I woke up to a Facebook message from my ex and soon found myself absorbing a fascinating video by Ayishat Akanbi on ‘The Problem with Wokeness’. Her rhetoric pulled me out of bed and into the power of her logic. Upon replying with profound delight, I was startled to learn that Holland had been bullied into deleting a public post by a former college friend who had taken offence to Akanbi’s message. In that moment I knew Akanbi was cooking with the good oil.
I get it. What right does a straight white male have to weigh in on this conversation. Well I would argue that I am a human being first and foremost. Someone who has overcome deep-seated insecurities to arrive at my present and yearns for love and acceptance from my community at large.
Akanbi has the midas touch when it comes to putting these desperately complex issues into bite-size antidotes. Quick to discount any notions of grandiosity, she talks of her own past and the work she’s done to overcome former hurdles. “I only know what I know and have the insight that I have because I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I interrogate those mistakes.”
Circling around the limitations of wokeness, she speaks to the ever-growing power of identity politics, of minorities carving out their own stake online. In her view, digital interaction has become akin to a high school canteen, “people choosing who they’re going to sit with and who can’t sit with us and who can speak on this and who can’t speak on this."
With this in mind Akanbi references the dangers of Oppression Olympics, of entrenched minorities vying to out-do each other by shouting down the competition with their unique tales of injustice at the hands of privilege. What Akanbi makes plain is that if these groups used their voice to share their feelings in place of politics, they might just realize that they have more in common than they think.
Akanbi underwrites her whole philosophy with the power of empathy, dispelling the notion of WHAT we are in favour of WHO we are. What I love about Akanbi’s frankness is that it reinforces the golden rule. Anyone can be better if they’re willing to put in the time, to hold their actions accountable and free themselves from their limitations. To know yourself is to have agency over your future and as Akanbi notes; “If we are more understanding of at least ourselves it’s so hard to judge other people.”