Woke was a term that when I first heard it, I thought it was a novel way to describe oneself. By the second time I came across it, the word had already soured. I realized quickly that it would be a self congratulatory term and as liberals we do too much of that as it is.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to any group but most certainly the liberal/left is to check your ego at the door. We like to think that our views (or perhaps our belonging to a disenfranchised group) put us above others, that we are somehow better than whatever out group we have established. The truth is, most of us are still jerks that live a very unexamined life. If that sentence pisses you off then you need to keep reading more than anyone else.
We hide behind labels. If we are woke, feminist, liberal, and egalitarian then we can’t be sexist, racist or transphobic. We make those who are outwardly racist/sexist/queer phobic evil and so we must be by opposition, automatically good.
If being critical of racism, sexism and heteronormativity makes you feel good about yourself then I assure you that you are doing it wrong. Why do you feel good about affording people a basic level of decency? It is because you have positioned yourself against your so-called villains that you seem so accomplished and enlightened.
Casting ourselves as heroes shuts down our critical thought. This is why women and people of color (though by no means exempt from my criticism) lament the emotional labor they have to expend on their supposed allies and sometimes ask for spaces which exclude us.
We are still sexist. We expect certain physical or personality traits from out partners (you must be this tall/short and masculine/feminine to ride). The idea of what male and female is has been deeply embedded in the ways we think and act. We think we choose our partners freely but that is no closer to being true than it was 50 years ago. Sure we can marry a wider breadth of people than we could then, but our stereotypes still remain as to how people must look and who they can be in relation to us.
We have more diverse friends now but how many of those friends serve to make you feel good. I have a friend who talks about being the token black guy among his liberal friends and as much as I’d like to assure him that this isn’t true I know there is an element of truth to it. Likewise, as a queer man, who cross dresses occasionally, I watch liberal women’s faces light up when they tell me they would gladly go out on the town with me in drag. What a story that would be for them and it’s a great way to get your “woke card” stamped.
Our privilege (ie: ignorance) surfaces when we ask someone to speak for all people of their identification or sexual persuasion. It happens when we occupy the spaces of feminists or people of color and feel resentful that our opinions aren’t weighted to the degree we are used to. It happens when we use others to atone for our “social justice sins” by hogging the spotlight for ourselves and our woes. We want to be good but not at the expense of others noticing how good we are. We languish in our selfish habits.
Essentially, we rely on others to do the work that we should damn well be doing ourselves. No one is asking you to break down and ask forgiveness from the group (i.e. representation of the other). They are asking you to listen, then take responsibility and put your words where your mouth is. You have to do your own work. The information is out there if you look for it. I hate this term but I’m going to use it, “google it!” Alternatively, ask people what might benefit you to read or watch and then actually do it.
For instance, I’ve been reading work by trans folks/people in an attempt to understand them as much as I can. It’s shocking how much I thought I was being an ally and yet I was still making so many assumptions that could hurt them and their cause. It’s hard to learn we are wrong but it’s absolutely necessary. Moreover, learning there may not be a correct way to view certain things, like gender, can be exciting and humbling all at once. It’s not always fun work but it’s work that needs done.
While you’re taking in new information be so honest with yourself that you’d rather not. Then be honest even more because I guarantee you that no matter how much work you do there is still more to be done. Your job of self growth ends when you do. And for god (that I don’t believe in) sake, drop the fucking self-congratulatory labels.