President Barack Obama on Tuesday said that “woke” young progressives who use social media to call out problematic people—and who don’t understand that people who do good things sometimes have flaws—are not real activists, USA Today reports.
In a discussion, moderated by Grown-ish star Yara Shahidi at the Obama Foundation Summit, the two-term president fell back on the old centrist line that young progressives are seeking “purity” and slammed “woke” culture as not being activism at all.
“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly,” Obama said to light laughter. “The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and share certain things with you.”
The truth is not that “woke” (read: Black, Latinx, and Indigenous) progressives are unwilling to compromise; the question is what things are they willing to compromise on.
Their humanity isn’t one of them.
Obama then criticized progressives for “calling people out” on Twitter by…calling them out.
“Then I can sit and feel pretty good about myself because, man, you see how woke I was, I called you out,” Obama said. “That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”
In some cases, this may be true, but for the activists, organizers, and activists who face death threats, rape threats, and doxxing for speaking out about sexual and state violence, and institutional anti-Blackness, it’s certainly not “easy to do”.
It’s becoming clear to Democrats now that former Vice President Joe Biden is not their ticket back to 1600 Penn. and the centrist wing of the Party is hedging their bets on South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete “All Lives Matter” Buttigieg. It’s also clear that with Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren becoming the clear front-runners, Obama would step in and play a more active roll in the 2020 election cycle.
But this is neither 2008, nor 2012. Progressive voters understand that the ability to get things done is not as important as what things are getting done—and for whom. Holding nuanced perspectives is one thing; measured expectations that allow our so-called leaders to forfeit accountability at the expense of targeted communities is something else entirely. Black youth who refuse to accept moldy crumbs within a white supremacist system founded and sustained on their exploitation, incarceration, and death, are demanding—not asking—that this nation be true to what it said on paper. Because they’re from the future and they’re telling us we won.
And it is an ugly, fraudulent thing to dismiss the activism of young progressives as nothing more than performative.
Perhaps, the 44th POTUS should look at how his presidency activated a generation of “woke” activists who now understand that representation is not the end game, and that just because someone looks like you doesn’t mean that they will fight for, and alongside you.