Let’s make “woke” the next big thing. Just as how being a racist is being phased out and shunned by the majority of the population, being woke — educating yourself of world problems not exclusive to your ethnicity and interests — should be the unspoken requirement for being a decent human being in the 21st century.
UC Berkeley has a reputation for being one of the most politically active and “woke” universities in the world, but frankly, the vast majority of the student body doesn’t demonstrate this political or social interest as we lack the time to validate this interest through our actions. This campus has become markedly less woke since the 1960s. Despite similar facing civil right issues then as we do now, these divisions result from three main reasons: divisions among political and social causes, disproportionate apathy from certain ethnicities and prominence of partisan mass media.
Unfortunately, there is a divisiveness among the student body based on political and social causes. Mostly white College of Natural Resources students advocate for fossil fuel divestment and environmental justice. Black students fight for civil rights. Chicanos work against deportation and immigration issues. Vegans protest meat consumption. While each cause deserves attention from student groups, many fail to recognize the intersections of political and social causes. They lack understanding of intersectionality and how it applies to our generation as cultures merge and evolve through time. Instead, many students promote solely their political or social cause of choice, sometimes even asserting that theirs is superior to all others.
To eradicate this division in the student body, we must reframe campus activism under the terms of intersectionality. Intersectionality acknowledges and addresses the various layers of social categorizations of an individual or group. Without intersectionality, it becomes easier to restrict individuals to support one cause. For example, a black, vegan businessman may be viewed as a traitor for indulging in vegan foods, which are acknowledged as a white invention and indicate — to an extent — one’s socioeconomic status, rather than black culture’s meat-based dishes. The same businessman man may be judged by the vegan community as a hypocrite for perpetuating capitalism given that the root of most environmental atrocities stem from mass-manufactured and monetized foods. Inadvertently, because of pre-existing divisions of class, race and gender, political and social causes lose diversity simply because of the labels affixed to each cause. In the end, the support base of each political or social cause is homogenized: Most vegans and/or environmentalists are white and from upper-middle class backgrounds, most feminists are white and undermine the problems female underrepresented minorities face, and most LGBTQIA+ supporters are liberal Millennials.
Another reason we don’t see nearly as much activity on campus is the lack of political and social activism from the largest percentage of the student body. There’s a pervasive but implied understanding among college students that Asians and Asian Americans are notoriously politically inactive on campuses nationwide. Though Asians and Asian Americans constitute 45 percent of U.C. Berkeley’s undergraduate population, I have rarely seen Asians or Asian Americans participate in the protests that have occurred the past year. Despite the heavy presence of Asians and Asian Americans at UC Berkeley, the likelihood of seeing one in a protest, from personal experience, is highly unlikely. While generalizations are problematic in many ways and overlook the complicated effects of race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc., I believe this pattern of apathy warrants attention. This isn’t anti-yellow sentiment in any way but a call to action for more of my classmates of Asian descent to participate and voice their concerns for justice more openly.
The prominence of mass media further dissuades people from learning about the world. I, too, am a victim of this. I hate scrolling down depressing news articles and videos on my Facebook feed, because the world seems like a place that is impossible to fix. Stubborn politicians impede the passing of legislation that can benefit thousands of lives while innocent lives are lost in unnecessary wars or in the hands of police brutality. With the emergence of thousands of new mass media outlets, people, especially the youth, become either uninformed, rejecting the idea of keeping up with current news because of its partisanship, or malinformed, believing every statement a mass media outlet makes without listening to the other side of every story. Although a portion of the Internet has engaged some of our generation in activism through platforms such as GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Facebook, the negative impact of mass media overshadows the positive.
People are giving up. When they choose not to educate themselves of the events occurring and shaping the present and future and sleep on the importance of intersectionality, they unknowingly hand their power to those they feared most — the people already ruining the country and manipulating mass media to their own liking and gain. It’s time for people to wake up and face the fact that unless we recognize these divides among our student body, we won’t achieve anything long-term. We need to wake up. We need to be woke.
Lauren Ahn writes the Friday blog on inedible nourishment. Contact her at [email protected].