The Blog

You’re Not “Woke,” and I’m Not “Colonized”

Recently, the Columbia community has been introduced to two new terms: “woke,” and “colonized.” It seems that some people of color are “colonized”—their honest convictions and beliefs are simply evidence of assimilation to a white supremacist power structure. On the other hand, those who hold a “sufficiently racially conscious” set of beliefs are “woke.” This is more than a matter of semantics; rather it has the potential for a dangerous form of identity policing amongst people of color when casually used in an academic context.

As a person of color I find this infuriating, offensive, and when used in this context, ludicrous. This is something that has to be stopped immediately and decisively before it becomes part of our discourse. Each of us holds differing ideas for why we believe what we do and why others may see the world differently. But none of us have the right to broadly deride those who think differently as illegitimate members of their identities. To do so is to patronizingly turn “People of Color” into an exclusive moniker for those who think in a specific, narrow way. This robs all of us of our inherent right to be part of our identities and communities. No one should accept the use of this kind of language in public discourse anymore than they would any serious microaggression.

All of us, people of color and allies alike, have to draw a line in the sand at basic respect for each other. Passing personal judgments on one another says far more about us and our shortcomings than it does about others. Discourse in our community is plagued by serious structural issues. Individuals of color denouncing each other or their professors of color as “colonized,” not to mention white “allies” doing the same, would be more than enough to deal a fatal blow. If you’re comparing yourself to others please don’t refer to yourself as “woke,” and do not refer to anyone else in our community as “colonized.”


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Comments ( 11 )
  • A Student of Color says:

    I hear what you’re saying, Adil, but this is part of the discussion between people of color that must happen. When my family members look at my hair and tell me it is unkempt because I opt not to straighten it, or when they teach me to wear makeup that makes my lips look smaller (because big lips are unattractive?) or to wear loose clothing that looks untailored because it might help hide the also unattractive/exaggerated?? curves of my body, they are forcing me to conform to standards that do not originate in our community.

    We must recognize the damage that attitudes like this have done to our communities if we are to begin working on healing ourselves. Maybe the language itself is hurtful or offensive and should be modified, but this isn’t about thinking differently. This is about each person embracing their identities for what they are and not being forced into a box by those who have opinions/ideas that stem directly from the residual effects of racism/colonialism/slavery.

    We should address each other with more respect and allow every member of our collective identity to exist as they desire, and no our goal is not, or at least shouldn’t be identity policing, but weeding out unhealthy attitudes and opinions that stem from self-hatred/ internalized racism is an important part of healing within our communities.

    • Adil Mughal says:

      This is a very good response and I agree within the context you raised, that specific false standards like body image are sad examples of the legacy of racism on how we may see ourselves. I would make three points in responce.
      1. What you are referring to is its own kind of policing, and a very direct one that is a legacy of racism, but what about differing opinions and political frameworks? Those cannot be reduced into a binary colonial framework. That often assumes a false standard for how a PoC should be, just like your family imposed on you.
      2. Like Fanon wrote, we cannot be “slaves to the past.” Just as there is a legacy of racism we despise, there can be a legacy of anti racism that is inauthentic. One example is when anti racists throw lgbt people under the bus and so on. We have to allow open debate because our identity may give us new insight, but it can also cloud our perception.
      3. Authenticity comes from the individual. CLR James called himself a “European Black Man,” it is unimaginable for anyone on our campus to say that. Was he colonized? We have to be extraordinarily careful about how we discuss how someone fits into a wider framework, and the discussion I referenced, as well as the piece from Brown, failed to meet that standard. It is one thing to be cavalier about saying that Colin Powell is “colonized,” it’s another to call another member of your own community. We have to show restraint and humility because we can be wrong.

      I don’t argue that regrettable attitudes exist, but I don’t think the level of restraint needed had been shown, and the use of the word “colonized,” especially in that group, is evidence of that.

  • CC Student of Color says:

    I’d actually be curious to know where you’ve seen the terms “woke” and “colonized” used in juxtaposition to each other. Although I’ve seen “woke” used a lot (particularly in leftist/activist circles), the term “colonized” (at least in opposition to woke) is, in my experience, more often employed by those wishing to express viewpoints critical of generalized “woke” ideas who are afraid that they will be subsequently accused of being “colonized”.

    That is, I’ve really only seen it use in the sense of “well if I say this you’re just going to turn around and call me “colonized”!!” as opposed to “you’re “colonized” because you don’t agree with me”.

    Since your issue seems to be with the finer point of campus discourse, it would be useful if you could clarify where you’ve seen these terms used together. From my understanding, they are often used in separate contexts, and for separate reasons.

    • Adil Mughal says:

      Oh sure! I know “woke” is AAVE, my issue is with how it was used as a counterpoint to “colonized” on the class of 2018 facebook page.
      It was employed quite liberally as what very clearly seemed like identity policing. I’m skeptical of its use in general, I think good examples are few and far between, but this piece was specific to our community.

      • CC Student of Color says:

        Right, thats the incident I thought you were talking about!

        Most of the time the way that the term “colonized” was used in that case was actually as a pre-emptive (and sarcastic) mockery of what people thought that the student who posted asking for a professor of color (and those students supporting). From what I understood, this was because some of the students disagreeing with the request were also people of color… and they thought that their disagreement would be reduced to the fact that they were “colonized”.

        Re-reading the thread I could only find one use of the term used by a “woke” person as a counterpoint! Honestly, I understand your issue with identity policing, but I don’t think that this particular thread was at all that so much as people *perceiving* that it would become that…. you feel?

        I can’t put sceenshots in this comment, but some examples include

        “but tbh, I’m probably just saying these things because, according to you, I’m just a POC whose mind has been “colonized”” (not in response to anyone saying this in as many words)

        “nope prob just cause the white man colonized my mind, like I’m some kind of stupid ass who can’t think for himself”
        (no one said “the white man colonized their mind”)

        “we r 2 colonised 2 c da light C: ” (v. sarcastic, not great premise for mutual “basic respect” lol)

        “stop being a European colonist.” (more sarcasm)

        The only instance I could find of the term being used in another sense was when the original poster wrote
        “[you think I]…….wanted to create ‘open dialogue’ & discuss this like some colonized fucking hypothetical intellectual/academic exercise when all *i* *really* wanted was to switch out of my CC section and maybe take a class i could get some life from.” (which isn’t really in response to “woke”ness?? at least in my reading.)

        So, all in all, if what you seem to think happens was actually happening, I too would be concerned. However, I don’t really see any evidence of these terms permeating campus discourse in the way that you seem lay out in this article.


        • Adil Mughal says:

          This is fair, I’m still reviewing the discussion myself for the exact uses. Colonized is actually somewhat common in some more academic and political discourse on the left, but usually in a more theoretical and restricted manner, although I am still worried it could come up again. But, like with the article from brown I linked to, I am referring more to the significance behind the term’s use. Calling other students and professors “assimilated” to attack their beliefs as in that piece is a different word but a very similar idea. Ultimately I think I am both trying to draw that line in the sand so these kinds of terms don’t catch on in our community and trying to make a statement in defense of PoC who don’t fit the mold that some might impress upon others.

  • CC Student says:

    Completely agree with you, Adil. Thank you for writing this.

  • Another CC student of color says:

    Actually, it was used twice in that context in this comment (http:// images. bwog. com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/unnamed1.png) and elsewhere in the same thread.

    Anyway, good op-ed, and a shame it had to be written in the first place.

    • CC Student of Color 1 still says:

      Right. Missed that.

      Still, I think my point holds. That one comment does not a “campus climate”/discourse make! 🙂

  • An ASA Member says:

    What I’m trying to understand is what the picture has to do with the article?

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