On my radar: Woke to wide awake

2017-12-03 01:06
US President Donald Trump. (Anthony Wallance/Pool Photo via AP)

US President Donald Trump. (Anthony Wallance/Pool Photo via AP)

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We all thought that 2016 was a particularly punishing year. So much so that, when it eventually came to an end, people named it “the year we don’t talk about” on social media.

Well, if 2016 was punishing, then 2017 must rank as insanely fast and furious – so fast we could barely catch our breath, and furious because so much anger was unleashed.

I sense that 2017 will be remembered as a pivotal year. It was a year that began with the new Donald Trump administration in the US, and ended with the long-awaited end to Robert Mugabe’s grip on Zimbabwe.

So much changed (and radically so) in between those two events – politically, economically and socially – that it lays the ground for an altered landscape in 2018. If 2017 was the year of being “woke”, then 2018 is all about being wide awake.

This year can be summed up as one massive identity crisis – or rather, multiple crises of identities. It was a year when suppressed issues of racial, gender and cultural identity finally came to the fore – an airing of very dirty laundry, if you will.

South Africa is never short of racial spats waiting to happen, and 2017 felt like a never-ending roll-out of ugly incidents that went viral after being captured on social media. It was a bumper year for twars and open season for trolls. Corporate businesses, restaurant chains and unwoke cosmetic brands got caught in the crossfire and were forced to take a crash course in the business of being woke.

With issues of race come issues of cultural identity. From protests about hair at high schools to a global anti-Islamophobia movement (just one of five global movements spawned single-handedly by Trump), cultural identity was thrust into the spotlight – either through the fierce protection of one’s culture or the calling out of those who ambled thoughtlessly into the minefield of cultural appropriation.

The recent launch of an Asian-fusion restaurant in Johannesburg, called Misohawni (pronounced “me so horny”), unleashed a fast and furious social-media backlash, forcing the owners to quickly rename the restaurant.

What might seem like a storm in a social-media teacup illustrates perfectly the mood of 2017 and what’s to come in 2018. The unwoke restaurateurs thought they had come up with a “humorous” name for their new restaurant. Instead, they were accused of cultural appropriation, racial stereotyping and, most importantly, the degradation of women. The phrase “me so horny” refers to the movie Full Metal Jacket, in which American soldiers are propositioned by a Vietnamese prostitute during the Vietnam War. Ever since the movie’s release, the phrase has been used as a derogatory cat call to Asian women around the world.

In another year, this incident might have just slipped under the radar, but it comes off the back of another issue that will only gain more momentum in 2018, that of male sexual aggression and impropriety, which was brought to light with the #MeToo movement that started with Harvey Weinstein but has since spread across the globe.

A new world order is crystallising

The undercurrents to the #MeToo movement are important. Trump also inadvertently kick-started a global neofeminist movement.

The ripple effect manifested in not only the establishment of women-only clubs and a sharp rise in women entering politics, but also the emergence of the word ‘women’ spelt ‘womxn’ or ‘womyn’. The respelling is a statement that women no longer wish to be defined by men. Users of this spelling argue that, in our patriarchal societies, men are the “norm” and women a mere subcategory of the “norm” of men.

Add to this emerging issues surrounding gender fluidity, and the well of complexity just becomes deeper. Already 52% of American Gen Zs do not identify as heterosexual or cisgender (a person whose personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex), which has exposed a complex and nuanced world of gender and sexual orientation subsects.

The movie title It’s Complicated will be an apt description of 2018.

In hindsight, the hapless owners of Misohawni stepped on not one, but all three identity issues of gender, race and culture. Responding to the social-media ruckus, their supporters didn’t (and couldn’t) see what the fuss was all about. And therein lies the problem.

Just as many white South Africans aren’t able to grasp the concept of their privilege, so too will the identity-blind continue to belittle the outrage when these issues are sparked.

“It’s political correctness gone mad,” they will argue. But they fail to see the bigger picture.

Whether it’s turbulent politics, economic inequality, or rapidly shifting social norms that are reacting to social injustice, a new world order is crystallising. It has been for many years.

We’re in the process of unlearning, and it’s a difficult process. It can even be painful, if you’re set in your ways.

But if we’re unlearning misogyny, sexual misconduct, bigotry, racism and homophobia (for a start), then it should not be viewed as “politically correct” but simply, “correct”.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit fluxtrends.com

Read more on:    donald trump  |  sexual abuse

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