An Open Letter To The Woke.
Let’s see if we can’t get to the bottom of this.
Forgive me for beginning so abruptly, but what you’re most confused about is who you are. This isn’t an attack, just a fact. I mean go ahead, who are you? Can you express it in words? Exactly. You have a name and family. Maybe you have a job. You look a certain way. Your genitals have a certain…character. You have beliefs and doubts, hopes and aspirations. And deep down you know none of that really touches the truth of you. Stop me if I’m getting any of this wrong.
So anyway, because you’re confused about who you are, and because you realise that none of the things on this or any other checklist can possibly get to the heart of who you are, you try to make one of the things into something more important than it is. You turn insignificant details into centrepieces in your identity.
Your gender, your beliefs, the colour of your skin. Instead of remaining small, peripheral aspects of your splendour as they should, you convince yourself that they actually say something about you. You might even meet other people who are similarly confused. Together you encourage each other to step deeper into this delusion. You give each other a sense of belonging. These little details come to define your sense of self so completely that you can’t understand who anybody who shares them can think differently to you. “They must be confused,” you tell yourself. They might be, of course, lots of people are confused about lots of things, but we’re talking about you here.
Where was I? Oh yes, now that you’ve confused your characteristics with yourself, it begins to feel as if anybody who’s questioning them is attacking you. Not an aspect of you, but you at your core. You’re clear that discrimination based on these characteristics is wrong, we can all agree on that, but recognising that they should be irrelevant doesn’t feel right either. How can they be irrelevant if they’re you? You become trapped in a loop where these immutable characteristics are simultaneously the most important thing about you, and something you wish people would stop focusing on. If they stop focusing on them, what are you? If they continue to focus on them, you continue to be “othered”.
You get even more confused because you try to apply the same faulty logic to other people. You behave as if everyone who belongs to a different group thinks the same way or has the same life experience because how else does any of this make sense? White people can’t understand black people. Gay people can’t understand straight people. The left can’t understand the right. You place yourself into these categories and imagine yourself small and limited enough to fit.
But you’re not giving yourself enough credit. You are bigger than any category. We all are. We’re far too much to be contained by labels like man or woman or white or a person of colour or gay or straight or trans or cis. None of these even scratch the surface. You are funny and serious and sensitive and brash and kind and cruel and a thousand other things besides.
In fact, let’s go deeper than the things you had no choice in like your feelings or the colour of your skin or your assigned gender. Maybe it’s uncomfortable to strip these away but don’t worry, they aren’t going anywhere. Let’s continue past the things you hold dear. Let’s recognise that we’re not our ancestors or even our parents. We’re not the way that other people see us. We’re not what happened to us in the past or what might happen in the future. Just look as closely as you can at what you are right now.
Now it goes without saying that I don’t know what you found, but let me suggest that when you look really closely, you find that there’s very little to pin your identity on. You exist. There’s no doubt about that. But you aren’t a fixed thing. You’re open to interpretation. You’re a multitude of paradoxes and contradictions.
Maybe this is why you cling to the incidentals. The things that can be seen and pointed to clearly. Maybe letting go of them feels like letting go of yourself. But at the risk of repeating myself, you’re confused about who you are. The paradoxes and contradictions are you. They’re me too. They’re all of us.
Humans are the wisest, most confused, most beautiful and ugliest creatures in existence. We hate each other for reasons that shouldn’t matter, and the same can be said about why we love each other. So don’t get me wrong, it makes sense that you’re confused about who you are. Just know that we all are. Resist the urge to diminish yourself because of that confusion. And perhaps more importantly, resist the temptation to diminish others.