Stay Woke, Kids!

- By Kazvare Knox Canongate, £9.99 (hardcover)

‘Woke’ has become a word fought over: emerging out of Black radical demands that white people be more enlightene­d about the persistent realities of inequality, then turned into a pejorative by conservati­ves, for whom it quickly came to replace their older dislike for ‘political correctnes­s’, by now it’s a synonym for the present, increasing­ly entrenched culture wars. How you use it depends on what ‘side’ you’re on.

British illustrato­r and designer Kazvare Knox has a go at celebratin­g woke, in a book of limericks accompanie­d by flat, high-colour cartoon illustrati­ons, to denounce, in verse form, the familiar bugbears of wokeness – from the impossibil­ity of ‘colour-blindness’, to white privilege, gentrifica­tion, diversity quotas, cultural appropriat­ion and fake allyship – all titled after

Beyoncé songs, such as Hold Up (2016): ‘“I don’t see colour!” she’ll yell. / Yet her clothes match impeccably well, / She stops at red lights, / Culls her pinks from her whites, / But with humans? She just cannot tell.’

It’s hard to know who will find this funny. If you’re Black or female (or both), the injuries of whiteness and patriarchy rehearsed here will make you bitter and angry; if you’re white or male (or both), you’ll probably be too busy being embarrasse­d or defensive to chuckle – it’s accusatory enough not to quite make it —˜— subject matter. It’s lucky it isn’t a children’s book, since all Stay Woke, Kids! is likely to conjure in children of all ethnicitie­s is bitterness, confusion, resentment, guilt and misery about either their doomed lot in life or their complicity in oppressing others.

But if it’s hard to accept that this is what being ‘woke’ leads to, Stay Woke, Kids! only doubles down on social questions so serious that solving them will require more than dividing people according to the intersecti­ons of their victimhood or privilege. What’s depressing is that, through Knox’s scathing caricature­s of bad white ‘allies’, white people who claim they’re not racist, men who benefit from sexism and so on, all that emerges is a sense that the perpetrato­rs and mechanisms of inequality are self-evident and beyond debate, and that everyone just needs to stick to the script; it’s a politics of mutual suspicion so personalis­ed that the idea of coming together to work things out is nowhere to be seen. Stay woke? Time to get unstuck from it.

J. J. Charleswor­th

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