Performative Wokeness

Citlaly Escobar, Opinions Editor

Performative Wokeness (adjective): “Superficial show of solidarity with minority and oppressed bodies of people that enables (usually white and privileged) people to reap the social benefits of wokeness without actually undertaking any of the necessary legwork to combat injustice and inequality.” –varsity.co.uk. 

Some examples include, but are not limited to: posting on your Instagram story about social issues but not participating in local community actions, having a day of workshops to commemorate the state-assassination of Dr. MLK Jr. without appropriate community involvement and retweeting “safe” political critiques that do not critically analyze the role of power in society. It also includes the photoshoots people take at the “safe marches” like the Climate March because they desire to show how they got involved for one day with their quirky signs.

These acts lack any form of sustainable meaning because they are not meaningful; it simply begins with their public presence and ends after they have received public praise, as they are now “woke” in public. The actions do nothing to promote self-reflection as they were done to prove that they were “one of the good ones” and it does nothing to critically analyze how they perpetuate oppressive power dynamics. It is more comfortable for them to regurgitate “yasss queen” or “diversity, equity and inclusion!” Versus understanding their own complacency in social systems.

Performative wokeness, overall, is a form of a comfortable activism that does nothing to promote the effort of community organizers and activists. In fact, it is detrimental to social change because people who engage in performative wokeness weaponize the social analysis of organizers to promote their own self-image. Some examples of weaponization include the usage of intersectionality, which has now been transformed into a profitable buzzword for institutions and politicians as they shift corporate strategies.  It emphasizes the usage of these “woke” buzzwords, but does not emphasize the clarity and understanding of these ideas to the people around them. Performative wokeness only adopts the comfortable parts of social analysis where it can help their self-image and political gains but not harm their position of power in society. These people are more scared of being removed from their positions of power versus harming the community they claim to represent. 

As I discuss this, I am not advocating for people to stop participating in social movements or discussing social activism online. This needs to happen if we desire to create collective social change. However, what I am saying is that everyone within academic spaces need to be acutely aware of how they occupy positions of power, as academia has become a powerhouse of performative activism. In academia, it is much easier to perform performative activism that does not require the long, harrowing process of constant movement, un-learning and re-learning that is needed when dismantling oppressive structures. It is easier to follow the dominant narratives than it is to deconstruct them and create new ones. However, if we desire to truly liberate all oppressed and marginalized people across the globe, we all need to be honest in our past actions and how we have harmed other communities with our action. We need to understand what our personal goals are and how they fit within the frameworks of liberation, if they do so at all. Honesty is the best groundwork for consciousness-raising and coalition-building.