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#223 Being Woke

January 19, 2021

If there is one thing that sets today’s Expat Aid Workers (EAW) apart from their counterparts of prior decades, it is that they are woke. Whereas 10 or 20 years ago a newb in this field needed to have read Roland Bunch, Linda Polman or Carlos Casteneda, today’s EAW reading list is more likely to include Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ibram X. Kendi, or, you know, Hugo Slim. It is important for EAWs to be aware of and in touch with real issues.

Why? Well, obviously because the EAW has a moral and ethical obligation to call out examples of non-woke-ness whenever those are encountered. Say the EAW has a mission to some pluralistic context where local colleagues of one ethnicity oppress colleagues of another ethnicity. It is up to the EAW to call that out.

It is on the EAW to use their privilege to point out the inherent racism in the locations and layout of Azraq or Dadaab, or the injustice of Trutier. It is the morally obligated duty of the woke EAW to bring local colleagues up-to-speed on the systemic oppression in South Sudan or Venezuela. It is incumbent on the thoughtfully woke EAW to help local colleagues understand the horrors of child marriage (Afghanistan, Yemen), the potential for exploitation built into beneficiary biometric data collection (too many places to mention), or the paradox being anti-the-authoritarian-Kurdish regime while being pro-separation (and calling the place “Kurdistan”). Super-woke EAWs can even help local colleagues begin to work on and overcome their own biases and prejudices and unpack their privilege.

The responsibilities of today’s EAW are heavy, indeed, but being woke is the first step toward illuminating injustices. And everyone knows you can’t fix a problem that you can’t see.

It is important to note that one of the rules of being a woke EAW is to let everyone around you know how woke you are. There are many ways to do this, but the most effective way is to engage in the most seriously earnest critique that you can possibly muster on every issue, in every situation. For maximum effect, earnest critique as a means of woke-signaling should be expressed by EAWs to their local colleagues. You need to let your local colleagues know just how deeply offended you are on their behalf, by whatever it is that those “other” expats did or said, or by whatever was deemed offensive. Centering the conversation on your own experiences and feelings about these issues does much to repair decades of harm.

Holding other EAWs to account for outdated views is usually counterproductive, but if you must do it righteous indignation is probably the best option. What you really want is for all the locals to think that you’re somehow different. And that difference is that you’re woke, or at least more woke than all the other EAWs. And you are willing to stand humbly and selflessly in the spotlight while leading the charge for change.

So put your local team to work churning out next year’s budget or this week’s 3Ws, and go Tweet about systemic oppression.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2021 9:19 am

    This is meant to be ironic, right?

  2. tomarcaro permalink
    January 19, 2021 12:02 pm

    The ‘woke’ journey is long, complicated, and does benefit from irony/snark in many cases. That said, this post goes deeply into many issues in #223: https://blogs.elon.edu/aidworkervoices/?p=1653. In this post I offer and expand on a “A Code of Ethics for Privileged Anti-Othering Persons”.

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