Home | About | Donate

Belonging and Social Change: A Critique of the Politics of Wokeness


Belonging and Social Change: A Critique of the Politics of Wokeness

Cynthia Kaufman

We are in an amazing and dangerous time, where the chronic social problems which have caused so much trauma over so many years are coming to be seen as urgent and in need of attention by a rapidly increasing number of people. As so many people become “woke” to these problems, it is important that we develop a culture of social change that is ready to hold those people in a positive and supportive community.



One thing we should not expect is for wokeness to come to the majority of the people, who for the most part have been conditioned to revel in willful ignorance. Many very bright people choose to eschew awareness and instead seek distractions of materialism and/or mindless entertainment. Fortunately the critical mass needed to effect change is usually quoted to be between three to five percent of the population. It is important for the awakened souls to learn how to effectively guide the majority through change despite the latter’s reluctance to delve into details. I consider it the mandate of the informed.






Doing that requires an investment of time and energy in building positive caring relationships with others who are also engaged in the effective thoughtful work challenging systems of domination.

I knew hard work in my summer following 7th grade. At that time I grew weary of devoting half of my summers to milking twice a day every day (ideally a nap inbetween). When I’d done it two summers I decided to abandon my “alma mater” of five years just before the third of such summers. Yet when I look back I can at least see we milkers had our youth, and that youth + the schedule (a traditional schedule) made for a sort of positive rhythm.

I can see in healthcare institutions that there once was an esprit de corps + a schedule (work load) that also established a rhythm. I suppose among hands-on staff, with the way inappropriate increase in workload [intensified for profit healthcare], things have become for them like they were for me in what was to have been my 9th grade milking summer. But I also see that their former situation…alert caring people…“rewarded” by a system with jobs in an ongoing established continuity…provided a rhythm too. Just lately, without naming the field, I’ve been real sorry to see the stingy-party pols totally change such a situation around (and the so-called beneficent party just stood around letting it happen).

“The system” may at one time allow a person to develop “caring relationships” with co-workers! Those were the days. These I think…even these…are relationships we should remember if we’re trying to establish same with folks engaged in the effective thoughtful work challenging systems of domination. If we knew them, we were lucky to have had those relationships in the system. But the fact is if the system is now trending at all to disallow them, then it’s becoming a system of domination. Homeostasis in society allows them in labor. Archetypally it has allowed them in labor. At least in my opinion you can measure relative homeostasis in a society by how much it allows/allowed them.

We’re not creating any revolution in social dynamics when we develop these
relationships…even if our group is extra extra extra woke. We’re bringing what’s sane that came before into the movement for change. If we don’t, probably it’ll collapse. For me, I’d say we’ve had enough individuals taking time off for “sing around the note” events. Time to get some group rhythm going again. That’s just me. Even with my own experiences, it’s been a lesson hard to heed.



I recall visiting northern Mexico about three years after the Maquiladora factory explosion in the wake of the “trade agreement” NAFTA. People were living in shacks made from fork-lift pallets; water was a problem, the desperation for jobs exploited beyond belief.

There were community schools utilizing Friere’s concepts. I sat in on a class where about 10 adult women were discussing the problems they were facing and the teacher listened, facilitating with any form math that arose as unfamiliar; any civics questions were addressed with appropriate info on procedure etc. and this across the spectrum of the lives of these women. It was, to me, what a classroom should be. Those women were empowered to continue tackling whatever it was they needed to attend to that day.

1 Like


Excellent, well-written article. Truly helpful. This addresses many issues that I have been thinking about and talking about with my friends and fellow activists, especially in how to deal with what seems like a real need among young activists who are really looking for something but for whom classes on critical race theory or ethnic studies seems to have boxed them into a dead end.
Thank you, Professor Kaufman!!



Professor Kaufman, I would be interested in hearing your opinion about one more factor in holding back political change, a factor that I think may be pivotal. Critical race theory seems to be in some ways the content of “wokeness.” I notice that it does not seem to include an analysis of capitalism. Without an understanding of class, I’m not sure how effective long-term strategy can be. Also CRT doesn’t appear to have a strategy – just a bunch of tactics. Anyway, would be interested in your take on that. Maybe it’s another article. :slight_smile: