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KHENSANI MKHOMBO | Youth-driven woke culture redefines social landscape

stock photo.
stock photo.
Image: 123rf

The nationwide euphoria that engulfed SA after the relatively peaceful transition to democracy in 1994 soon gave way to the grim realisation that the attainment of political freedom is, after all, a hollow victory for the majority of South Africans who continue to live in deprivation and abject poverty.

The continued deprivation of the majority of the population under the new dispensation, coupled with the prevalence of social injustices, albeit subliminal, have laid the solid foundations for the emergence of the woke culture.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines being politically woke in the Black community as being someone who is informed, educated and conscious of social injustice and racial inequality.

The exponential growth and uptake of social media platforms have also served to incubate the woke movement and provided its proponents with the ideal platform to raise awareness about social injustices. Social media democratised broadcasting and communication, and it came as no surprise that iterations such as “Black Twitter” emerged and gained traction.

Long held beliefs and cultural practices have become a topic of discussion on these platforms and their relevance of some aspects of African culture in the modern era has been questioned, to the chagrin of the older generation.

To Generation Z, the generation that was born in the 1990s and 2000s, no subject is beyond reproach and no topic is sacred enough to be engaged and challenged. The promise of 1994 is increasingly viewed with cynicism.

As a brand that seeks to preserve and celebrate African culture and practices, Castle Milk Stout launched an initiative aptly named Castle Milk Stout Black Conversations in response to these winds of change and in an effort to encourage South Africans to openly discuss what others deem as taboo subjects on “Blackness”.

In the face of cultural appropriation, the woke movement, which is generally driven by influential black media personalities, leading artists and a growing class of black academics, is reviving the philosophy of Black Consciousness and making it applicable to the socio-economic challenges facing SA today.

Black Consciousness founder, Steve Biko, said: “Black Consciousness is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin – and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude…It seeks to infuse the black community with a new-found pride in themselves, their efforts, their value system, their culture, their religion and their outlook to life.”

The woke movement, together with the Black Conversation initiative, are acutely conscious that culture is not cast in granite. In every generation, young people are the agents of change and disruptors of the status quo. In as much as young people drove the pop cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s and led the defiance of the repressive apartheid regime in the 1970s, today is no different.

Some may view the challenge to long-held beliefs as an affront, a corrosion of our moral fabric and the dishonourable disrobing of what makes us African.

I disagree.

As the black community we need to be mindful that our cultural practices should be agile and evolve, otherwise they run the risk of being rendered redundant by the changing social landscape and withering away. The younger generation are not passive recipients of culture and social norms.

The preservation of important cultural practices is dependent on them finding utility in them and relevance in their everyday lives.

As we continue to engage each other on these important issues, we need to take stock of the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, when he said: “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” 

• Mkhombo is brand manager for Castle Milk Stout