Woke & #OnFleek: the merit of “clicktivism”

“I’m a vers queer, gender neutral, intersectional feminist who believes that masc, fem, gay, black, women, immigrants, trans and everything in-between have a right to love and be love! LABELS DON’T DEFINE US, OUR HUMILTY DOES! If you don’t get it, ask me about it or move on.”
— From a new friend’s bio on Jack’d.

While hanging out with this particular friend, he seemed very confused by the fact that I am from a country called South Africa because he thought Africa was a country and not a continent; it was also a surprise to him that the United States was, in fact, a country and not a continent.

“Is Canada a continent?” he asked, to which I replied, “No, Canada and the U.S. are both on a continent called North America.” #MindBlown

I didn’t want to insult his intelligence; heaven knows, he seemed to be on a quest for knowledge and truth, and more importantly, justice — “woke,” in short. I failed to understand, however, how someone could throw around big concepts like “intersectional feminist” on social media, but lack pretty basic geographical knowledge, especially about the country of their birth.

I am not saying that my buddy doesn’t actually grasp the difference between “white privilege” and “racial supremacy,” but it is really a statement of the times we live in when being woke is #OnFleek and youth are able to (fairly) critique “transracialism” in blog posts faster than recalling the name of Rihanna’s current chart position.

“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained.”
— Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. from a Birmingham jail in 1963

In the wake of the 40th Anniversary of King’s assassination, I stumbled on this paragraph from a letter he wrote reflecting on the social climate leading to the civil rights protests of the 1960s — on Facebook, of course. He suggested that revolt was inevitable, natural even: an effect of atrocities caused to a suffering people.

This gave me a new perspective on the so-called trend of “wokeness”: It is the “yearning for freedom” that King speaks of manifesting itself.

In recent months, I’ve had the privilege to engage several civil rights movement leaders on the current political climate, including King’s right-hand man, Bernard LaFayette Jr. All of them seem wary about this new wave of pro-black protest — particularly the efforts of #BlackLivesMatter. Their main criticism is that these movements lack foresight.

Black Panthers Founder Bobby Seale said at a D.C. discussion of his new book last October: “I am a programs person; I don’t care too much for over-intellectualizing. … I want to see Black Lives Matter initiate job programs and feeding schemes.”

While I couldn’t agree more that job programs and feeding schemes are necessary and will assist marginalized communities in the United States, I don’t believe that the impact of such movements is as trivial as many seem to think.

In this climate of pro-black advocacy, we’ve witnessed a substantial decrease in the sale of hair relaxer, plans for reform in a racially biased criminal justice system and a conviction that paves the way for hate speech criminalization — that is, the case of the white Georgia couple who were criminally charged for waving a Confederate flag and shotgun at a black child’s birthday party.

It’s a shame that my new friend, as a product of an inferior education system, is not able to distinguish between certain countries and continents, but I am enthused by his thoughts on intersectionality and feminism. His calls of social justice have not gone ignored, evidently. In fact, his protest might just lead to a better education for future generations of marginalized youth.

While there may not be a concrete plan in place for feeding the underprivileged and housing the homeless, these continued public calls for justice might just lead to such grand schemes. I mean, they have certainly got us talking about it: #BlackLivesMatter has appeared on Twitter 12 million times so far.

As African-American nationalist and civil rights movement leader Malcolm X put it:

“The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.”

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