What does it mean to be “woke”? Is being “woke” something one “possesses”? Is “woke” something we announce publicly, our sense of ethics displayed? Is “wokeness” saying the correct things, stating our “correct” political position, hating the “right” things, using the “correct” language, calling out the “right” people, hitting the like button when others share the same views in their posts on social media?
All of these are things may be fine in it of itself, but “wokeness” is increasingly something one consumes rather than something one does (and is). Consumption is a symptom of capitalism. Whether it’s attending a spiritual retreat, buying a BLM mug, reading the latest book written by a guru, sporting a locally made tote bag, these are consumption based practices that are often used to signal to others that one is informed, conscious, intentional, and desirable.
In many respects, being “woke” in a capitalist society is one that is not only rooted in property, but one in virtue signaling because the system of capitalism has shaped our psychology so much so that we don’t know how to relate to each other any other way – via comparison, perfectionism, and performance.
“I have, and you don’t”
“I have more and you have less.”— It could be anything from a bigger home to a flashier car to a bougier vacation.
Or the anti-thesis- “I’m more counter cultural than you. I’m more off the grid than you.”
Capitalism also says:
“I am more woke than you, because I attended a rally (and I have a selfie to prove it) and you didn’t”
“I updated my company’s mission statement / marketing campaigns so it appears purpose driven — more diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist, and it’s better than yours.”
“I‘ve read 4 books on anti-racism, and I see you’ve read only 1.”
“I’m vegan and you are not.”
“I attended a silent meditation retreat while you stayed home.”
“I wear more woke looking clothes than you do”
“I speak more ‘wokely’ than you do.”
“I’m more of a feminist than you”
“I‘ve done more psychedelics than you.”
“I know/hang out with so-and-so in the wellness scene and you do not.”
“I’m more trauma-informed than you.”
And the list continues…
Woke culture approaches anti-racism, diversity, inclusion, and equity as a checklist and a set of new vocabulary within the existing systemic structures rather than being curious, open, discerning, and creative in finding ways to dismantle, dissolve, and rebuild new paradigms.
And because woke culture is consumption-basec and for-profit, “good politics” will wear out like fashion trends and no significant and consequential change will happen. Since “wokeness” can only be “woke” by being in comparison to someone else who is “less woke”, it is a culture that is not rooted in simply doing the just and right thing, and instead, is one that is rooted in fear, shame, distrust, and market advantage.
Woke culture defined in this way becomes one that distracts people from the very injustices and oppressive structures that need change so that vulnerable populations are no longer suffering, often confusing the performance for the actual work. Woke culture can very dangerously reduce “the work” to a one-dimensional checklist, and once each box is checked, we inaccurately assume the work is done. Woke culture, via #wokewashing, also often centers the people in power and reinforces their power, because the very structure of capitalism favours those in power.
It’s important to note that I am not advocating for complacency and neutrality on human rights topics, but I do think it’s important to unlearn the oppressive behaviours we have adopted to survive in this greater environment in the first place so that we can effectively dismantle corruption and injustices and transform the world in a lasting way.
The most important work is done privately, confronting our shadows with sobering honesty. Doing something ethical is something one chooses to do because it’s the right thing to do whether one is “rewarded” for it or not. Because if we approach ethics within the capitalistic frame, we may not be any different than the governments and corporations we criticize and object to.
founder, spirit communicator + shamanic intuitive
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