Perspectives
1. The Left’s Perspective
- Black Lives Matter – Supporting the Black Lives Matter movement because you believe that it’s important to highlight the fact that black people continue to be mistreated in society.
- Women in Power – A man who believes that more women in positions of power can help create a better society for everyone.
- Pride Flags – A coffee shop that has a rebooted pride flag on the front door to show that LGBTQI people are welcome in their shop.
- Safe Spaces – Companies with designated safe spaces for vulnerable populations where they can feel comfortable and discuss issues affecting them.
- Gender Neutral Bathrooms – Libraries that have gender-neutral bathrooms so people who are not cis-gendered can use the bathroom comfortably.
- Pronoun Badges – A company that forces its employees to wear pronoun badges (he/him, they/them, she/her) in order to be inclusive of trans people.
- Affirmative Action – A company that chooses to promote upcoming job openings to people of color and women in order to make sure their workforce more accurately reflects broader society.
- Me Too Movement – Women take a stand against poor behaviors of men in workplaces by sharing their stories of intimidation.
- Taking a Knee (By Choice) – A person who chooses to take a knee during the anthem to protest against racial injustice.
- Acknowledging Privilege – A person who acknowledges that they’re in a position in privilege and therefore chooses to listen carefully to the stories of the less privileged who don’t have as much of a voice.
2. The Right’s Perspective
- Race-Based Silencing – Telling a white person they don’t have the right to speak because they’re an oppressor.
- Cancel Culture – Canceling a college speaker because they have controversial views on power and race.
- Affirmative Action – An under-qualified woman gets a job ahead of an over-qualified man because a company wants to meet a 50% female employee quota.
- Digging up Old Tweets – A company digs up tweets and photos from 1995 to play “gotcha” and sink a political candidate’s campaign.
- Critical Race Theory – A school’s history curriculum teaches a ‘white oppressor’ narrative in their classrooms, which makes young white children feel like they’ve done something wrong.
- Canada’s Bill C-16 – A bill that forces people to use trans people’s preferred pronouns, and if they don’t, then they’re in violation of the human rights code.
- Banning Comedians – TV networks and entertainment venues blacklist a comedian for making edgy jokes that would have been perfectly fine 10 years ago.
- Day of Absence – A college asks white students to stay home for one day per year to discuss and think about their privilege.
- Puberty Blockers – Children who feel like their gender identity doesn’t match their sex being given puberty blockers to prevent them from going through puberty.
- Social Media Shadow Banning – Social media networks that (supposedly) ban people for not having socially progressive viewpoints.
- Taking a Knee (By Social Pressure) – A school or sports organization pressuring you to take a knee during the anthem to send a message about racial inequality.
- Pride Jerseys – Conservative Christian football players are asked to wear pink pride jerseys on the football field in support of LGBT values, against their religious views.
- Virtue Signalling – Brands use pro-LGBT, pro-BLM imagery to appear inclusive. But this marginalizes half of their potential user base.
- Gender Pluralism – People saying there are over 70 genders and that if you disagree, you’re a horrible person.
Woke Capitalism Examples
There is also a concept called ‘woke capitalism’. This term refers to companies that use wokeness in their marketing campaigns in order to sell their products.
Famous Examples are shown below.
Nike and Colin Kaepernick
In 2016, Colin Kaepernick started sitting, then kneeling, during the national anthem at football games. He did it to protest against racial injustice. For several years, the football world turned against Kaepernick. He was not signed the next year, and lost his job.
But in 2018, as the tide turned and his protest spread around the world, Nike jumped on the bandwagon. They released an advert that read: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Pepsi and Kylie Jenner
Shortly after the Black Lives Matter protests, Pepsi released an advertisement showing Kylie Jenner at a protest movement giving a pepsi to a police officer as an offer of peace. Pepsi, it seems, is on the side of the protesters, but wants to make peace.
Pinterest has gone hard at framing their platform as a space that’s woke and inclusive of people who are not cis-gendered, and people of color. This is evident in the above advert.
History of Wokeism
Wokeism can be seen as coming from two areas:
- Youth Culture – Wokeness emerged out of a movement of people who supported protests against racial inequality. It became a force in 2016 through music videos and twitter hashtags.
- Post Structuralism – Many of the woke values today are informed by the cultural studies approach called post-structuralism / post-modernism. This approach critiques the subtle ways language (in post-structural jargon, called ‘discourse’), oppresses marginalized cultural groups. Thus, the cultural focus is on changing our language, messages in advertising, and so forth.
Arguments For and Against Wokeism
|It promotes social justice and equality and is changing gender stereotypes for the better.||It actively attempts to silence views that are considered outdated or inappropriate.|
|It makes people who are minorities feel more comfortable and noticed.||It sees everyone not as individuals but simply a sum of their intersectional identities (primarily: race and gender).|
|It can lead to fairer power distribution across the races and genders.||It doesn’t aim for equal treatment to all individuals (e.g. in job interviews). Rather, it focuses on balanced power relations on a society-wide level.|
|Historically, there has been more cancel culture on the political right than the left (e.g. canceling LGBT people in TV for decades), but the minute the cultural left speaks up for themselves, the right loses their minds.||The public sphere should allow right-wing cultural values to allow everyone to make up their own mind. Wokeness tries to silence the right.|
Examples of being woke include supporting affirmative action, gender-neutral bathrooms, and taking a knee during the national anthem. While on the left it’s seen as a virtue (where you are able to see how power oppresses), on the right it’s mocked as an anti-intellectual movement that is detached from reality. Hopefully, this outline has been balanced and looked at it from both sides. If you can’t tell which side I’m on, then I’ve done my job of trying to be objective and give everyone a voice in this article.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.