What’s wrong with being woke?

Friday 26 November 2021

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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.

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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….

Going a bit greener …

Tuesday 9 November 2021

COP 26, the UN’s conference for tackling climate change, puts a time frame on the impact of ignoring global warming that really hits home and I find myself feeling …. genuinely terrified.

Cop 26 (Glasgow 2021)

The end of the century

The end of the century to unleash the catastrophic effects of allowing the world to warm by over 2 degrees: ecological destruction, rising sea levels and immeasurable loss of human life, plant and animal species caused by natural disasters such as floods, droughts, wildfires and heat waves. The changes we are already starting to see foreshadowing a far bleaker and more devastating future.

The end of the century? That’s less than 80 years away. Clearly I will not be around to see it, but my children could be… and their children definitely will. Suddenly it all seems very real.

Now, of course, we need action on a worldwide scale but I cannot see a way to influence that. What I can do, however, far more than I do at the moment is to take small personal steps to be ‘a bit greener’.

Where to start?‘ I ponder

Well back in 2019, a friend of mine, in an inspirational new year resolution, went entirely plastic free for the 31 days of January. I, alas, am a very long way from this. In fact, as I trundle it out on bin day, I cannot hide from the reality that my blue plastic bin is a truly revolting sight. Right there and then, I decide to mend my ways. One new environmental move per month for me and, for November, I choose to remove some plastic items from the house. My grimy garbage points clearly in one direction – the shower gel needs to go!

Yes, it will be ‘adios’ to the overpackaged, perfumed nonsense of liquid body wash. I am going to buy soap instead. It is an easy swap to make and probably why it is already a popular one, the Friends of the Earth in their excellent article ‘Beauty and the beast: plastic-free bathroom ‘ finding that,

By far the most suggested tip … was to steer clear of liquid shower gels and hand wash. Instead switch to solids, replacing these products with bars of soap.

In terms of carbon-footprint, there is little contest between liquid and solid soaps. Per wash, the footprint for shower gels and hand washes is 25% larger than their solid counterparts. Liquid soaps also need 5 times more energy to produce, can use 20 times more packaging and do not last as long as the trusty solid bar.

Unfortunately, I don’t do all my research before hitting the supermarket aisles and, triumphantly, adding two bars of Dove soap to my weekly shop. It turns out that, due to its ingredients (animal products plus the dreaded palm oil), over zealous plastic wrappings and various other crimes that the Ethical Consumer, in their guide to ‘Ethical Soap‘ actually grade my initial choice of product as zero out of 20. Yikes!

Well, on the positive side, at least some plastic bottles have gone from the bathroom. Small Boy is on board and, at work, one pupil tells me that I can also buy solid bars of shampoo. Now there’s food for through for December. In the meantime, I’m off to scour the list of more ethical soap choices. Perhaps I’ll put Lucy Bee soap bars on my Birthday list … by then we might have used up the dreaded Dove…