Go Back To Bed: When Being “Too Woke” Goes Wrong And Makes It A Struggle To Get Through The Work Day
As I write this I’m approaching the end of the work week that I am very much looking forward to. Working at a sexual and reproductive health non-profit, political correctness is pretty much work place policy and many of us find ourselves walking on eggshells to use language that makes everyone feel included and safe. E-mail signatures list preferred pronouns, pregnancy announcements are carefully worded to eliminate any implications of gender bias or stereotyping. Water cooler conversations about politics and culture can easily go left since so many are hyper aware and easily offended by questions that may be unintentionally harmful in nature but still make people feel unsafe and degraded. And the word “micro-aggression” is thrown around more than chest sweat at a Trey Songz concert. So a week ago when two African-American employees were terminated, I knew it was only a matter of time that the race card would be played despite the fact that the situation probably had little to do with skin color.
I get it. In a “Number 45” kind of country racists feel emboldened, and many of us whether we are black, white and in between find ourselves combing American culture with a fine toothed comb, dissecting, debating and plucking every nit with the hint of oppression. Many of us are in crisis mode, and almost all of us are on high alert, now questioning if the white guy who rushes on to the elevator and doesn’t hold the door for you is a closet racist or just plain rude. But within all of this, for myself, self-care is key. I can only have so many conversations about black struggle. I don’t want every person I encounter who is a card-carrying member of Club Privilege to now go out of their way to make sure I feel respected and included. I don’t want to sit through staff meetings where white people feel the need to dedicate five minutes to applaud “people of color” for coming to work through the “tragedy” of losing two of our own. While many of us seek solidarity in faces that look similar to our own in the climate of this country, that doesn’t mean all brown people are suddenly BFF’s and that doesn’t mean we are so blinded by oppression and struggle to see that when you violate company policies or are just plain bad at your job, sometimes you get fired and it doesn’t mean that those people will pass go and go straight to a discrimination lawsuit. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to not view everything through the lens of racism when people are telling you that you should be offended by everything from a Dove commercial to an Eminem cypher.
And here’s where being woke goes wrong: In a world where everyone is becoming increasingly easily offended, it seems to me that people think that every hurt feeling, every brick of constructive criticism or every time someone doesn’t celebrate who they are and what they do that they are suddenly all-star players on Team Oppression. While it’s not my place to determine who has the more difficult struggle, admittedly when everyone is running around crying “discrimination” it can be easy to lose sight of what actual injustice looks like. While Jane from accounting probably could use some cultural competency when throwing out comments like, “I’m sure LaQuita can pick up the fried chicken for the company pot luck,” it’s not exactly the same as when my husband and his team walked into his former job’s headquarters and were greeted with a noose hanging from the rafters. As offensive as both of these things are, I do believe in choosing your battles if not for the sake of prioritizing change in our country but for our own peace of mind. If we stage a march every time Jane from white suburbia says something crazy, we run the chance of exhausting ourselves before when the real fight presents itself.
As further proof of the fact that some people need to go back to bed, The Root recently reported findings of a new poll by GenForward that states when it comes to millennials, results show that 48 percent of white millennials think discrimination against whites is as bad as it is against blacks, in line with their older peers. Yep, you heard me: Kennedy from marketing, the edgy white girl with royal blue bangs, a tragus piercing and a degree in Unicorn Psychology can relate to your everyday struggle in racism and oppression because she believes she’s experiencing the same damn thing. The study, “The ‘Woke’ Generation” taken Aug. 31 to Sept. 16, 2017 also revealed although millennials as a group are often classified as tolerant and diverse, the study showed that when it comes to specifics, the differences are pretty wide between races:
“There is some agreement on racism being a major problem facing the country. Of all the groups sampled—African American, Asian American, Latinx and white millennials—all noted that racism is one of the most important problems in the U.S., but it is not clear what each group’s (or individual’s, for that matter) definition of racism may be.”
A National Review article by David French published last year sounds all too familiar to conversations I’ve shared with my sister this past week venting about feeling like I can’t be myself at work because folks are so easily offended. The article questions why millennials are so obsessed with political correctness and the conflict that they seem to send about labels being unnecessary asks divisive only to be quick to remind folks of the language they choose to use. He says what we’re witnessing is a generation of “special snowflakes” who were raised to believe their comfort, happiness and safety are the world’s priority:
“The upper-middle-class American style of parenting is creating a generation of children who are trained from birth to believe three things: first, that the central goals of life are success and emotional well-being; second, that the child’s definitions of success and emotional well-being are authoritative; and third, that parents and other authority figures exist to facilitate the child’s desires.”
He goes on to say that children from previous generations were raised to believed that struggle builds strength and that even though everyone won’t necessarily like or understand you, it doesn’t make them wrong:
“My parents’ priority was building character, not maintaining my happiness. They wanted to raise a child who would love God and live by the Golden Rule. So I had to learn that I wasn’t the center of the universe. I had to learn that I was often wrong. And I had to learn the daily courage necessary to confront and overcome problems on my own, without constantly appealing to a higher earthly authority for aid and comfort.”
French believes ultimately when comfort is the priority, millennials will ultimately be disappointed by holding on to the belief they can think piece the world into giving a damn about micro-aggressions and intersectionality :
“But it cannot last. Life is too hard, and authority figures are ultimately too weak to guarantee enduring joy and success. So the aggressively fragile generation will face a choice: either greater anger and aggression as they desperately flail for the utopia that can never come, or a rediscovery of the virtues that enable perseverance.”
What is one woman’s, “Don’t Touch My Hair” moment is another woman’s March on Washington. But to be honest in a world where trauma is delivered on the daily to American people with every Trump tweet, I don’t have the energy to stage a revolution every time someone says something stupid. Am I becoming numb to the regular reminders of racism that are presently our reality? Probably but sometimes it’s easier for me to shut Jane down with a simple, “No I don’t know how to cornrow because I’m black. We all don’t braid hair,” than have a whole staff meeting about cultural competency that ends with all of us joining hands in song for, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Because the truth is sometimes I just want to work on this PowerPoint and listen to a Breakfast Club interview while I work, without being reminded that the world can be a sucky place for black people, and apparently for white millennials too.
I don’t want to raise a daughter who allows herself to be disrespected by people in the attempt to avoid conversations that are inconvenient are uncomfortable but I also don’t want her to be destined for an adulthood full of PTSD and therapy because people failed to memorize the 57 page instruction guide on what respect and safety look like for her specifically. And I fear younger millennials are isolating themselves from enjoying great interactions with people who regularly stumble through political correctness. I think a fair amount of folks in the world make a decent effort to be respectful to all people, but I also believe the world has never been accommodating and comfortable for all people at all times and probably never will be. I don’t want my daughter’s strength, spirit or resilience to be crushed when she was realizes that isn’t the case.
Do you think people being “too woke” is resulting in over-sensitivity?
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.