- The meaning of wokeness
- Optical allyship and branded wokeness
- The three traps of wokeness you want to avoid
The Podcast on How to Stay Woke:
Ayishat Akanbi: “Wokeness is a term that a lot of people don’t really understand but in my understanding of it, I would say wokeness is a slang term for social awareness. You can be woke about anything race gender sexuality veganism climate change every issue gaining mainstream prominence can consider you woke”
Sina Port: Assalamu alaykum and welcome to another episode of Shared Diversity. Today I want to talk about wokeness and the three traps of wokeness you have to avoid and how you can actually be woke.
Intro: Assalaamu Alaykum and welcome to the Shared Diversity Podcast my name is Sina Port, brand communicator, content artist, and author and each week I introduce you to an amazing person, story, or message to help you empower yourself in your career and life. Here you can find exclusive interviews with successful businesswomen where we discuss topics around business, branding, and womanhood.
Sina: Salaam everyone, hope you are all healthy and safe. Today I want to talk about something that is a topic in so many places these days. Our whole world is waking up to a lot of new ideas and a lot of new situations that people didn’t know about. People wake up to their own privilege people wake up to their own ignorance people wake up to the ignorance of the people around them.
And everything is about awareness and being woke and today i actually want to talk about you know ways of avoiding that this wokeness can become performative or even counterproductive to the things you actually want to achieve and socially change.
My journey with wokeness
Just as a background I thought I knew a lot of things I always had very strong opinions about race about belonging about being part of a diaspora about oppression about feminism. I had a lot of strong opinions about whether that was in my high school class where I did presentations about the trail of tears and racism because that was only one paragraph in our history books and I was like where’s the rest of the history?
Or whether that was in my university where I had countless conversations with my peers on how racism and white superiority controls our entire lives and systems and I had conversations with my friends and thought I knew a lot of things.
When you think you know stuff and then you figure out you only know a fraction of it or you only know the theory of it. For instance white fragility it’s something that I’ve seen and heard and read of it. I’ve understood it from a theoretical point of view from an academic point of view. But when you actually get into a room of colleagues, people you work with or people you work for, people you collaborate with and they actually start crying when you call them out for something that they said then you understand “Dang it. I thought I knew this but actually, I have no idea. No idea about how to react to this I know it in theory I have no idea how to react to this in practice. Should I laugh should I cry? Should I be annoyed by you? Should I call you out on it?”
And it’s not something that your brain only does as your whole body is confused. Your body’s gonna be like “I wanna start you know laughing but I always also want to start shouting like what am I supposed to do?”.
So in that form, I thought I knew a lot of things and actually, I figured out I didn’t. In another way, I thought I took a stance on things that matter to me that I am socially aware and I’m making people around me understand my point of view on other things. Even if it goes against their point of view. So in all these forms, I thought I was ‘woke’ and I was making sure that people know my opinions and my values around topics that were important to me.
Whether that is women’s rights, advancing people of color and especially women of color. Whether that is politically understanding the oppression of peoples and countries I thought I took a stance. But I didn’t do it loud enough I didn’t do it consistently enough and I didn’t do it radically enough.
Something that I recognized about myself: I thought I knew how people think around me but I didn’t. I thought I knew oh this person is socially aware I can talk to them I understand how they think.
I thought this person is in that position being in that social hierarchy being on that level they had a certain intellect and I figured out they didn’t. Those are three things that I’ve actually on a bigger scale have figured out. I thought I knew a lot of things but I actually only knew them theoretically and not in practice. I thought it took a stance but I actually didn’t do it out loud enough or consistently enough thoroughly enough.
While I considered myself ‘woke’ I wouldn’t call myself ‘woke’ because, to be honest even before all this all these things start I thought wokeness has been commercialized in ways of companies trying to woke-wash themselves.
Showing that they are woke but they are not. It became a slogan for people to show how they know about things and how they are maybe of some political group or some movement.
The meaning and understanding wokeness how to be woke
Let’s talk about wokeness what it means and how I figured out that there are certain traps of wokeness that actually can hold you back in becoming socially aware and doing your social justice work effectively.
The Cambridge definition of wokeness is “a state of being aware especially of social problems such as racism and inequality”.
For myself, I think my definition of wokeness is actually just being socially aware I don’t have these all these academic thoughts behind it. I thought it means if someone asked me who doesn’t understand the term wokeness.
Being woke for me means being socially aware, actively working for social justice, and understanding issues that affect people around you. However, there are traps of wokeness that I didn’t figure out until I became aware of how my position should be in the world. Whether that is within my family within my friends’ circle within my colleagues and people that I collaborate with.
There are three traps of wokeness that actually want to talk about today because I feel that people are slowly and surely going into a very dangerous place of showcasing how they know things. But actually, it doesn’t make them productive in helping other people know the same things and being on their side.
The three traps of wokeness and how to stay woke
I don’t want this to come off as some kind of criticism to anyone who is doing social awareness work or who’s doing social justice work and speaking about it. Because I believe however you’re doing it I respect you there’s no right or no wrong way of doing it there’s just “your way” and either it works for you or it doesn’t.
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Maybe it works for you as well whether that is in your interactions with people in your workplace or in interactions with your family who might be ignorant or racist. Even with your friends that you don’t want to lose but you understand they have a lack of knowledge and you have to figure out a way how to either part ways or stay with them and go through the process of learning with them. That’s why my hope is this works for you on all these different levels.
One of the biggest levels that we will discuss branding. You can find more about authentic branding that lives up to your values on my website (here is my personal branding guide on how to build your own brand).
Branded wokeness vs woke branding
People are starting to use wokeness as a part of their Personal Brand strategy.
In one way I understand that you want to make sure that your brand is and acts socially aware and you want to make people understand that your brand has certain values, a brand purpose, and stands for certain beliefs.
But at the same time, optical allyship and branded wokeness are two things that show up the same way too many times.
Optical allyship means showcasing the world that you are an ally for instance for black people. You post your black squares your #blacklivesmatter hashtag. You put a cute picture of a black hand and a white hand shaking hands and you say “Stand in solidarity” whatsoever.
But in reality, this show of support is only for you to optically showcase that you are an ally that you stand in solidarity that you are woke.
But in your business, in your brand, your career, your life, in your friend’s circle, and in your workplace you do not do the work of an actual ally.
Ally and allyship is another word that we need to define.
Optical allyship shows up when you keep riding that solidarity wave only so that people will not come to you and say ‘Why are you not doing this?’ `Why are you not supporting this?’, ‘Why are you not standing up?’. You say these things only so people don’t counsel you or so that you show people that you’re actually part of their community and you’re part of the movement.
In reality, you just stay at home and you’re not doing the actual work that is needed. Not only going out for protests but actually going to your family and having those uncomfortable conversations – that’s optical allyship.
To give credit to the person who coined the term here’s a definition:
Optical allyship is a term coined by Latham Thomas founder of mama glow and author of ‘Own your glow‘. Thomas defines optical allyship as “allyship that only serves at the surface level to platform the ‘ally,’ it makes a statement but doesn’t go beneath the surface and is not aimed at breaking away from the systems of power that oppress.”
Optical allyship or performative allyship describe when you show that you want to be an ally but you actually don’t go deep enough to do the work or you don’t go deep enough to talk about the issues that are at hand.
Then branded wokeness is basically when brands jump on social awareness campaigns or jumping on social justice hashtags or movements in order to gain an audience or preserve an audience that they are serving or benefiting from. But they actually don’t do the work on the ground the social awareness work and the social justice work.
3 ways to know if what you see is branded wokeness
Branded wokeness is also when all the time until the movement all you had were white speakers, white models, unrealistic and Eurocentric beauty standards in your ads, or you:
- Don’t help your black employees to be promoted in the company or to get to a level where they have equity and leadership in the company, but then now that the movement is coming you put out a brand statement that you actually think black lives matter.
- Claim that you actually want to support the people outside and you actually don’t do it inside the company.
- Finally, figure out that you need some black model so you send a mass email and all the black influencers and say something like ‘We’ve thought about our work and now we are aware now we want to bring you all in’ blah blah
That’s how branded wokeness shows up. You brand yourself in a way that you’re socially aware but you actually don’t do the work to be it, to actually live the statements that you put out in the world within the company within the brand and within the work you do.
Because most people/individuals/influencers nowadays feel the pressure to speak up on issues to appear as woke you find many cases of branded wokeness. But actually, they don’t do the work they just put a cute statement, a cute artsy piece out, and that’s it.
They go back to ‘business as usual’ they go back to creating content as usual they go back to earning money as usual and they go back to taking from communities of color but not giving back to community communities of color as usual.
On this podcast, we talk about business, branding, and womanhood and wokeness appears and applies in all of those areas:
- Wokeness in business: How do you do business? How does that support or go against social awareness and social justice movements? How does it support or go against the benefit of people of color and communities of color?
- Wokeness in branding: Are you actually woke are you only branding yourself to appear as if you were? Are you branding yourself in a way that is ‘safe’ for you – so you don’t aggravate people of color and communities of color and their allies and at the same time you don’t offend white people and people who are oppressing people of color in communities of color? In your brand are you actually just portraying that are woke or are you actually doing the work to stand behind the values that you stand for? Even if you are finding a middle ground, ask yourself are you compromising the standards of your beliefs to be safe, or are you actually trying to keep a balance and support what is right? Being radical is not the goal. Being just and working for social justice and awareness in your personal brand is.
- Wokeness in womanhood: What are you doing yourself as a woman to support either if you’re a person of color your own self and your communities and the organizations that help you. Or how are you if you are not a black woman but you’re a woman of color supporting your black sisters? How are you if you’re a white woman supporting your women of color and the black women around you? How are you supporting the sacred womanhood every woman of every background has a right to?
- On a personal level: How are you making sure that you yourself are aware of things and are actively part of the change? That your friends around you are actively part of social change? That your family around you is actually a part of the change. And I cannot stress enough that even if you’re a woman of color your family can be racist you don’t even believe it and they never talked to you about it or you kind of like felt microaggressions around you because you have white people in your family and you have people of color who are actually anti-black in your family. You kind of felt the microaggressions once in a while but you never bothered to talk about it. Because it’s uncomfortable or you thought ‘they’re just conservative’ ‘that’s just their view’ and you never try to actually make them understand things. Do you have these conversations now? Do you call them out now do you tell them about their anti-blackness now? Do you talk about racism and colorism even within communities of color now?
If you want to build your own Personal Brand that’s true to who you are and become the person you look up to in your career and life, check out the personal branding guide on www.sinaport.com.
There are so many people who have never in their personal lives made an effort to call out their racist friends to call out the microaggressions within their family. But who then they go on social media and start posting ‘super woke statements’.
You have to figure out for yourself: Are you doing enough on a personal level so that you can actually go out and brand yourself as woke?
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THE THREE TRAPS OF WOKENESS
- Your ego
- No room for learning
Trap 1: Your Ego
Your ego is the biggest biggest biggest biggest trap to actually be aware and make a difference in your life.
The first time I actually heard someone speak about the problem of wokeness was Ayishat Akanbi (YouTube):
“I think wokeness has robbed many people of compassion and replaced it with moral superiority. Compassion and empathy is paramount to any social movement and to any form of progress. Once you have compassion and empathy you can often see that you have a lot more in common with people than you do apart. And it’s the system under which we live that forcefully tries to group us on our differences. What is radical is kindness.
What is radical is understanding. That’s the one thing they don’t want us to do is to understand each other arguing with each other isn’t actually radical at all it’s very conformist actually. I do think that wokeness does run the risk sometimes in reducing very complex issues. Wokeness tends to be quite reactionary instead of responsive. And so when you react you go off emotion and you go off of anger resentment humiliation and that doesn’t necessarily leave much space for nuance.
And nuance is important in order to understand the interconnectedness of the issues”.
She said, “I think wokeness has robbed many people of compassion and has replaced it with moral superiority”. Moral superiority is the name of the game right now! Because people feel superior talking about internalized superiority, oppression, white supremacy. But actually, they feel morally superior to other people who don’t know as much about things as they do. That’s another word for ego.
Ego is one of the things that help it just works against you all the time. Your ego is usually not your friend. So for mem wokeness actually means “being socially aware” right but the thing is you don’t become socially aware at your birth. You’re not a social justice expert in third grade (most of us at least aren’t).
It’s not your birthright it’s nothing that you learn in school. Let’s be honest you don’t learn in school how to be socially aware you learn it over time. Chances are that it took time for you to actually know about white fragility to know about the nuances of anti-blackness to know about the crisis in Yemen to know about Palestine. Right?
It took time for you. But the issue is the more that you learn you the more you get away from the initial person that you were a couple of years ago that actually wasn’t aware at all, the more you learned, the more you get away from the fact that you learned your way to where you are now.
You forget that once some time ago you didn’t know what you know now and that’s your ego coming in place. When people are at the state that you were a couple of years ago, you don’t give people space and time to actually learn the way you learned.
Wokeness means you are aware and that you don’t have all the answers being aware doesn’t mean you are aware of everything and that you have the answers to everything. Wokeness means you are aware and you are aware that you don’t have all the answers.
There was one book that I read that I came out of it and I thought this is the biggest takeaway that I get from this book and that was The Autobiography of Malcolm X:
The note I wrote down was that I admire his ability to overcome ego and openly admit wrong values wrong actions and wrong words and change. And his change was actually so public he always admitted openly and publicly about his wrongdoing and overcome the ego that you have in having to fight for your thoughts and fight for your actions and make sure that people understand why you did wrong.
Trap 2: Judgment
In a time of social warriors and in a time where we love to judge people on one thing that we see about them one fragment of their being, judgment has become the ‘how our world works’.
Especially when we talk about being woke most people pick out one action or statement and take it to judge a person’s entire character. I understand that this is a difficult topic. I myself have been the person that really looks at someone and I’m like “I think they’re shady let me look at what they did” and as soon as my suspicions are confirmed I’m like “Oh yeah I was right about my nudge, they are stupid”. And we love to do this, especially when it comes to social awareness and social justice topics: We take a statement of a person and we just judge their entire character.
Let’s think about this scenario: if people would judge your character by one bad thing you did how would your life be? Would you actually have friends? Would people actually like you? It’s so important to give people room to show you their entire being not only one facet of it. Not only one statement of it. Only because people don’t agree with you once doesn’t mean they cannot change their mind or just because people say the wrong thing in your opinion or say it the wrong way doesn’t mean that they actually mean the same thing you mean but just that they don’t know how to express it.
This is not only in the topic of racism or in the topic of social awareness and social justice this also comes a lot when people judge the character of a person that they want to be with, right? So many times I hear people say “I could never marry this person because the person has this opinion about this thing”. The problem is just that you take their opinion as end-all-be-all. You take it as a judgment of their whole character and you take it as if you could not change their opinion.
Of course, you should be in the business of changing people’s character or we just take someone who has a crappy opinion and say “Hey lemme change you, I can make you a better person”. NO. That’s not what I’m saying. I am saying that even if a person has a very strong opinion about something or they have an opinion that you strongly disagree with doesn’t mean that you should cancel them out of their life. Or that you could never have them as a friend or a person close to you. I had the weirdest conversations with people closest to me and I didn’t have the chance to say “You can’t be in my life because you have this opinion” because they were already in my life.
What I had to do is figure out where does that opinion come from why do you think the way you think. Maybe you figure out on the way there that what you’re actually saying is not what you mean or that actually what you’re saying is not what you actually want to say but it’s just something that you say because you were that’s your tradition that’s your culture that’s what people say in your environment that’s what people say in your family. Figure out the root of that opinion and not take it as the last final judgment of that person’s character.
Make sure that you pick with whom you want to have real and hard conversations. Because most of the time when someone around you that you care about has said an unspeakable thing that you disagree with entirely, after having a long hard, and real conversation (mostly conversations over a period of time) it helps you close the divide between you and find a common ground. There’s no winning in having an argument with someone you care about. Because if you win the argument you lose and if you lose the argument you lose. Because that argument can ruin any chance of further connection or mutual learning because you have to figure out where these opinions come from and figure out how can you find a common ground: Does that person actually mean what they said? Or do they just don’t know how to express their thoughts? Where does it come from?
Don’t judge a person by one thing that they said by one statement that they said.
Yes, this could be different in your workplace or with random acquaintances in your life that you actually don’t care about. I’m not saying you have to have conversations with everyone on your social media when they say something stupid. You have to figure out whether to have these conversations or not. Des that really bother me on a personal level because i care about you? –> Then yes you should have hard conversations and not judge one person by one thing they said.
If that person actually ruins your mental health by engaging with them further –> don’t engage with them. Cut it off.
The second trap of wokeness is judging, so to be effective in your social justice work try not to judge people by one thing they said once a long time ago or even once a week ago because people can change their mind. And often people don’t know what to say or aren’t educated enough to express their thoughts make eloquently so make sure that you call them in or you call them out if you care about them.
Judgment is not the best thing for your entire mental and soulful being. Judgment usually doesn’t help you to become more aligned with yourself or happier or more productive.
Trap 3: No room for learning
This has to do with cancel culture. (However, I don’t want to go too much into this discussion of the word “cancel culture” or the concept, because the same people who say now “you cannot cancel me because I didn’t shout out black lives matter”, were the ones that canceled you years ago because you talked about Palestine. So people are hypocrites, okay). That’s one thing. The other thing is we have to figure out in what way we want to cancel people.
Because cancel culture is something that is translated from social media into real life right. Yes, I agree. You should cancel people who repeatedly threaten your mental health and state of mind when your values don’t align right, especially online. Why should I follow a person that I don’t agree with? I can cancel you right there, no problem, but in real life, we have to figure out that things are more nuanced than on social media.
In real life, when someone says something or takes an action, try to not judge them but find a common ground. Give them room to learn, because, in real life, things are more nuanced, situations are more nuanced.
On social media, yes ideally people should think more than two minutes about what they post about an issue that is important in real life. People just say ignorant things, but at least when they say the ignorant thing, you understand that they said it because they are ignorant. Now you have a common ground. “You are ignorant” now I can talk to you right now. I know how you feel now. I can have a conversation with you because I’m there with you in person, I’ve seen you say non-ignorant things, I’ve seen you say good things before, so yeah – I think we have a common ground. I think I can give you room to learn. I think I can start a conversation with you. This works also in your wider acquaintance circle or your workplace, give them the room to learn about social justice matters.
Give them the room you needed to learn to learn as well.
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Overcome the three traps of wokeness by:
1) Kill your ego. Ego has no place whatsoever when you want to learn
2) Be open to teaching. This especially comes as a burden for non-black people of color. Because I believe as non-black people of color, especially when it comes to talking about racism, we have to be at the forefront of helping people understand the issues because we are at the intersection. We have both privileges and experienced oppression. We have both internalized superiority and internalized oppression. So yes, non-black people of color are specifically being called out by me right now to be open to teaching others. We have to have patience. If you don’t have the patience (as I don’t have often), try to learn to have the patience to teach people or at least figure out who you can teach because they have a common ground with you, some commonality that you share. And let others be taught by white people or by people who have more patience. But you have to be open to teach people, don’t judge them, don’t cancel them. Teach them.
3) Give people the time. This is an important one. Okay, you don’t want people to admit to something that they don’t understand or don’t agree with just to shut up all the critiques right. You don’t want your colleague to say “black lives matter” if they go home and tell their family “all lives matter”. You want them to get it and move on from there better. With better understanding and more awareness. So don’t push people into optical allyship or branded wokeness. Make sure that they are aware of the things that you want them to be aware of so give people time it’s a journey, not a race.
These are were the three traps of wokeness that I wanted to talk with you about. It might help you personally in figuring out your womanhood, it might help you professionally and in your business, and it might help you in creating your brand. But, most importantly, it should help you in every single phase of your life, whether that is interacting with your family, your friends, your partners, your colleagues, your collaborators, and the entire world.
So wokeness is something that is a big discussion point, and I would love to hear your thoughts about wokeness about the three traps that I talked about three solutions to being woke efficiently. I would love to hear your thoughts about it, jump on Instagram @sharediversity or, on my channel, @sinamichalport, and share your thoughts.
Share this episode with someone who needs to hear this.
Who is interested in the topic, who you think would love to give their opinion on the things? I would love to continue the conversation about this beyond this podcast, so leave your comments below. You can find me, you can also connect with me on LinkedIn at Sina Port. Just shoot me a message.
I pray that you are all healthy, physically, mentally, and spiritually. So you can keep up the battle and I pray that we all stay woke, ameen.
Thank you so much for being here. And, if you’d like to build your personal brand to get your career and business to the next level visit me on www.sinaport.com to get access to free resources and programs to build a brand that’s true to who you are and I’ll see you next time, inshallah.