Does the term ring a bell? It should. From angry politicians to conspiracy theorists throwing around advice telling you to ‘open up your eyes’, it’s hard to miss the whole ‘woke culture’ that is on the rise. Joining the jargon, woke is now a term, sometimes thrown around out of context.
While half the world revels about being 'woke', the other half is starting to get sick of the woke culture. Once you've reached the end of this piece, you can choose your side. But first up for understanding what this culture is all about.
Evolution of the term 'woke'
Woke is a slang term, which didn’t start out as one. It took birth in a dialect called African American Vernacular English (AAVE). In AAVE, awake is often rendered as woke.
The term of staying woke became a watchword in parts of the black community for those who were self-aware and for those who questioned the dominant paradigm and strived for something better. "Woke" can also refer, mockingly, to a white person whose perspectives on race equity change suddenly after learning about historical injustice.
It was popularized as a call to action that went hand in hand with the black lives matter movement. However, the idea of getting (and staying) "woke" has taken on a different, more complex meaning since it first began to spread across social media.
By the year 2010, woke became a term which was closely associated with left-wing politics, socially liberal causes, feminism, LGBT activism, and cultural issues, race equity culture issues and more. This brings one to the current millennial interpretation of this slang term.
The term 'woke': the 2020 definition
The Baby Boomers may grumble about these new terms that are taking over social media. However, ‘woke’ is anything but new. While the term may have recently gained popularity, the very behaviour of being woke has been around for a long long time. If you've been frequenting social media and have been a spectator or a participant in the tizzy of information that engulfs you once you log in, then you aren't a stranger to the woke culture.
If you want to give the nerdy side of the cerebrum something to do, check up a dictionary. The literal meaning of the term 'woke' is a person who is awake. But they haven’t just woken up now, it’s been a while. The process is complete. They've gotten up from the slumber and are now aware and conscious. They are aware! Vigilant! These are the guys who can think for themselves. They can question the crap going on.
Am I ‘woke’?
If you're seeing all these articles about woke culture, but you haven't the least clue what it means, it's normal! Have you been questioning societal norms and the existing paradigms that plague your every-days? Are you being vocal about these and refusing to take any shit? Congrats! You have been 'woke' all this time without even realizing it. The term 'woke' has evolved from being a common adjective to now identifying what a person stands for.
People are getting sick of 'woke culture'
Why would someone be sick of the woke culture? Detest being fancied for being ever so smart and fluent in all the languages of social media? Feel nauseous at the thought of knowing the origins of every single goddamn policy on the Internet? Of being the lead in a protest, or a group leader when it comes to changing the world? If the perks of being a woke person are so fascinating, why then are people sick of the woke culture?
It's because the term 'woke' is losing its meaning. The term is being sloganised by a cult of social justice. Being woke is being inherently connected to the identitarian left.
Rather than confronting bad ideas or race equity culture issues through discussion, debate or protest, woke people aim now to intimidate their detractors into silence. This coupled with speeches of hate, and forcing their illiberal ideologies on others, is what sums up the woke culture of today.
What is more, is that these set of 'woke' individuals smell out the injustice and prejudice even where they do not exist! They crave conflict and will go to any lengths to achieve it. 'What is woke culture today?' Well, certainly not what it was intended to be. One can even say that these people enjoy concocting issues of race equity culture, political correctness, social injustice, racism and more. This view was strongly voiced by Former President Barack Obama.
Barack Obama challenges woke culture
Yes, Former President Barack Obama told youngsters that the 'world is messy'. In his words "'woke' is described as being alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice. This along with being aware of what's going on in the community. I get a sense among certain young people on social media that the way of making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people. If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn't do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because 'Man did you see how woke I was? I called you out!' That's enough, if all you're doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far."
This isn't the first time the Former President Barack Obama has spoken on the issue.
Last April, he told a crowd at an Obama Foundation event in Berlin: "One of the things I do worry about among progressives in the United States, maybe it's true here as well, is a certain kind of rigidity where we say 'Uh, I'm sorry, this is how it's going to be' and then we start sometimes creating what's called a 'circular firing squad', where you start shooting at your allies because one of them has strayed from purity on the issues." If you too feel the woke culture is beginning to turn disgusting, maybe its time to scrap it and let the reign of the Cancel culture take over.
The Cancel culture
Cancel culture refers to the recent emerging popular practice of withdrawing support. Public figures and companies are 'cancelled' after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.
How is this different from the woke culture? While the woke culture involves people raising their voice and demanding an answer, the cancel culture involves boycott. This is a familiar pattern that has become a trend when a political figure or a celebrity does something offensive. If it is not in keeping with the generations' ideologies. This public backlash is fueled by politically progressive social media and then goes to to 'cancel' the person, thus ending their career. A simple boycotting of their work is the most common way to do it.
Why is the cancel culture criticised?
People are made more intolerant by the cancel culture. This is a complaint that is often made by the main critiques of cancel culture. Those who follow this culture, are quick to judge and banish those who even slightly disagree with them. Critics say that this does not leave room for constructive discourse. Because social media users often deliver a quick verdict, based on a snap judgment. This leaves no opportunity for the 'cancelled' person to explain themselves and make their case against their own 'cancellation.'
This causes a tug-of-war situation. One group being those trying to make room for discussion between people with opposing viewpoints. The other being those not wanting to compromise their principles by engaging with a celebrity they view as problematic.
Victims of the cancel culture
If you're racking your brain for examples through history, who have had to face the wrath of the cancel culture, here are some. In 2019 alone, the list of people who've faced being cancelled included alleged sexual predators like R. Kelly; entertainers like Kanye West, Scarlett Johansson, and Gina Rodriguez, who all had offensive foot-in-mouth moments; and comedians like Kevin Hart and Shane Gillis, who each faced public backlash after social media users unearthed homophobic and racist jokes they'd made in the past.
However, if it was this easy to end someone's career over social media backlash, several notable figures would find their work down the drain. But, some of these who did face this career crisis, rose from the ashes and made their name once again. For example, in 2019, Hart withdrew himself from hosting the Oscars, but his movies and stand-up specials were still successful after the backlash against him died down.
Gillis was swiftly dropped from the cast of Saturday Night Live over his offensive humour, but he's since been greeted warmly by crowds at comedy shows, defended by fellow comedians like Ricky Gervais and David Spade, and invited for a heart to heart with Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang - turning his use of racial slurs into a teachable moment.
Taylor Swift speaks out about the cancel culture
Taylor Swift to has been a victim of the effects of this culture. In 2016, Kanye West released his song Famous which had lyrics with references to having sex with Taylor. Swift, of course, did not approve. However, Kim K posted a video, which claimed to show the opposite. Swift was then targeted by a campaign to 'cancel' her.
"A mass public shaming, with millions of people saying you are quote-unquote cancelled, is a very isolating experience," she admitted. "I don't think there are that many people who can actually understand what it's like to have millions of people hate you very loudly. When you say someone is cancelled, it's not a TV show. It's a human being. You're sending mass amounts of messaging to this person to either shut up, disappear, or it could also be perceived as Kill yourself."
"I realized I needed to restructure my life because it felt completely out of control," she said in an interview to Vogue magazine. "I knew immediately I needed to make music about it because I knew it was the only way I could survive it. It was the only way I could preserve my mental health and also tell the story of what it's like to go through something so humiliating."
The row gained a lot of attention across the media and led to hashtags including #TaylorSwiftIsCancelled.
Is cancel culture the solution?
El Jones, an instructor of social justice and community studies at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, said "Cancel culture can be good when it takes somebody powerful off of a pedestal, especially if they have a pattern of harmful behaviour and are likely to cause more harm. It can sometimes "go too far" in certain cases when people cancel someone for a first-time mistake because it doesn't allow them to learn and grow." She instead says that there is nothing wrong, with admitting a mistake and moving on.
"If someone calls you out, it's important to not take it personally. There's nothing shameful about being wrong. Often when we make a mistake, we get defensive because we feel like someone is telling us we're a bad person. It's important to take a deep breath, listen to what people are saying to you and be willing to say sorry and learn from it."
She says if you're the one calling someone out, "It's always best to approach them in a way that is helpful and makes them feel like you're on their side. We can do it in ways that are very gentle and helpful because sometimes people just don't know that what they did is wrong."
When photos of Ellen DeGeneres' photos at a sports game with known homophobe George Bush went viral on social media, her fans started calling her out for being a hypocrite. This was because while being a supporter of gay rights, she was also fraternizing with a former politician who actively advocated for people like DeGeneres not to have civil rights. The social media users called her out. However, DeGeneres advocated for universal kindness and brushed off her critics to be a bunch of over-sensitive Twitter snowflakes.
Woke and cancel, here to stay?
Is cancel culture or woke culture the new norms? We may never know. They might just die down like many other trends, or they may be here to stay awhile. Whatever the case, if you don't want to be dragged into the controversies of the two, and neither be a silent spectator, here's a thought.
When you see something on social media, which doesn't quite fit your norms, instead of waging a war against it instantly, take a moment to think if it is impacting someone in a hurtful way. If it is, then yes, go ahead and call out the person. But if it is just someone's personal choices you are criticizing, then it may be time for you to step back and follow the adage of live and let live.