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Millennial Issues: To Be or Not To Be…Woke?

Yelena Bivian

Dear #Woke People,

I have questions and I hope you have answers.

In Merriam-Webster, the term woke is classified as chiefly US slang and defined as aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice). From this definition alone, it all seems great.

People, especially young people, are waking up to the harsh realities of our society and they are demanding a change. Which once again, is wonderful, because racial and social justice issues are finally getting the attention they deserve from everyone; not just from the oppressed.

On the surface, it seems picture perfect;  individuals listening, educating, and working together to create justice for all. Underneath this ideal, the air of superiority is tainting the core idea.  People that claim to “be woke” are vocalizing their wokeness, making it seem that those that do not fall into the woke category are ignorant and are shamed into feeling inadequate for not knowing. It is as if the savior complex has rebranded itself and appeared with a new name.

Woke people are applauded for preaching and doing the good work. People preach about equality and social justice but a lot of the time their personal life does not reflect what they are preaching. I’m tired of individuals being idolized or given positions of power when they are the very thing they claim to want to change. I see this a lot on my campus. The U of R holds discussions and forums so that students can have a space to comfortably speak. However, what I often notice is that the same individuals are speaking; giving their personal opinions. I see this in classrooms, in social media, and in routine life; people shutting down others who don’t agree with what a woke person agrees with.

Testimony Below by Anonymous:

“I had a friend once, or rather someone I thought of as a friend. I identify as Latina and this guy is one of those typical white guys who thinks he is “woke” or “progressive” or some sort of a savior to the helpless minorities of the world. When I first met him, he did not seem that way. He does a good job of presenting himself for the cause of minorities, people in the LGBTQ community, etc. He’s an avid promoter of safe spaces and even has a leadership position because of all this. However, all I can say is, no one is safe with this guy.

He volunteers with a program at our school that goes to a juvenile hall once a week to help kids get an education and get a better life for themselves. Nice guy right? Well not so much. This guy likes to refer to these kids as “his incarcerated children.” Oh, yea that’s right you did not misread that. He’s also all for women equality, which to him means he can mistreat females because if we are all equal then he can be rude, sexist, and demeaning and women need to suck it up. Honestly, the way he treats women is grotesque and that is putting it lightly.

He thinks he’s the smartest guy in every room and finds himself superior to other people. He feels entitled to certain things, to everything for that matter. It’s as though because he’s involved with so many “progressive” causes on campus he is better than everyone and need not reflect on his own actions. I remember the first time I told him I was interested in studying Immigration Politics and Policy, his next question was, “Are you a citizen?” I was dumbstruck. I told him I was born in California, to be honest, I am uncertain as to why I even graced the question with an answer, and he then mentioned that he wondered why immigration was so important to me being a citizen and all. A couple weeks later, when I told him I was applying to Ph.D. programs in Political Science he told me I should not do that and apply to the Peace Corps instead. He started lecturing me about how awesome the Peace Corps is, which I totally agree it is, but I kept mentioning how I want to dedicate my life to researching political issues involving racial minorities. He insisted and then said,

“Oh… but wait… you have to be a citizen…” I blew off his comment, laughed and tried to change the subject. He then said, “No, but really you have to be a citizen.” I continued talking hoping he would get the hint. “Are you a citizen?” I finally replied, quite aggressively, “Yes, and I was born in this country and this hospital on this and this day.” I was left baffled.

Why I felt the need to justify my legal status in this country still baffles me. Looking back on it I should have ended our friendship right then and there.

A few days later, he was talking about how everyone on campus participates in the outdoor programs at our school. Outdoor Program is a group that goes on hiking and camping trips in the area but there usually is a cost attached to these trips. I politely mentioned that not everyone attends outdoor programs because it’s expensive for a few individuals. He insisted that “everyone” attends outdoor programs. I mentioned that myself and my friends don’t and he replied, “oh, well… we are trying to get more brown people.” He had a huge smirk on his face.

The final straw was just a few days later. He started ranting to a friend and I about how great socialism is and how Cuba is a great example. I am not Cuban, but I know a lot of Cubans and am well aware of Latin American history because as a Spanish major I have learned a lot about every Spanish speaking nation. I mentioned that I disagreed because considering how Castro slaughtered innocent people, and how thousands of Cubans escaped Cuba, I felt Cuba was a prime example of how socialism does not work.

He shot back and verbally attacked me. This guy was in my face. He asked, “Do you even know who <insert evil dictator from Latin America’s name here> is?” I knew all of them. He pretty much mentioned all of them. I made him know I knew all of them. To be honest, it seemed more like he was name dropping. I don’t even think he knows who Pinochet is. And he said, “No offense. But I’m pretty sure in the eight weeks I’ve been taking my Latin American Politics class, I already know more about Latin American politics than you do.” He said that to me. A Latina. A Latina whose mother lived through and survived the Salvadoran Civil war, who has seen Cubans cry at just the mention of Castro’s name, whose father’s best friend is from Chile, whose mother’s close friend is from Nicaragua, a Latina whose best friends are Mexican. I, apparently know a lot less about Latin American Politics than this white male who has lived in the same city all his life, who insults people, who puts minorities down and claims to fight for them. Apparently, in eight weeks you can learn about a whole culture, an entire group of nations.

I am not saying that all people that identify as woke are bad. I am sure there are good ones. But after the sexism and racism I experienced at the hands of this guy, I just can’t trust white people that claim they are “woke”. One night, after he had offended me I tweeted about how I could not stand people that claim they’re progressive but are actually racist and sexist. I did not mention any names but less than three minutes later, he texted me asking if he had been racist or sexist to me. All I can say is when you have to ask, you already know.

When I confronted this guy about how he was making me feel he told me to send him my complaint in writing. Yes. That’s right, in writing. Did I mention this guy is a resident director at our school? He claims he asked me to send him my complaints in writing because “I’m used to getting feedback from work in written form.” When I told him he obviously did not care about how he made me feel, he told me “not to offend him” that “I could not say what he did or did not care about.” He made himself the victim and claimed me pointing out his passive aggressive and aggressive racism was unfair to him. He said I had no right to complain to him like that. He said just because I “thought” he was being aggressive towards me did not mean I could be rude to him. Keep in mind, I did not offend him, I merely told him how he made me feel but there were no insults thrown. I did not even call him a racist or a sexist. The lesson here? I never trust someone that says they’re woke, progressive etc. a lot. It’s never really true in my experience. There’s always a sense of a savior complex, a sense of superiority involved. At least, that’s what this experience has taught me.”


Why does this happen? Why is that while you are trying to change the narrow-minded view of the world,  you are becoming the exact same way just with different ideas? Why do I feel that I am being oppressed by a new wave of oppressors? I know you are trying to change the mindset, to challenge the stereotypes, to call for the abolishment of injustice and I agree with you all there. But why are you making me and others feel that we have to accept your whole agenda or we can’t be a part of the movement?

I grew up living in this weird middle ground and once again I find myself there. I agree with the core ideas, but I cannot stand with people who shame others into believing the same things. I can’t stand with people who claim to know my experience, the experience of others when they are preaching and doing the good work.

As an individual, you know what it feels like to be the “Other.”  Let your “Otherness” allow you to really listen. Don’t shove your agenda down our throats, listen to the needs of the community you are fighting for (all of them not just a selected few). Work with the people you claim you want to help. Don’t do it because you think we need your help; do it because you want to. Like my grandfather once said, “Minorites of all kinds have survived years and years of oppression and they are still around and kicking. It was tough, but we are all somehow here. United we overcome anything, divided especially within ourselves we have helped the opposing force win”

**Disclaimer: This is not intended to insult anyone that identifies as woke but to create a conversation about what being “woke” entails. ***

Let’s start a conversation. Do you think is this an occurring issue?


Author: Yelena Bivian

Yelena, most commonly known as Yeli is a proud first-generation Mexican-American student currently enrolled at the University of Redlands as a junior. Her bilingual upbringing motivated her to pursue a double major in English Literature and Spanish as well as a minor in Philosophy. Influenced by her community, Yelena aspires to go into publishing and pursue writing.

When she isn’t drowning in essays or partaking in philosophical debates, she enjoys reading, listening to music too loud for her ears, running and working out.


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