Friday 26 November 2021
“Don’t call young people ‘woke’ or ‘snowflakes“
Samantha Price November 2021
It is a headline grabbing moment from headteacher Samantha Price, president of the Girls’ Schools Association, at a conference in Manchester this week. Reading various reports of her speech, I don’t think that she objects to the word ‘woke‘ itself, rather that the ‘older generation‘ now use it as an insult to ‘sneer‘ and ‘dismiss’ the views of young people on issues they care deeply about such as: climate change, Black Lives Matter and gender identity.
Well climate change terrifies me; racism sickens me; gender identity, I’ll confess that still baffles me, mostly because I know far less about it. So, whilst as a parent and teacher, it is a cardinal sin for me to even contemplate ‘getting down with the kids’ it makes me ask myself,
‘Am I a little bit woke too?’
But firstly, what exactly does it mean?
Although its origins can be traced back hundreds of years, woke first appears in the OED in 2017, where it is defined as ‘originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice’. While the Urban Dictionary entry reads, ‘being woke means being aware… knowing what’s going on in the community (related to racism and social injustice)’. Simply summarised, woke means consciously awake.
And what, I would ask, is wrong with that? Shouldn’t we all be on board? Clearly not; for in certain circles of society there is now a vehement ‘anti-woke‘ movement. John McWhorter writing How ‘Woke’ became an insult in the New York Times, suggests that this reflects a certain inevitability in language and evolution within the very communities who first adopt it; a ‘euphemism treadmill’ if you like,
A well-used word or expression is subject to ridicule or has grimy associations. A new term is born to replace it and help push thought ahead. But after that term spends some time getting knocked around in the real world, the associations the old term had settle back down, like gnats, on the new one. Yet another term is needed. Repeat.
Others, point to an anti-left wing agenda, who articulate a weariness with the judgemental and preachy tone of woke advocates. The Metro reporting,
“‘Woke’ has dethroned ‘politically correct’ and ‘snowflake’ as the insult du jour for many internet … wishing to mock the hypersensitivity of the left”
And indeed, there are long list of famous names outspoken on the need to crusade against ‘political correctness’, waving the flag for the ‘Anti-Woke’, even portraying the entire movement as ‘anti-British.’ Notable faces including: Piers Morgan, Nigel Farage and, self appointed anti-woke warrior, Laurence Fox.
And here is it that I pause to decide which side of the balance I land on; Woke or ant-Woke? I could search on for ‘the truth’ but, in today’s society that would be be a very long quest. Statistics, politics, new stories, values… in the right hands they can all be spun to suit any purpose. In consequence, whenever I think about voting, for example, I look at the people behind the policy and ask myself ‘Who do I trust the most?’ . If I apply that decision making strategy to this scenario then, it appears to boil down to whether I see myself in Team Greta and Team Malala, or … choose to line up behind Messieurs Farage and Fox.
Well … that took me under 30 seconds to answer and it will be woke for me! But I respect that for many of you it may take longer and it may be a different verdict.
Additionally, it is not only the faces of this generation of youth activists that sways me. No, I think it is also Samantha Price, who concludes her speech by reminding us that, whatever our grown up beliefs, it is the youth of society who will be the future and that to deter them is to “risk the level of progress in society – from sustainability through to equality“. So I resolve to avoid the clamour to join the grumpy oldsters when I hear views that sound new and challenging and hark back predictably to comfortable yesteryear. No, I shall aim to chime with Ms Price who states, “I am weary of hearing the older generation say, ‘you can’t say anything any more’…. The fact is that times have changed, and we simply need to keep up with them.”
It is, of course, true that no decision comes without its costs; the lovely Laurence Fox once decreed that he would not date woke -women. So I guess he’s off the dating list for me?
I think I can probably live with that….