Illustration by Hannah Robinson
I recently read a letter to The Guardian which explained how the resistance to ‘wokeness’ – being alert to all social injustices – was similar to the five stages of grief.
Denial comes first, followed by anger, bargaining, depression, and, eventually, acceptance.
Changing the way society views contemporary racism, sexism, homophobia or other injustice was never going to be easy; nor, of course, is losing a loved one. Indeed, according to this particular Guardian reader, those that resist ‘wokeness’ are still at the early stages – denial and anger.
The argument that ‘woke warriors’ who have an acute awareness to social injustices, are in essence Marxist ideologues trying to control the way we think, is formed by those that are merely demonstrating their anger at the re-moulding of our social norms.
Is this really the case? What if the negative connotations around ‘wokeness’ have some other, firmer founding?
The recent vindication of ex-police officer Harry Miller should move everyone to stop and think. This High Court case examined the response by police to allegedly transphobic tweets on Miller’s part.
The ruling of Mr Justice Knowles, hailed by Miller as ‘a watershed moment for liberty’, judged that the police arriving at Miller’s house because of his opinions of society ‘undervalue[d] a cardinal democratic freedom’. Miller had done no wrong, and the police response was disproportionate.
‘We have never lived in an Orwellian society’, the judge concluded.
Chilling words for 2020. But according to Trans Media Watch, this ruling was further evidence that ‘courts don’t understand trans lives’.
Yet what we see here is tangible evidence – in the words of Justice Knowles – of social justice movements morphing into “the Gestapo” or “the Stasi” recalling horrifying images associated with George Orwell’s ‘thought police’, and a Europe in desperate need of freedom from dictatorship.
Harry Miller’s case was undoubtedly a victory for those out to resist ‘wokeness’. On top of this, it is possible to point out a concerning disparity within the ‘woke’ left’s movement to combat racism today.
Quoting the words of Dr Martin Luther King that were fed into each and every one of us from an early age is often clunky, but they are more important today than they have been in recent times.
‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.’
King is asking for colour-blindness here. It is not too far-fetched to claim, as Douglas Murray does in his latest book The Madness of Crowds, that we are in fact becoming increasingly colour-obsessed. Surely, as those who want to get rid of racism once and for all, we should be striving to be as colour-blind as possible.
Narratives around ‘white privilege’ and ‘whiteness’ – as seen with the recent announcement of a new BBC2 series – do exactly the opposite. They obsess over skin colour, dividing us into black and white, and are a lot of the reason why ‘wokeness’ is being rejected by many.
But the most poignant of King’s words today are less well-known:
‘Let us be dissatisfied until that day when nobody will shout, “White Power!” when nobody will shout, “Black Power!” but everybody will talk about God’s power and human power.’
Nobody portraying themselves as ‘woke’ today would describe themselves as opponents of Martin Luther King, would they? By King’s reasoning demonstrated here, one could go so far as to saying a majority of these people are actually going backwards in the fight against racism.
This leaves us to question exactly what we want to get out of our increased awareness of social injustice. The thought police and colour-obsession? Or our much-admired liberty, and colour-blindness?
It seems the latter may be more desirable.
Racism is a scourge on our society; you do not need to be ‘woke’ to realise this or to combat it.
Resisting ‘wokeness’ may well entail the first of the four stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining and depression. Giving into the fifth – acceptance – gives ‘wokeness’ a victory it does not deserve.