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Letter from the Editor
Claire Quan '20 Editor-in-Chief
January 30, 2020

Dear Reader,

We are young at an extremely important time. 

2020: the year where media directs advocacy. 

Know what you are fighting for, not just what you are fighting against.

These are excerpts from this issue’s student editorials, taken, respectively, from our Board members, Mark Chung, and David Chen. I have been impressed — with all five of our issues thus far this year, but particularly with this one — by the perceptiveness and thoughtfulness of our writers. They have noted that current events pertain to our lives, that social media has fundamentally changed the way we process information, that it is important now, more than ever before, to strive for a genuine understanding of the world. 

What our writers have picked up on are concepts our history has proven true. By acknowledging these truths, that understanding correlates directly to media and to advocacy, we can then comprehend the origins of woke culture. Popularized in 2014, “woke” is a political term of African American origin. “Stay woke” is a reminder within the black community, coinciding with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement, that socio-political awareness is a means of survival. 

Woke culture derived from a long history of white privilege and black oppression. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, the term represented the best of advocacy: the need to understand before acting, a continuous relearning of the world’s changes and problems. 

Recently, with the rise of social media, the ideal of woke culture has been corrupted. Now, woke culture is the subject of memes and everyday slang. It is a compliment; someone “woke” is someone who appears to be smart, cool, popular. Somewhere along the way, woke culture has been distorted to be less about understanding, less about the willingness to wrestle with societal problems, and more about the facade of political competency. 

I see it all the time: in classrooms, in the dining hall, even at Scroll meetings. Once, a girl at my sit down table mentioned the Articles of Impeachment against Trump. When I asked her what she thought about the Democrats’ three charges, she said, “Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t read that far through them.” 

These situations happen far too often: people bring up current events and world history with all the bravado of a politician. When questioned, however, they falter; probe a little deeper, and you’ll often find that their claims are empty. I get it — it’s hard. It takes time and effort to understand today’s politics; for example, learning about the US drone strike on Iran’s General Soleimani requires knowledge of the century-long tension between the US and the Middle East. It is so much easier, and much more tempting, to simply read the headlines, to know just enough to impress your table head at sit down.

This behavior has only exacerbated with social media. When the #blueforsudan movement began in 2019, my Instagram was populated by different variations of the same blue. I later learned that the color was used to honor the death of a protester, Mohamed Mahsim Mattar. 

Before this, however, I posted to my private story: can someone tell me what’s going on in Sudan with two question marks. I was surprised, and disappointed, by the replies. A few responded with facts on the protests, quoting the brutality of the RSF and need for a democratic government. Others, however, most others, admitted that they didn’t really understand what was going on, posted because everyone else was doing it, and didn’t want people to think I was a privileged jerk. 

This reveals a larger epidemic amongst social media users of today. Because it has become increasingly easy to share political news without truly grasping its context, we aren’t prepared to confront the issues in our world. If we can’t ground our conversations in holistic understanding and genuine thoughtfulness, then we are rendered unable to have constructive political discussions. We can’t make productive change.

Of course, it can be argued that that it doesn’t matter why someone is being woke as long as they are being socially, politically, and environmentally conscious. But doesn’t wokeness, when coupled with a desire for social status, undercut the purpose of wokeness? 

In its beginnings, woke culture equated a real desire to understand complex socio-political realities. Are we upholding that? Or are we posting #blueforsudan in fear of social judgement? Are we reading NYT headlines so we can speak up in Ms. Creagh’s current events quizzes, make intelligent sit-down conversation? And, most importantly, is it still wokeness if many of us remain ignorant of the topics we pretend to preach? 

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own role within woke culture. Last issue, I wrote my Letter From the Editor on Chinese censorship. In others, I’ve encouraged articles on Trump, mental health, immigration, and more. When Dr. Austin asks me about the Scroll, I rattle off Op-Ed ideas, taking pride in knowing that the publication has, for better or worse, been “woke” enough. 

But how many times have I taken the time to further research—deeply, proactively—the content of these articles? How many times have I spoken with these authors, after the pages are sent to print, after the Scroll is released, in an attempt to better understand their perspectives? How can I say to the Deerfield community: understand this, truly understand this, when I can’t do so myself? I have to admit that I fall victim to performative wokeness myself. But this year, and this role, has been a learning experience. I’ve come to recognize the danger in such behavior — I hope you will too. 

I am not accusing all Deerfield students of performative wokeness. I understand that many of us have a solid understanding of socio-political events and even more have a genuine intention to learn. But I also know how easy it is to fall into the trap of performative wokeness. 

I simply ask that we reevaluate our motives behind saying and promoting the things we do. Is our desire for “wokeness” dependent upon ourselves, or the opinions of others?