Is it Possible to be Too Woke, and When Can I Take a Nap?
The term "woke" has a long history, dating back to years before the Black Lives Matter movement brought it into mainstream usage. Erykah Badu sang about "staying woke" in 2008, addressing racism. Woke reemerged in 2011, taken to mean "stay aware of what's going on in the world around you, and don't let the government keep you unaware of their scandals, conspiracies, the racism that still exists, etc."
By 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement took off, and its hashtag was soon paired with #StayWoke. The definition started to shift from its original warning and gradually it applied to things that had little to do with civil rights.
Now in 2018, "woke" is more often used cynically as a joke or meme, but the concept behind it has morphed into an all-purpose reprimand to stifle disagreement on social justice issues. This makes it harder and harder to be a card-carrying progressive, not to mention ally. You want to be on the right side, but being woke has taken on a fundamentalism that's difficult to adhere to, at least for some.
I first became aware of this when I was told that the white woman's job when conversing with black people about racism was to shut up. Literally. "Time for you white ladies to shut up and listen." I think this means, white women are the oppressors and we've had our turn to talk. The first step to being an ally is to Shut Up. I ran this by the most progressive person I know, a white cis-male, who affirmed its legitimacy. He is obviously #Wokeaf."
Another woke friend is militantly against Israel and Pro-Palestine. When I ask why he doesn't care about dead Syrian babies or dead Yemeni babies, he just shakes his head in disgust. I don't know why one life in one country is more sacred than one in another country. I'm not being deliberately obtuse, either. Perhaps if I watch a propaganda film, I can get woke on this topic but then I’d have to watch the other side's propaganda film, so no.
Not too long ago, I wrote a hasty comment about Donald Trump's sex life. I said something about fat pigs imposing themselves on prostitutes. Silly unwoke me! I was chastised for using the word fat, and for writing "prostitute" instead of "sex-worker." Now, I know words matter, and indeed it is my battle cry. But I use them to convey meaning, not political affiliation. Fat is still a descriptive word, right? I could call Trump "portly" but fat is how I see him. What about prostitute? I thought I was being polite by not saying "hooker." And yet, in one sentence I exposed myself as an enemy of the people.
Here's the most recent wokeness dilemma. A friend on Facebook objected to cartoons depicting Trump and Putin as lovers, on the grounds that they are homophobic. My knee-jerk reaction was to laugh at this over-sensitivity, or let's say hyper-wokeness. But then someone posted a treatise on why this matters. Here is the opening salvo:
"What all the homophobic Trump-Putin cartoons and jokes reveal is a heteropatriarchial assumption that to penetrate is to dominate or degrade, which by implication makes all penetrative sex a form of war, not love, and ugly and mean besides (and the homophobia also assumes that to be penetrated is to be unmanned and manliness is everything, and here I might mention that one of the forbidden insults in ancient Iceland was "a troll uses you like a woman," since being a woman is such a terrible lowly thing to be, and then we're one step away from boys calling each other sissy, fag, girl, and pussy as insults)."
Oh god, I need a nap. I can't go down this hole where everything is offensive because of the patriarchy and white privilege and Icelandic insults. The cartoons are meant to illustrate the affinity between these two autocratic thugs, and it's probably more offensive to homophobes than to actual gay men. (I took a private poll to back this up but my sample was like five Facebook people.)
I'm worried about being taken for a fascist or a right-wing apologist, but that's how fundamentalism works. If we're afraid to question assumptions, we are screwed. I hope there's room in the progressive movement to call a sex-worker a prostitute, and for a white woman to voice an opinion.
Because, quoting David Bowie in "Young Americans," I want what you want, I want what you want! Social justice, equal rights, gender-free bathrooms, healthcare and education for all, gun control, and a nice long nap.