What’s wrong with ‘woke’?

The Philly Pride flag, explained

The traditional rainbow flag and the new, woke “progress” variant

The perfect flag

Who doesn’t feel joy when a rainbow appears? It represents the light returning after darkness and stands for ‘all colors under the sun’. With ‘happy’ being a literal meaning of ‘gay’, the slightly kitsch color scheme of the rainbow was naturally embraced by the multicolored extravaganza that makes up the LHBTQ community.

But despite this festive, universally recognizable symbol, some people in the community didn’t feel represented enough. And so the rainbow flag was redesigned, with a brown/pink/white arrow squeezing itself in between the lines. On this new “progress-flag”,  apparently, some groups are more equal than others.

Ironically, this is what makes the new flag the perfect symbol for everything that is wrong with ‘woke’. A wonderful ideal and universal principle, increasingly divided by a small group of annoying attention seekers. What went wrong?

This article is an updated and slightly adapted version
of it’s Dutch-language predecessor published here.

Johannes Hogebrink is an artist/filmmaker. He graduated as a documentary director from the Dutch National Film Academy in 2010 and made his debut with the film “The Flying Dog” in 2018.

He also paints and makes sand sculptures all over the world. For more of his work, see www.johannez.nl

Johannes Hogebrink en wat er mis is met woke

The end does not justify the means

‘Woke’ means ‘awake’ and stands for ‘awareness’. The movement strives for more justice and equality in society. Every sane person naturally supports these principles. To this end, every form of racism, discrimination, injustice and oppression must be eradicated. No one can argue with that either. The only real dispute is about the designated cause of all these injustices, and how they should be tackled. For instance, while some woke activists love to point out ‘micro-aggressions’ on the one hand, they aggressively ‘cancel’ anyone who does not fully adhere to the exact same values on the other. ‘That’s not activism,’ Obama famously said.

Opponents of ‘woke’ use such extreme examples to disqualify the entire movement, while proponents use the ideals to justify the extremes, and often disregard any criticism by labeling it as ‘far right‘. These are both fallacies that pollute the debate. Because this debate is about genuine, complex issues that deserve an adequate approach, it is crucial to separate sense from nonsense.

‘I feel unsafe therefor I am’

Safety is important in any society. But the woke movement developed a tendency to classify any undesirable emotion as ‘feeling unsafe’. Additionally, whoever caused a feeling of ‘unsafety’, is held responsible for that feeling, regardless of his or her intentions. When the personal experience of the accusing party is regarded as proof-of-fact, it becomes impossible to defend oneself against, for example, accusations of harassment. This makes maintaining hierarchy or raising a controversial subject extremely treacherous.

Despite issuing multiple “trigger warnings” beforehand, an art teacher was fired for showing an ancient image of Muhammad, as soon as a muslim student complained.

‘The right not to be offended’ is an illusion. A free and open society comes with an unavoidable risk of being confronted with utterances and ideas you don’t like. But ‘offense’ is not something that is given, it is ‘taken’: This means that it is a personal choice. After all, unlike with physical violence, anybody can choose to ignore images or words. Learning to deal with uncomfortable confrontations is an inevitable part of growing up in a mixed society. Every woke activist will agree with this when conservatives take offense at a gay parade, for example.

So, emotionally mature people always bear personal responsibility for taking offense. However, this argument is often misrepresented: It does not mean that emotions do not matter! Of course, it remains important to take people’s personal feelings into account. It merely means that personal emotions should not be all-decisive in the judgement of social issues.

‘If people can’t control their own emotions,
then they have to start trying to control other people’s behavior.’

― Robin Skynner


‘Woke’ is very concerned with ‘offensive’ language. Many slurs that are now too offensive to even write, were once commonplace in public debate. Their degeneration into the realm of ‘bad words’ gave them a lot of offensive weight, but it never really solved any issue.

Nowadays, some people argue that the word “women” should be replaced with “people who menstruate .” This only complicates the debate, since trans women were born in the body of a man. The latest hype is to force others to use self-invented ‘neo-pronouns’. Up until now, fortunately, this trend seems to be limited to left-wing students in wealthy western communities. Hopefully, this will blow over because it’s simply practically unworkable. The policing of language only leads to endless discussions about which terms are most politically correct. Useless linguistic monstrosities are cooked up, while actual issues remain unresolved.

When ‘offense’ becomes the defining factor in debate, the biggest offense-taker wins the biggest stage. Rewarding the offended unleashes a vicious circle-jerk of bickering. A serious exchange of ideas becomes impossible, because anything considered ’triggering’ is avoided like the plague. Various comedians, writers and professors have experienced this ‘cancel culture’ firsthand. People who dare to speak up without belonging to an oppressed minority group, often hear this fact being used as an ad-hominem against them.

However, especially sensitive and controversial topics should be openly discussed. Arguments should be judged on their content, not on the words chosen to express them, nor on the speaker’s social classification.

The bad guys

Discrimination starts when people are divided into groups, and the perceived characteristics of that group are projected onto every individual in that group. Often ‘the patriarchy‘ is pointed out as the main culprit for many social mishaps. ’Straight white men’ are over-represented in positions of power, and cases of abuse of power are therefore most often committed by white straight males. But is that because they are white/male/straight, or because they simply form the largest group in the Western world? 

It is also no secret that women are more likely to choose raising children over a career. Could this simply be because they are, contrary to men, biologically much better equipped for that? Nobody can raise this obvious truth without being instantly executed for being a sexist. But differences in biology, religion and culture influence differences in individual career choices worldwide. Principally there is nothing wrong with that.

However, according to the woke movement these differences are the result of ‘systematic oppression’. They demand a revolution for ‘radical equity’, ignoring the effects of natural differences. Of course, harmful biases still exist and need to be addressed. But it’s not like white straight men have some monopoly on bigotry. Prejudices can be found within every group, towards every other group of people.

That’s where the double standards of ‘woke’ appear. When muslim women open up about rampant misogyny and abuse within their own Islamic community, the silence on the woke-left is deafening. They’d rather defend the right to wear a hijab than to defend the women who are dying for their right to take it off, because that story doesn’t fit their narrative of an innocent minority being victimized by bad, white oppressors. 

On the contrary, acknowledging that there may be something amiss within some aspects of the Islamic community opens up the door to a different explanation for their social disadvantage, other than simply ‘white racism’.

This kind of hypocrisy drives lots of people towards right-wing populism. Despite the fact that they offer no real constructive answers either, at least there the topic can be discussed.

Toxicity sells

Toxic masculinity‘ is the term for all male ‘macho behavior’ that leads to sexism, (sexual) abuse of power and to insecurity in others. This is a real social problem that deserves te be addressed. But men are not the only ones displaying ’toxic’ behavior, women are also fully capable of being toxic: not only towards men, but also towards each other. But you’ll never hear the woke complain about ‘toxic femininity‘, and people who try to raise it are quickly accused of ‘victim blaming’.

“Believe All Women!” was a slogan of the #Metoo movement – an understandable reaction to the many female abuse victims who felt they were not being taken seriously. But people seemed to forget that sometimes women can also make purposefully false allegations, as the world recently witnessed in Amber Heard’s fake tears. Toxic behavior is a universally human trait, and unfortunately a very popular one, as it generates outrage and guarantees attention.

Perhaps that’s why ‘toxic-woke’ continues to claim the biggest stage. The ensuing internal struggle, with allegations of “transphobia” flying back and forth, is gratefully exploited by Russian ’troll farms’, who are happy to add fuel to the fire by flooding social media with fake ‘woke memes’. Fact-checking remains crucial, regardless of what side you are on.

Woke swamp

A more just, more inclusive, more equal and less polluting society is broadly supported. A new puritanical, dogmatic tyranny in which every unfavorable opinion or slightest fallibility gets crusified, is not.

Throughout history, many attempts have been made to achieve social change by outlawing words, by ‘cancelling’ art, by banning books or by silencing voices. But tyranny never brings about justice. Claiming exclusivity does not achieve more inclusiveness. You don’t fight racism by judging people on the color of their skin. 

That is what wrong with woke.

Any movement that is unable to contain its extremes, will eventually drown in its own swamp. Some people within the woke movement start to realize this. Professor Loretta J. Ross calls it “Calling out the call out culture“. For this she received lots of heat, which sadly only proves her point. But not to worry, when the woke movement sinks into its own swamp, all those beautiful ideals will resurface by themselves. Like a rainbow after a thunderstorm.

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