To be Woke; The Millennial Concept of Awareness
In the information age, certain ills cannot be ignored, one of which is failing to grasp the humanity of people creating their own spaces outside the normative structure, that most often alienates them. Conservatives have succeeded in coining ‘political correctness’ as a liberal ploy to police freedom of speech. Liberals, on the other hand, recommend that a culture deficient of world peace should be receptive to all cultures to navigate peacefully. There are two definitions of ‘wokeness’ in the urban dictionary – “a measurable state of awareness about what’s happening in the world” and “being constantly offended”. By now, you would have figured which of the definitions are comparatively liberal and conservative.
For me, identity has been this incessantly blistering carousel that irks at the idea of ever coming to an end. As much as I change, it accompanies me all the way. Of, course it wouldn’t be essential if it didn’t do precisely that. Every part of living is vital, but common discourse agrees that the latter part of teenage-hood is especially crucial to the adult you become. As far as identity goes, I only became familiar with the undercurrents of this complex word when I left my comfort zone (home) at 17.
Like many Africans in the diaspora, I never understood how my gender and race will at certain times simultaneously conflict and reconcile my core values. At one end while feminist theory discusses the equality of sexes, it doesn’t seem to recommend ways to demand this in my West-African country. My Blackness also doesn’t come with a manual on what Black femininity should be, at every interval it seems I have to pick the more poignant struggle. Do race relations have higher leverage than feminist issues presently? If so, which should I identify with – the more progressive or regressive one?
Identity politics is a core component of socio-political discourse and states that people’s politics are shaped by aspects of their identity. Who I am as a Black woman and African informs the politics I identify with today – it is open-minded, accommodating of all marginalised groups and never suggestive of a ‘norm’ that doesn’t apply to everyone.
In a sense – I am woke, which entails being aware of the time one belongs, and the consequence of being in a constant state of hyperawareness is exhausting as any form of activism. Woke culture dissects the normative structure that has been thrust by society – it scrutinises historical events that could have been curtailed; recommends reforms that could attain the often contemplated myth – world peace, as well as the humanity behind letting people just be – free. In this era, carefreeness is the mantra for a world that has too often, in pretence, claimed to know how things should be.
To be woke is to undergo a process of unlearning, and despite its juxtaposition with being carefree, it is anything but that. The ideals it proposes might have a carefree undertone of liberal anecdotes. But its attempt in deconstructing structures is intentional, brave and audacious, like its popular phrase – stay woke, an African American vernacular for being aware of issues concerning social and racial justice. The origin of this word is evident of the activism that surrounds marginalised groups; African Americans continue to challenge the racial undertones of ‘post-racial America’. Perhaps the ripple effect of being the oppressed is developing empathy for one’s self, which in turn affects a wider demographic of Others surviving marginalisation.
Carefreeness is a form of defiance adherently informed by identities that are often considered the ‘Other’. I identify with a gender and a form of blackness that is predominantly African, Nigerian and doesn’t suit the ideal or ‘normal’ from a mainstream point of view. It is clear that while my identities (as a woman and African) often conflict with each other, the birthplace of my politics is from the same barrel of selves that often clash at the bottom of the hierarchical order.
Interestingly, this rebirth of the Enlightenment Era is an indicator that perhaps the world as we know it is ever changing and to that end, must revise its policies to adequately reflect the current times we are part of. The gist of woke culture isn’t a meaningless parade of carefree millennials who want things designed especially for them, but a similar rebirth of reforms and revolutions that took place in the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and Latin America.
This intellectual movement from the 17th – 18th centuries appreciated reason, the power by which humans understood the universe by improving their own condition. The goals of rational humanity in this era were knowledge, freedom and happiness. And despite its collapse, it will be contemptuous to deny the hints of enlightenment thought in this era – the belief that human history is a record of general progress. Hence, it is not idealistic to seek restructurings that will be beneficial and relevant to the times. That despite all the rifts society has incurred, history isn’t just a mere catalogue of failed ideals but also a portrayal of human fragility and its bellow for constant change.
I have decided, like religion, to surrender myself to a cause that is a millennial renaissance of activism by checking the physical and digital spaces I am part of, as well as striding towards freedom from artificial boxes. The beginning of my political activism is correlated with the expected role society expects from me, which has often led my psyche into a spiral of uncertainty and confusion. Does my feminism require validation from a marriage that often takes more than it gives women? Does my Africaness, hugely influenced by the colonial era have a place in the global order, as anything other than a puppet? How should my black femininity resist the struggle of anti-Blackness that is mortifying the world? These are questions that have plagued the formative years crucial to my identity, it is also apparent I have to continually assert myself in a world that is stubbornly passive.
Wokeness isn’t another liberal ploy for the profoundly idealistic millennials, what it requires is a revolution of the mind, a paradigm shift in human consciousness. What kind of human beings do we want to be? What kind of society do we want for ourselves, and the ones after us? I refuse to be part of a world that doesn’t acknowledge the nothingness in structure, policing and the present status quo that is ever so condescending. Like the culture of enlightenment, we should continuously seek insight into what can be developed in our world and at all times have our human understanding enriched, in other words – stay woke.
April 13, 2021