“Woke as a political term of African American origin refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It is derived from the African-American Vernacular English expression “stay woke”, whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues.” – Wikipedia
The problem with being woke, like being awake, is that it is not a permanent state of awareness. Over time, we go from being “woke” to sleeping through expressing our social awareness as we get tired of signaling values all the time or just to avoid facing conflicts that challenge our expressed wokeness.
The act of being woke is about signaling values.
Values are the ethics and moral standards that one believes in and tries to uphold in their life. For instance, you don’t believe that anyone should steal, so you don’t steal.
Anyone, you or a company, can profess a value. But the crucible to test for true values is when those who profess them encounter challenges or moral conflicts. At this stress point, the pressure for us to simply reject our moral stand and accept the path less painful or more convenient is strong. It is also the time when the sheen of moral superiority can fall away and you find out if what someone professed was truly a value or just a convenient point of view.
We equate values with people. But now we live in an era where companies are increasingly expected to show social values as part of their brand.
It’s not enough to simply buy or use a company’s product because it’s helpful to you.
This is because many of us now show our identity through our purchases. As your phone, car, clothes are expected to reflect who you are, we increasingly demand the products and the companies behind what we buy must also be in alignment with our values or values we admire.
A recent case in point. Customers of the fitness biking workout company Soulcycle discovered that one of the owners, billionaire Stephen Ross, planned on hosting a fundraiser lunch to support Donald Trump. The Soulcycle customers who see themselves as leaning liberal or found that support of Trump not in line with their “spiritual gangster” values that the Soulcycle brand cultivates, protested and threatened to quit the workout club.
For more consumers, they and the company they patronize, need to be woke. To match their values and morality by demanding that the company express awareness and take a stand on certain issues and causes. Political or otherwise.
Companies try to comply with being woke.
Nike showed how it was woke by doing an ad campaign around Colin Kapernick who protested during NFL games by kneeling during the National Anthem to recognize African-Americans being shot by police. The company ad campaign supported the cause, even against the blowback he and the company got from some offended NFL fans.
In another area of sports, the NBA is known for letting its players express themselves as a value.
Companies like the public image showing themselves as woke as a brand. The look hip, bold. The feel more human. That is until their own business interests are at risk.
For the NBA, it was when those woke values of free speech bumped up against the political issues in China. Particularly showing support for the protests in Hong Kong. When an executive, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, expressed support for protestors in Hong Kong, it angered the political leadership in China. And as a command economy, China responded by throwing around marketplace power at the league.
China, a huge market that many companies lust after, suddenly threatened market access to the NBA. As China’s media channels and companies turned on those American businesses like the NBA, the sports organization quickly backtracked on that position. Including LeBron James, who, instead of standing up for free speech, gently dressed down Daryl Morey by saying Morey was, “either misinformed or not really educated on the situation.”
Misinformed? About saying people have the right to protest for freedoms?
Suddenly Their wokeness caught some Zs.
Same with Nike. The company that took a stand supporting Colin Kapernick also took a nap when China flexed its muscle of brands supporting China.
Values are who you are. Not convenience.
This means, if they can change easily, they’re not a company’s values. They are simply corporate messaging at the moment.
I’m not beating up on companies particularly. It’s merely a lesson around content and brand. Wokeness as a brand can make us forget that these are organizations are designed to make a profit and maximize it for shareholders. But with that said, the “woke”ness is not a value as much as it is an outfit that can be worn. One they will take off the minute it becomes inconvenient.
As long as a company’s highest value is profit, their values will always be fragile.