What does “woke” mean?
To borrow from Wikipedia, “woke” is a political term originating in the United States referring to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It derives from the African-American Vernacular English expression “stay woke”, whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues. Urban Dictionary has said it’s “being aware of truths the man doesn’t want you to know.” It has a long history in the quest for racial justice.
But there’s been pushback on the concept of “being woke” for years, too. Saturday Night Live seemed to kill it in 2017; on NPR in 2018, they argued for the end of using the word. Last spring/summer, as COVID coincided with more calls for racial justice, companies were accused of “woke-washing,” or appropriating the language of social justice into marketing materials. Remember the whole “black squares” movement on IG? Some thought that was Gram users being woke. Others thought it was just “performative allyship,” which ultimately doesn’t mean much. Bill Maher has even argued that “woke language” hurts the Democratic party.
So what’s the deal with being “woke?” Is it necessarily a good or bad thing?
This is really about listening and understanding
One of the core problems we have with media and information consumption these days is that it’s very filtered; it’s been called “filter bubbles.” If you have specific interests, be that a political leaning or types of dogs, your mobile ecosystem will feed you more and more of that to keep you engaged. As such, people see less diverse content, and they become more entrenched in their own views.
Being “woke” can be seen as a very direct way of breaking out of your bubble and standing with people who might not be like you. As a result, it can also be seen as a form of virtue-signaling (“I am better and more aware than you”), and that irritates others, hence the whole discussion about the pros and cons of “wokeness.”
In reality, what you need to do is:
- Try to consume a diverse media diet.
- Listen to what people are saying who you might not necessarily agree with on face.
- Decide how open and vocal you want to be with your posts, IG or otherwise.
- Listen and attempt to understand.
- Look for trusted sources on issues you’re not familiar with.
- Learn, re-learn, and educate yourself.
That’s much more a form of “wokeness” than what the term has seemingly come to mean.
Can being too “woke” hurt your personal brand or business?
Yes, absolutely — especially if you are perceived as not being honest. For example, if you post something related to BLM and your next three posts are about tummy teas that you sell, most people on your feeds won’t think of you as very genuine about the social justice portion. That could lose you partnerships and customers, so it’s something to be aware of.
As of now, the jury’s out on whether “woke capitalism” is profitable. Some influencers and brands have had tremendous success with it. Others have not, and free market “wokeness” has been seen to push some (more conservative-leaning) towards greater regulations of different industries.
So, instead of worrying about how “woke” you are and the aesthetics of your Gram, it’s best to take a breath, listen more, consume more, learn more, educate yourself more, and build the type of business/career and personal brand you’re proud of. If that means involving social justice causes in the discussion, awesome. If it does not, that’s also OK — it’s your brand, your life, and your journey. Wokeness doesn’t have to be a part of it.
Your thoughts on wokeness in our current culture?
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