Are you woke or just awake?
How and why society is learning to be socially sensitive and aware
By: Jadyn Sims
In a time of social media, social awareness and political correctness, it has become a trend for companies, brands, celebrities, even “ordinary” people to take a stance on issues going on in the world.
The “woke” that is used in today’s context emerged during the tragic incidents involving young Black Americans and police brutality. The birth of the BLM Movement ignited a fire of activism towards injustice and fight for equality, and also brought about “woke culture”. Nowadays, it’s expected, especially of companies and celebrities, to use their power and voice to (hopefully) stand against injustice. Just in the past year, following the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd, companies and brands such as Target, Netflix, Nike, to name a few, have been very active in being inclusive.
Target is one of those few companies that has been consistent with being an inclusive brand, internally and externally. Selling Black owned products, featuring PRIDE attire for the LGTBQ+ community, including people with disabilities in campaigns and advertisements, they are a great example on how to be inclusive on all spectrums. For Target, it’s not a trend but a way of living. They recognize that their employees and consumers are not a one-size-fits-all population.
Even in the midst of the protests during the George Floyd murder, when a store in Minneapolis was demolished, they came out with a statement still supporting #BlackLivesMatter and even issued a more personalized statement to Target employees across the nation. When being fake “woke” comes into question, Target doesn’t belong in the answer. Their beliefs have been consistent from beginning to present.
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For others, it took a little longer to catch on to the trend. Some even did a complete 180-degree turn. When Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling during the National Anthem, fans and the league were outraged. Voted the most disliked player in the league in 2016, he ended up losing his title as professional quarterback and has since been kept out of the league. But still, athletes of every sport continued their silent protest. Other celebrities that would typically show their love for the sport started voicing their grievances. Many celebrities, like Jay-Z, Cardi B and Rihanna, have rejected offers to perform at the Superbowl. Rihanna stating that she “couldn’t be sellout…an enabler.” Flash forward to 2019, the NFL sets up a private workout specifically for Colin. This sparked some controversy because this late blooming choice to include Colin felt nothing more than a marketing or publicity move. They are still currently struggling to re-brand lengths like committing $250 million to combat systemic racism in 2020, right after the George Floyd murder.
Fake woke. It almost would’ve been better if the NFL had just kept doing what they were doing, minded their business. But once you get involved, you can’t ignore it. They messed up, and they know they did. Now they are scrambling to make it better, but you can’t put a band aid over a bullet wound. Well, you could, but it wouldn’t be very efficient.
Even more than with sports or retail companies, celebrities being vocal about social issues is so important. There is a sort of disconnected relationship that is established between fans and celebrities through social media. Celebrities are ultimately influencers. When chaos is consuming the world, whether it be human or environmentally based, the last thing people want to see is celebrities like Kim Kardashian, as an example, on a trip to Bali when the Amazon is up in flames. “Read the room” has become a resurfaced phrase that is said on a daily basis by and to everyone. Because it’s true. How detached could a person be to practically disregard the turmoil in the world? People like relatability and personability, they like to know that people they look up to are just as ordinary. What’s really synthetic is when a celebrity only feels obligated to speak on an issue when pressured by fans. Sure, it’s their media, they should be able to do and post what they please, but what’s worse than being silent is being deceptive.
At the end of the day, no one is holding companies or celebrities by the neck and forcing them to pick a side on issues going on in the world. Everyone has opinions. But when having an opinion or not having an opinion is affecting business or brand, then it seems imperative to do what’s necessary, even if that means hopping on the trend of being woke, genuinely or not genuinely. Being vocal is taking a stance, but so is being silent. Silence in trying times is detrimental to a company or celebrity, even an everyday citizen. Therefore, being “woke” and vocal is the best, and sometimes, the last option.
About the author: Jadyn Sims in a student at the University of Texas Mayborn school of Journalism studying journalism with a focus in public relations. She will graduate in December 2021 and aspires to work in government relations.
This material was written for and provided by AGENZ PR, a student-led PR firm specializing in matters of diversity, inclusion, and the Gen Z perspective. AGENZ teams are comprised of PR students from the University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism, all of whom are dedicated to providing clients with insightful and digitally innovative work products to enhance business practices. Students learn and excel by getting hands-on, professional experience in the public relations industry.