Of African-American origin, it described in its formative usage a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and, possibly more so, racial justice. ‘Stay woke’ means having a continuing awareness of these issues.
But, as with many terms which have their genesis in ideas and actions which are good and on the right track, this little word has become huge in its usage and thereby abused and exaggerated in its ownership and application, often with ridiculous results which, in the long term, will cause nothing but damage.
Many jumped on the shiny bandwagon of virtue-signalling while doing nothing of value themselves. It has been picked up by those self-absorbed snowflakes (they melt when the heat comes on) who feel unsafe and needy despite being surrounded by relative privilege.
By the end of the last decade, ‘woke’ had developed into more common usage as a generic slang term and people can be forgiven for defining it as ‘excessive political correctness’.
Woke has become the totem of those who champion ‘rights for all’ without paying a moment’s attention to encouraging co-relative responsibilities. It is as if the right they champion the most is their indelible right to be offended. In one of the great displays of pompous self-regard and blind and inconsiderate self-importance, they not only believe their view is the only one that matters but they expect, nay demand, that those who make and apply the rules do it their way, often destroying careers and causing great distress as, in one way or another, our society slowly and inexorably falls victim to the creeping ascendancy of Woke.
Some examples border on the farcical.
Sombreros have been banned from parties on university campuses because of ‘cultural appropriation’ and Marks and Spencer’s withdrew from sale a sandwich containing Gentleman’s Relish because ... wait for it ... it could be considered sexist.
But some examples are more worrying and capable of causing far-reaching societal damage going forward. Clare Foges in The Times (to whom I am grateful for this and the above examples) reports on the tax expert Maya Forstater, who lost her case for unfair dismissal after being sacked because she tweeted that transgender people are unable to change their biological sex. The judge gave the verdict that stating the facts about the XX and XY chromosomes is ‘an approach not worthy of respect in a democratic society’.
And then there is the case of the £1m. scholarships for ‘poor white British boys from disadvantaged homes’, offered by 96-year-old Professor Sir Bryan Thwaites because they did worse at school than almost every other ethnic group, turned down by Dulwich College and Winchester College because, inter alia, it would harm their reputations. Yet Stormzy, the rap star, established Cambridge University Scholarships exclusively for black British students with no problem at all. Trevor Philips, the excellent former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality on whose board and under whom I had the privilege to serve, said: ‘The 2010 Equality Act was not constructed purely to favour people of colour; it was designed to ensure equality and in this case the disadvantaged, under-represented group happened to be white.’
Sir Bryan was a scholarship boy at Dulwich and Winchester; I was a scholarship boy at Bromsgrove. We can both testify to just what a great education can do for kids who would never have had access to the whole wonderful world ‘out there’ without such a ‘leg up’. Stormzy’s actions were on the right track, but so were Sir Bryan’s. The powers-that-be at two of the nation’s great public schools were ‘woked’, and ran for cover rather than bring their hugely talented and resourced guns to bear on any objections and thus give that leg-up and change lives for the better.
To those marvellous universities in Bristol and Cambridge currently under fire for having benefited centuries ago from the donations and endowments of slave-traders I would say ‘put your money and resource into opening, paying for and inspiring first-class education establishments in those countries still blighted by the myriad and misunderstood effects of slavery rather than seeking directly to compensate possible or definite descendants of slaves’. Nothing will actually get done when consciences may be salved but the questions become too hard to answer as wokeness wins.
Where would compensation go exactly? Who would and who would not benefit? What about the West African tribal chiefs who sold neighbouring captured tribes to the traders? What about the courageous women and men who took on the establishment and got the disgusting business finally abolished in the 1840s? Can we have just a modicum of recognition for the UK and its Royal Navy that imposed a worldwide ban on slave trading from 1807 onwards, long before virtually every other country on Earth?
Oh, and while we’re at it, will there be any compensation for the land grab, aka the Dissolution of the Monasteries, in the 1530s? And when will the Italian Government pay reparations for what the Romans did to us?
I know that common sense is sadly not that common, but as our new decade gets under way I do hope we will see those in authority, from government ministers to vice-chancellors, from council leaders to chief constables, from company CEOs to media bosses, girding their loins and fighting back against the dangers of absurdly excessive political correctness, against the dangers of hijacked woke.