I was watching a group of white people on Twitter last Tuesday night celebrate how ‘woke’ they are, how much they care about what African Americans, Latinx, Asian, the indigenous, and immigrants think, and how much they care about us. The men patted themselves on the back for their pro-feminist stances. As I watched this conversation unfold in real time, I thought at first that they must be kidding. Who does this kind of thing?
But then, as the conversation went on, and as more people chimed in, it became clear they weren’t kidding. They were genuinely patting themselves on the back. One woman in particular, who began the conversation by congratulating herself for the wokeness of her choice of candidate in the Democratic primary in her state on Super Tuesday, was particularly galling. At one point, she explicitly wrote to people of colour and immigrants in the Twittersphere that she has our back, that she understands us and our doubts and fears in the United States today. (I include myself as part of this crowd as, despite being a white man, I am an immigrant in the US, and I have occasionally experienced the brunt of that, including in employment.)
The conversation became increasingly absurd as the participants competed for the prizes of “who was woke the longest,” and “how their wokeness came about.” I felt as if I was watching Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” skit, where a group of now-prosperous arrivistes compete for which among them had the most penurious childhood. Someone eventually burst the Twitter group’s bubble by pointing out that the entire point of being woke was to just do it without expecting a reward.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about this odd conversation – and about my own politics. Where I come from, being ‘woke’ simply means not being a jerk and doing the right thing; thinking about others; considering their positions; attempting to understand and empathize with the experiences of people different than you. It means trying to look after, and look out for, the people around you. It means to fight for a better world.
And you don’t advertize this, you don’t point out to others that you are a decent human being, because a decent human being doesn’t brag about being a good person. You just do it: stand up against racism, sexism, misogyny, bigotry, antisemitism, Islamophobia, heternormativity, and every other ideology of oppression and hate. You try to understand intersectionality. You don’t do ir expecting gratitude or a reward.
You don’t, as Super Tuesday night Twitter group did, expect people of colour, women, and immigrants to thank you. You don’t do it for the accolades. You just do it.