Woke Baes Are Great, But There Is One Problem We Can't Overlook

Photo: Donato Sardella/Getty Images.
There's an implicit cheekiness to the knighting of a woke bae, courtesy of the brilliant Kara Brown over at Jezebel: On one hand, you're acknowledging that a woke bae has eschewed his rose-colored glasses and become hip to injustice beyond his own experience.

On the other hand, you're patting the woke bae on the head — because, while his intentions may be in the right place, he's often toward the bottom of a very steep learning curve, not fully appreciative of how far there is to climb.

And so, being a member of the woke bae club is a bit of a back-handed compliment: It means you possess an awareness that you didn't (and maybe should have) before now. It means that you're just becoming woke to things that most anyone who doesn't occupy a niche of elite privilege has known forever.

In other words: You've arrived at the party. It's great that you got here — text your friends and tell them to come over, too. But damn, dude — you are late.

Bear with me while I extend that metaphor a little further: Sometimes, a woke bae shows up at the party and forgets that he is not the host. Suddenly, he is thanking guests for coming and graciously accepting compliments about the crudités. (Or maybe he is a straight man taking home awards for his advocacy in the LGBT community, or writing essays about his newfound feminism — which is to say, feminism as he perceives it — for a popular women's magazine.)

They don't dominate the megaphone with their own perspective, because they recognize that it's not their voices that need to be heard.

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It's not entirely his fault. Nor is this Woke Bae Complex limited to men — women are far from immune. Most woke baes are people who are accustomed to occupying a position of authority in whatever room they happen to be standing. Not to mention, the very celebration of their wokeness must be wildly disorienting: How confusing would it be to have everyone congratulating you just for being an empathetic human being all the time?

But a good guest — a good ally — amplifies the concerns of the people to whom a cause actually belongs. They don't dominate the megaphone with their own perspective, because they recognize that it's not their voices that need to be heard. I'm not saying that all woke baes are guilty of snatching the mouthpiece from the people with whom they've allied themselves. Nor am I making a case against woke baes in general, who generally have their hearts in the right place even if their execution could use recalibrating.

None of that changes this fact, though: While a woke bae may be a deservedly honored guest at the party, they get to leave at the end of the night. And so the difference between being a woke bae and an advocate is that little sliver of self-awareness: the latter is mindful of the fact that it is not their party and that they can leave any time they want to. Woke baes might be willing to stick around and lend a hand with the cleanup. But the truth is that they could call it a night at any time; the truth is that, if they wanted to, it would be easy to just head home and go back to sleep.
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