How do you create spaces dedicated to re-imagining and working toward a
world outside the white supremacist, cisheteropatriarchal, capitalistic gaze?
Does this question create anxiety for you because you are not sure how to answer it? Does this question seem easy because you can answer it without hesitancy? Or do you feel a mix of confidence and anxiety in answering the question?
No matter how you feel, this question is an attempt to illustrate how in spaces related to social justice education, there is an unspoken culture of competition; if you cannot answer the question above, you are inherently assumed to be "not woke" and are no longer a person that is "doing the work." You are expected to know more than everyone else and one of the ways to show you are the "wokest" social justice warrior is to use jargon-heavy language.
Additionally, there is a culture of shame. You take it upon yourself to uphold the "duty" of policing those who are doing or not doing this work and shaming those who should "know better" in our circle of educators. This also applies to those we are educating; those who are trying to learn and do the work.
This is a concept known as "Woke Olympics and Social Justice Arrogance."
"Woke Olympics and Social Justice Arrogance," by Reverend Dr. Jamie Washington
Three staff members from the Office of Equity were able to attend the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) in May of 2019 and they were introduced to the topic of "Woke Olympics and Social Justice Arrogance" in a session led by Reverend Dr. Jamie Washington.
The following concepts were presented and coined by Reverend Dr. Washington and his team. We believe these concepts are critical to any and all engagement with social justice learning and education.
So, what does it mean to be "woke"?
woke /adjective/: alert to injustices in society.
What are some major components of being a participant and contributor to "woke olympics?"
- "Flexing" within a Culture of Competition
- Culture of Shaming and Blaming
- Weaponization of Social Justice Knowing and Understanding
► “Flexing” and a Culture of Competition
We are constantly trying to show how "woke" we are to others so we are not labeled as the ignorant person that is causing the harm. This often has an inverse consequence; it creates a culture where we are afraid to ask one another for support or help, causes information to become inaccessible because it is muddled with jargon, and ultimately reduces the opportunities to engage in dialogue to learn and grow ourselves as change agents.
►Culture of Shaming and Blaming
We are all walking on "woke" egg-shells where you're automatically booted out of the "woke club" if you mess up; one time is all it takes for any work you have done up to become invalid. We operate within a culture of "gotcha!"; criticizing who you left out in your efforts. How can we do better when we do not know any better? It is an unrealistic standard.
►Weaponization of Social Justice Knowing and Understanding
What makes social justice arrogance difficult is the fact that it is rooted in intellectual content. For example, instead of using terminology as a way to name personal experiences, jargon is used to one-up and shut-down those who are not on your same "woke level." It becomes unsafe to not know. It is important to check your intentions--are you naming your truth or making others feel less?
Nothing about social justice arrogance helps fight the fight. Instead, it sabotages any effort to achieve equity.
If it is anxiety-inducing for those of us who do the work on a daily basis, can you imagine what it must feel like for someone who has no context or familiarity with these topics? We need to remember that we are all human; no one is perfect. We are allowed to make mistakes. However, when mistakes are made we are responsible for being and doing better. We need to understand our role in all situations; understand how we can add value, how we can validate, how we can challenge someone's perspective, and how we can continually operate with an empathetic, growth mindset.
So, when you feel as though you are preachin' to the choir, or you feel as though you have reached the epitome of "wokeness," remember, even choirs need rehearsal. Just like everyone else, we all have work to do.