Writing And More - A Blog by Alan Devey
Take a glance across the UK’s establishment press and right-wing broadcasters, and you might think the biggest threat to our nation isn’t poverty, climate change or the cost of living crisis. Rather what is destroying our country, from the NHS to education system, is an unseen army of ‘woke warriors’, all intent on undermining everything that has ever made the country ‘great’.
I was somewhat nonplussed by this assertion and, on closer inspection, it turns out to be simply a fresh delusion, replacing the one that underpinned Brexit (a delusion which is fully explored in my dystopian novel, The Gestalt Switch). Now that we have finally left the EU, with only the most fringe political parties wanting to take us back in, another bogeyman must arise to replace our nearest trading bloc in the minds of Farage followers. This fearsome spectre is somehow responsible for the terrible state of our economy / public services / political standards / collective mental health. Moreover, it is supposedly an elite conspiracy, one that leading Cabinet moron Suella Braverman has condemned, after the courts blocked her not-actually-legal plans for immigrants, as ‘the tofu-eating North London wokerati’.
Now, I live in the north of London and enjoy a bit of tofu (especially with black bean sauce) but instead of feeling unjustly targeted by a cruelly incompetent Home Secretary, once I’d stopped laughing, I was more intrigued than offended by her horribly skewed vision of contemporary life. It is so much easier to assign the problems of society to a group you have convinced yourself are at fault for our collective ills than to assume responsibility yourself. For example, if you’ve spent more than a decade voting in a ravenously neoliberal, horrible uncaring, institutionally corrupt and collectively useless political party, you’re unlikely to accept culpability now. But this diversion and deflection hardly explains why ‘the wokes’ suddenly find themselves on the frontline of the culture wars. How on earth did this delusion originate?
To get to the bottom of it I needed to go back to the start, to try and understand the concept of wokery. The word ‘woke’ derives from the African American vernacular of the 1960s, when it was used to describe anyone who had ‘woken up’ to issues of social injustice. People back then were gradually becoming aware of the great disparities across the Western world when it came to how different groups were treated. Aptly enough, this term was quickly co-opted by white beatniks looking to move beyond the racism and sexism of their elders, going on to protest Viet Nam and other violent wars of imperialism. Fast forward sixty years and the word’s meaning has expanded to cover anyone who is “well aware or well informed in a political or cultural sense”. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Why would a cottage industry emerge to denigrate such a mindset? To condemn wisdom, knowledge, awareness and tact, in favour of their opposites?
There are many reasons, as it turns out. A shocking number of people are ideologically opposed to tuning in to modern times; unwilling to even consider the emotions of others. This is especially true when said others differ from the ‘anti-woke brigade’ in terms of their race, background or sexuality. What the likes of The Telegraph and GB News are trying to do here, in an effort to obscure the reactionary ideology of those aristocrats, old Etonians and hedge fund managers who still run this country (and in a manner that is damaging for both the vast majority and the planet) is to focus on ‘wedge issues’; transsexuality, anti-colonialism and the Black Lives Matter movement. They endeavour to link their bugbears to some overarching conspiracy of the elites against the people. Actually the reverse is true; it is the right-wing establishment who have come together to make these imaginary faultlines front page news. They take isolated examples from university trigger warnings, HR diversity initiatives and sensitivity guidance, tying them together to form a theory of woke oppression that simply doesn’t bear scrutiny.
And they do this because they’re worried. Those who have always had the greatest power and biggest media platforms (mainly the white, wealthy, straight, able-bodied, God-fearing, Capitalism-supporting males) may no longer come to dominate the media discourse in future, not if ‘wokeness’ succeeds in giving the historically silenced a voice. If that public school-to-Oxbridge, ‘traditional’, Rule-Britannia thought process isn’t prioritised, then these same men will be forced to exist without appearing superior to anyone else. That would be the first step in it all crashing down. The scales might fall from the eyes of those looking on, with the 99% seeing how Piers Morgan, Jeremy Clarkson and their billionaire media backers are no more talented, compelling or worth listening to than working class, non-neurotypical, feminist, differently able, people of colour and LGBTQ+ folks out there, all of them now demanding to be heard. In turn, that would render them yesterday’s men; superannuated and irrelevant. And you can be sure those privileged fucks aren’t going to accept that without a fight.
But how exactly does the ‘battle against wokeness’ Elon Musk and others like him invoke to protect their privileged status manifest itself? What are the specifics? For as long as these accusations are kept general and vague, it is impossible to debate the anti-woke crew. From all that I can ascertain, they are reacting against the notion that other peoples’ stories should be heard; stories so different from their own but equally valid. You see, engaging with this ‘other’, or even moderating their discourse so as not to cause hurt, it requires energy and effort they are unwilling to expend. These individuals have never been forced to get into the habit, and it’s too late now to teach old big-dogs new tricks. They would rather invoke a shared right to slur Megan Markle with racial epithets and punishment fantasies, because that sort of thing was allowed back when they were young (it wasn’t) and they’re not about to change their ways now, not for anyone.
Similarly, admitting trans people exist and should be treated as human beings seems to be a big sticking point, as does any discussion around the human cost of the British Empire. This sits alongside the belief that endless pish is being taught in schools on history, sexuality and the cancelling of cultural landmarks, when it really isn’t (as any teacher or university lecturer will tell you). Fear of ‘woke’ is whipped up by amoral hacks invoking ‘totalitarianism’ and ‘a threat to our freedom’. They write fact-free stories about a culture of liberalism inducing moral panic in national institutions, of Civil Servants forced to go on African drumming workshops and doctors who persuade vulnerable children to take puberty blockers before booking them in for gender reassignment at the first available opportunity.
All nonsense of course, and reminiscent of that ‘gay mafia’ hysteria we had through the late eighties. Back then our prejudiced overseers imagined that cultural institutions were being run solely by (and for) the benefit of predatory homosexuals. Thatcher subsequently introduced one of the most awful pieces of legislation in British history, preventing schools from “promoting homosexuality”. Their language obscured the Daily Mail and Tories’ real aim: to keep pretending gay people didn’t exist for as long as they could. They wanted to go on demeaning LGBTQ+ people as less than human; to render them abhorrent. We see the same thing happening today across the trans community and it is heartbreaking. Of course, the guilty parties mask their motivation in terms of ‘reason’, ‘freedom of speech’ or even, and I’m not making this up, ‘tolerance’. Yeah, tolerance for hate-filled bigotry. That’s a cause we can all get behind.
Meanwhile our NHS has been ruined by neglect, underfunding and privatisation-by-stealth, so who do we scapegoat? The Human Resources department. The Met Police are revealed to be institutionally misogynist and racist, with horrendous instances of abuse documented through recent years, so what do the anti-wokers do? Rail against anyone trying to change the force’s culture with educational initiatives and unconscious bias training. Young people don’t want slave owners venerated in statue form so again, what do the establishment do? Create new laws to put those protesting in prison. But never forget, those in the public eye who complain about ‘wokeness’ reveals themselves to be inconsiderate, selfish and non empathetic. They are strangers to compassion, too cowardly to adapt their thought processes to our changing times. And, as Dylan would attest, the times are always a-changing.
But unlike the binary arguments between opposing tribes on social media, there is ample nuance here. For example, I don’t believe that the white, upper middle class editors of the Guardian should be the final arbiters of what is acceptable. Those without experience of racism, oppression or poverty don’t get to draw the line on what is permitted. Nor do I advocate censorship; I would rather the bigots were condemned by their own words, as the likes of Clarkson, Farage and Morgan so often are. But no one should fucking platform this bigotry. Middle aged throwbacks can gleefully share offensive views with likeminded souls down at the golf club, but the media should never be complicit in their spreading of hate. That way lies fascism.
Indeed, the fearmongering, exaggeration and hyperbole around the concept of ‘woke’ often backfires. It is an obsession far removed from the concerns of ordinary people, most focussed on earning enough to heat their homes and put food on the table. What really rankles are those politicians and media types promoting the line that ‘wokeness’ is to blame for all our ills, then assuming their obsession is shared by everyone else. The worldview is subsequently disseminated among the Reform UK crew and reactionaries of Middle England. You can tell those who condemn “children being swept along on a woke rollercoaster” or claiming the marginalised suffer most because of this “woke agenda” have never been near a social housing community in their lives. I have, and after living there for many years, it is easy to see how inhabitants generally support one another; kids of all races and creeds mingling; communities collectively standing against the kind of nonsense that would divide and rule. How fucking patronising, for wealthy journos to claim they’re fighting woke on behalf of the struggling masses; how immoral. But for those susceptible to such hypocritical propaganda it forms a kind of insidious scapegoating, forever promoted by Conservative politicians and their allies. They distract us from the decimation of austerity, their mismanagement of the economy and how, in one of the world’s richest countries, life expectancy is actually falling. Because those in power care little whether most of us live or die.
Thankfully there is plenty of evidence this ideological line isn’t working as they hoped. When you have travelled so far from reality you think that getting vaccinated or caring about your kid’s future amid the horrors of global warming is ‘woke’; when you object to a pay rise for nurses who have to use food banks or condemn as morally reprehensible anyone who can’t find happiness in convention so embrace alternative lifestyles, then you really are adrift from the views of the majority. Right now, only 15% of people under forty would admit to even thinking about voting Conservative or subscribing to their selfishly hyper-consumerist ‘values’.
Meanwhile the anti-woke brigade fall foul of easy mockery like the recent “wokeanauts are using death spaniels” meme. Amusing yes, but an inevitable consequence of their over the top attempts to divert attention away from ongoing efforts to tackle the structural racism, sexism and inequality that has always benefitted those in power. Clearly, their scheme is not going to work; the whole thing is laughable. In fact, laughter is the right response. Once you’ve understood what the use of the word ‘woke’ in a derogatory way reveals about someone’s character, all you can do is find them ridiculous and walk away.
Alan Devey’s mystery novel Beyond The Bailey is now available, published by Revolutionary Press.