On March 16, David Mejía, an adjunct professor at IE University, gave a thought-provoking lecture on “Woke capitalism.” This was part of the Arts and Humanities division’s new series of “Economics-Humanities Talks.”
The event began with a brief cultural history of “wokeness.” Mejía explained that the phrase “stay woke” emerged alongside the Black Lives Matter movement, also representing the fight against police brutality. The cultural ramifications of this novel ideology have been highlighted in a number of visual and verbal art forms. Examples of this include Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” and Jordan Peele’s 2017 American Horror film “Get Out.”
Having said that, Mejía emphasized that the nature of “wokeness” has somewhat evolved into a broader trend, encompassing social justice advocacy in general. In its infancy, the phenomenon was largely mocked and criticized. However, it has become deeply ingrained into today’s society, and is a key marketing tool for corporations around the world.
That brings us to the central topic of Mejía’s lecture, “woke capitalism.” The term was originally coined by Ross Douthat in his article “The Rise of Woke Capital” for the New York Times. More specifically, it details “how companies signal their support for progressive causes in order to maintain their influences in society.”
There are three key takeaways that Mejía wished to emphasize. The first underpins the benefit of wokeness as a standard in society. He asserted that “woke culture is a new cultural paradigm that has brought about positive things, such as awareness for discrimination, that [were] previously not as explicit or visible.” Thus, it is important to acknowledge that progress has indeed been made, regardless of the intentions (or ulterior motives) of the advocator.
The second, more pessimistic takeaway is that woke culture has stoked a sense of “fear in some people, who are afraid of speaking their minds much more than they used to be.” This poses the question of whether this “war on culture” will eventually provoke a backlash from the now guilt-ridden, “privileged people.”
The final takeaway surrounds the question: companies are adapting to this new cultural paradigm, but how much of that concern is genuine? In the end, Mejía says that we must ask ourselves if it matters that companies are bandwagoning on trends for profitability. Even more so when their actions are accelerating the social movement and its goals.
Large corporations seem to be pushing the “woke” narrative for their own advantage, taking the winning side in today’s “cultural war.” Mejía stated that “going woke is a strategic decision to appease those who would otherwise destroy them with taxes and boycotts.” Yet, there is little risk to companies who promote this culture. Although their intentions are morally questionable, their actions ultimately result in a broader progress.
After the event, The Stork sat down with Professor Mejía. When asked what advice he would give IE students, he responded “be respectful, but speak your mind.” This is an important message, particularly for those who feel afraid to voice their opinions on sensitive social subjects. Concluding that, Mejía’s tells students that they have a right to an opinion, irrespective of their position in society.