Confessions of a Woke Propagandist

Confessions of a Woke Propagandist, by Janet Mackay, a pen name.

Having worked in advertising agencies for more than 20 years, it’s always been my job to write in a way that sells. Products, services, brands. But over the last decade, I’ve found myself in the pay of a series of wokepreneurs. …

As team members ran through their collective to-do list — tear down the patriarchy, tear down capitalism, tear down oppression — they shared their favorite Viennese hotels, yoga retreats and keto-friendly recipes (#OMG #SOGOOD). This was the nature of the quarterly meetings. I smiled through the video feed, nodding, [doodling] while jotting down a secret affirmation to myself: “Do NOT let them add you in WhatsApp.”

“I had my doubts about hiring her,” said one client, explaining my presence as he introduced me to his group. “I mean, why would I want some white woman as our voice, even if nobody sees her?” Because I’m one of the most experienced writers in the country doing this work…? I thought to myself. But I said nothing. …

As with old-timey mobsters promising protection to mom-and-pop corner stores, the presentations, websites and proposals I created for equity consultants wrapped a threat inside a promise:

  • Your organization perpetrates privilege. We can help you correct that.
  • Your organization perpetrates white supremacy. We can help you correct that.
  • Your organization perpetrates the further marginalization of marginalized peoples, and we can help you correct that.
  • Is anything in the list above making you uncomfortable? That’s you, protecting your perpetration. Take note of your resistance. Do you want to be a part of the story of a better world, or do you want to be left behind?

It’s a shakedown, and some of the biggest and most prestigious organizations in the world are signing up. The people who do this work are kind and intelligent people. So are the people who buy it. But that almost makes it worse. It’s all about the money, a circle jerk just as corrupt, disingenuous and ego-riddled as the capitalist and institutional behemoths getting hustled. Except no corporation or government — in the West, anyway — perches atop its hoard while also claiming absolute moral authority and demonizing anyone who questions it. …

[So often] an equity consultant [would use] the word ‘folks’ (spelled with an x for inclusivity) to enforce yet another radical over-correction and have it feel less threatening. Other popular favorites: “Do better” (as a critique of others’ insufficiently activist outlook), “Be in the circle” (an affectation of Indigenous rituals), “Shift the power,” “Stay in relationship to the work,” and the archvillain: “whiteness.”

In the past few years, the phenomenon has escalated dramatically. I began to pull further and further away from what had started to feel like a soft-edged cult complete with chants, conspiracies and near-complete homogeneity of speech. Every client echoed the last, parroting rightspeak.

Trying to sort out the increasing conflict within, I looked up the word profiteer and found everything I’d ever muttered to myself, reeling as I woke up from woke. Speculator; exploiter; charlatan. …

It’s one thing to write ad copy urging people to drink Pepsi instead of Coke. That’s benign. But I was being paid to mangle language, gaslight the public, and undo the fabric of things I believe in — free speech, open discourse, and the toxicity of narcissism as a cultural north star. That’s malignant. …

Of the 200 people in the room, only four were black. Two others might have been Indigenous.  … “You know what I’m going to ask, right?” my client whispered. “Please make this room look diverse, or else we can’t use it.” … I passed the instruction to the photographer to shadow the “desirable” people of color, only some of whom were smiling and engaged. The photographer lurked obediently in their periphery. …

No one in our entire state could possibly be more correctly oriented than this environmentalist. She wears vegan shoes and stands in the cold for reparations. Venting, I described her to my partner (the recipient of all my eye-rolling GIFs) as: No way that woman doesn’t do a land acknowledgement before she burps. But her deeply earnest commitment to fighting injustice was undeserving of credit because she has long blonde hair. …

One client, a political candidate who’d recently moved to a rural area, bussed in a carload of hijab-wearing women from the closest city so the small town would look “less white,” and to lend urgency to her insistence that its citizens be “more race-aware.” The candidate was not successful in her bid to win the county’s seat, losing the election by a wide margin. Her campaign had profoundly misread and scolded the very people she had hoped to represent. …

I haven’t been able to say any of this publicly, which is why I’ve written this piece under a pseudonym. If I spoke out about any of this, I’d jeopardize my career. So I am quietly and selectively withdrawing my talent. I am a conscientious objector. …

White people — especially straight “cis” men — are required to perform contrition, self-censorship and self-deprecation. Everyone else is tokenized and graded according to their intersectional score first, and the value of their contribution second. It should make all of us step back, skeptical. But it doesn’t. Not when this much money is up for grabs.