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Not So Woke

Your ‘activism’ is really not so woke

The harm of ‘performing’ wokeness

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not so woke

Editor’s Note: This column looks at how race is portrayed and manipulated in today’s media and in my everyday life as an East Asian-American girl, an identity that typically gives both privilege and struggle. In a supposedly “woke” city, it is important to review the ever-changing intricacies of race. 

Here’s a challenge: look through the bios and posts of your friends and/or mutuals on Instagram and Twitter. 

Nowadays, it’s not just the school acronym and graduation year. You’re likely to also find words like “Black Lives Matter” or “intersectional,” or groups like March For Our Lives and Youth Climate Strike tagged in people’s social media bios. There has also been a mainstream surge of protests taking up more of our Instagram feeds compared to three or four years ago.

It’s probably fair to say that what it means to be an activist has changed over the years — especially among the youth — following the inception of the March For Our Lives movement in 2018. People often post more on their Instagram stories about whatever everyone’s sharing. 

However, it’s telling how quiet people are most other times about injustice and other relevant current happenings. This can be summed up in a little term you might be aware of: performative wokeness, or cloutivism.

This is when people “perform” wokeness for others to see, often as a way to show you know about something in a flashy way for clout. This isn’t to say that people who post about protests and important current issues are only doing it for this reason, because I agree that it is an important way of getting the message out. But it’s also important to consider your motive for why you’re doing what you’re doing.

“I see all these people going to rallies, protests, and marches, but sometimes it’s for the wrong reason … going there just for the experience or wanting to seem like you care is actually kind of pointless,” UW Bothell junior Keita Shimizu said. “If you’re not educating yourself or not actually paying attention to the issues, you’re not truly helping the cause.”

Performative activism or wokeness is not intersectional, no matter how many times you put “intersectional feminist” in your bio. A lot of times, those in the woke bubbles are white feminist-like. Many slap “girl power” or “lady boss” on their woke identity and call it a day.

In fact, the term “woke” has even become misconstrued in recent years. It started as a word coined by the Black American community, namely by William Melvin Kelley, to signify (unironically) people who know what’s up and are aware of the current events.

Now, I guess woke somewhat has that meaning, but there are more cynical, mocking undertones to it to make an example of those who try to outwardly act socially aware, but only when it’s beneficial to them. Thus, this column’s name.

A part of engaging in activism or advocacy is the continuity of understanding the issue you’re vouching for, not just attending a protest once.

“If you’re willing to learn, and if you’re taking in new information and talking to people, then [rallies] can be a powerful experience, but simply showing up to these events and then going home and not thinking about it anymore doesn’t change anything,” Shimizu said, “You need to consistently work to make sure you’re educating yourself, speaking out, and making your voice heard.”

This idea of performing activism is important to consider as we approach the primary and general elections. This is a time of year where some feel the need to make sure to show people how hyper-woke they are. 

Again, it’s not bad to want to spread awareness, like through posting on your Instagram story, but authenticity is important too. Just doing it for the social justice points? I mean yeah, good. OK. But make sure to be getting your facts straight.

The Democratic primary election coming up is crucial, and Washington votes in the next three weeks. For many, especially marginalized communities, the outcome directly affects lives, and we can’t afford to be performative and bad faith in our approach to voting and overall advocacy.

Reach columnist Deborah Kwon at Twitter: @debskwo

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