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A Worthy Battle

The heart of a snowflake. 

I am apathetic, disillusioned and refusing to be part of the democratic process. My grievances lay at the door of policymakers and as a teacher, this disconnect or ‘them vs. us’ sentiment permeates into my every interaction. Yet, as a child of the austerity, tripling tuition fees and ‘woke’ generation, the term ‘snowflake’ has been thrown my way many times. This phrase is dangerous, misleading, de-politicising the narrative of resilience, selective silencing and inconsistent energy that has left so many so angry or ‘triggered’.

This article is long overdue. Yet, as a ‘snowflake’, I began working on it, then suffered from anxiety after failing to find mint hummus at M&S and then spent an evening questioning the lack of agency for BAME characters in leading British soap operas. Now I have drafted several strongly worded emails to my MP and discussed Kylie Minogue hits and quiche recipes with my almost-Vegan neighbour! The joy! I am an emotional person, trust me, but a snowflake? Please don’t say that. It will truly hurt my feelings.

Every generation has its own battles but doesn’t mean we should dismiss them. We are all merely a reflection of our context Such imagery is misleading as we need compassion to understand real grievances.. Image – Search Army jobs

Being labelled as ‘woke’ evokes connotations of being radical, overly emotional, being a ‘rebel without a cause’ or a fragile ‘millennial’. Leading politicians, public figures and tabloids continue to run this narrative of a generation of people who lack the necessary ‘resilience’ and fortitude to be part of a progressive neo-liberal society. My Sociology background gave me an incredible insight into the dynamics of social inequalities. This was not to politically indoctrinate into the philosophy of Marxism but rather make me aware of the plight of others and how the organisation of society helps or hinders them. Being ‘woke’ now comes with the added baggage of wanting to radically change the foundations of society, to tear down statues of slave owners (why do we have statues of them in the first place) and make everyone ‘challenge their racial privileges’. This is a cultural weapon used to widely depoliticise a movement for greater equality and whereas we do have ‘woke warriors’, there are very legitimate grievances that society needs to confront. This is a worthy battle.

What is a ‘snowflake’?

Let’s start with the word ‘woke’. In June 2017, this adjective was incorporated into the Oxford English Dictionary. Woke means, “originally: well-informed, up-to-date. Now chiefly: alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice”. With the word ‘snowflake’ is defined as, “a person who believes they have special qualities and should receive special treatment; a person who is too sensitive to criticism and easily upset”. The whole notion that a snowflake will melt into thin air once being put under any sort of pressure. These two words are used inextricably and are both slanderous and absolutely detached from the context of their birth. In 2016, Claire Fox’s – I Find That Offensive!, gave momentum for the term ‘snowflake’ to become a political insult. Young people being labelled as ‘hyper-sensitive’ and lacking the resolve to matters, thus ‘whinging’ and behaving in puerile ways to gain ‘attention’ or validation for their ‘nebulous’ points of view. Various comedy sketches have painted an image of this ‘snowflake’ generation as being overly emotional, lacking rationality and wanting to challenge generations of accepted and comfortable, yet offensive and degrading, societal norms and values. The definitions of these two phrases mean anyone who challenges historical and contemporary injustices is a ‘snowflake’ or ‘woke’? Both ideas go hand-in-hand with this notion of ‘cancel culture’ whereby historical oppression and discrimination are miraculously supposed to be pardoned!

People that have never been discriminated against because of their: gender, religion, race, sexuality, age or disability, they will always accuse others of being “too sensitive”. Damn right we’re too sensitive! We are taught to respect everyone & when that is not reciprocated, when there an inconsistent energy and unwillingness to challenge discrimination, it is time to start rattling cages. These cages of inequality and prejudice that encompass race, gender, class, age, sexuality, religion and all other stratifying societal power dynamics, this cage needs to be rattled. This article is by no means justifying acts of vandalism, rioting, creating divisions or making excuses for those who lack resilience. I am calling for caution, a discerning eye and an open heart as we engage with a generation of disillusioned people. Using this word ‘snowflake’ truly is a war on equality.

I just want to create a small list of reasons not justifications for reasons ‘snowflakes’ aren’t as fragile as we’re led to believe. This list is not all inclusive and my deepest apologies if I have missed out any key events over the past 12 years or so. I have of empathy for the so-called ’snowflake’ generation. Constantly accused of lacking resilience, yet they grew up amidst:

  1. 2008 global financial crisis

  2. The rise of social media

  3. Tripling of University tuition fees

  4. Cuts to key children’s services

  5. A decade of austerity

  6. The LGBTQ movement

  7. Rising climate disaster

  8. Brexit

  9. COVID19

  10. The Black Lives Matter Movement

Three criticisms of the term ‘snowflake’

Again, I am not making excuses but calling for reflection and sincerity before we brandish words around, without context.

  1. Your battle isn’t worthy – This very ability to label the plight of others as worthy or not worthy is a platform of privilege in itself. Much of this disillusionment towards the existing status quo comes from generations of nit-picking, selectivity and unwillingness to condemn and praise in equal reward. From my own experience, I once spoke about Palestine in an assembly to later be hauled into a meeting about my ‘political agenda’. You can clearly see; I am not a Conservative. With a Trade Unionist Grandfather, of course the red blood runs through the course of my veins. This assembly was on Human Rights and I chose Palestine as a site of my attention not as a political issue but as a humanitarian issue. Just as the Black Lives Matter movement, before it received any political endorsement, it was a humanitarian organisation. This ability to selectively heat and freeze the plight and battles of others is a pillar of privilege and therefore, to say ‘your battle isn’t worthy’ is also part of this bastion. People don’t become hyper-sensitive because they couldn’t get their preferred brand of sourdough bread or because they are ‘aggrieved’ by the flag. These grievances are often born out of the inconsistent energy and dictating of narrative creates further disillusionment and thus distance from the legitimate structures of social change, which are in large part, in agreement with those who condemn us. Every battle is worthy and only a narcissist will tell you different.

  2. It was nothing like this my day – Social Historian Geoffrey Pearson in his Hooligan – A History of Respectable Fears, wrote about the nostalgia older generations felt when in need to draw a distinction between then as the perceived ‘lost generation’. A generation that will someday too, also look to draw this distinction. Pearson was commenting on historical moral panics involving ‘dangerous’ young people, but we can apply sentiments of his work to our own analysis. The ‘respectable fears’ from those who are our seniors, in relation to this snowflake agenda, is very much centred around a belief a liberal lefty socialist intelligentsia has gripped the nation. Styles, trends, fashions, lingo and hetro-normative norms and values have been engulfed in flames! Gone are the days of national service and keeping up with the Joneses. Context is key here before anyone begins to judge a young buck purchasing free range avocados and reading a leading Feminist magazine! Let us look at the context of 2020. Young people are being branded as ‘weak’ against the backdrop of rising political tensions, growing class, gender, racial inequality, declining social mobility and the rise of far-right nationalism and Brexit. We are amidst a global pandemic, one that we have been ‘steered’ by a government that everyone below voting age had no influence over. This generational gap has certainly created a chasm between the thoughts and sentiments. If anything, the juggernaut of changes and societal expectations placed on younger generations to ‘accept their place’ is a battle that also needs to take place. The post-Trump, post-COVID, post-Brexit world is one in which this ‘snowflake’ generation will inhabit. The fact that we do have alternative voices in the public domain, seeking change and searching for greater equality, this is what makes a healthy democratic society. Context is absolutely key.

  3. Left, right, left? If we assess the terms ‘woke’ or ‘snowflake’, there is a real barrage or avalanche of left-wing sentiments. So, if I find a comment by, I don’t know, say, Boris Johnson offensive (you can pick from watermelon smiling and flag waving piccaninnies, to tank-top bumboys, or letter boxes and bank robbers). If I express moral repugnance, am I lacking ‘resilience’? If I am offended at someone older than me and their racism or sexism, am I being ‘easily offended?’ Who is actually being offended or offensive here? I am confused. By shouting down or berating an opinion, does that make you right and the opinion of others any less worthy? Those on the right are able to pretty much as they please so when the left react they are being too sensitive. Equally when the left attack, the right are responding thus emulating this thin exterior they claim is resolute. As Oliver Markus says, “Nobody gives a shit that you’re offended. I’m not. And my opinion is more important to me than yours”. This is like proverbial ping pong by there are no winners, the game isn’t even a draw. Legitimate grievances on both sides are completely misunderstood creating a deeper layer of suspicions and animosity between the two camps. We may be marching left, right, left but we have no end goal in sight.

In summary

After an altercation, a fortnight ago in my local Morrisons where I was branded a ‘corn flakes’ (I think he meant snowflake) by a man who saw me pick up some lactose-free milk, I was bewildered. How does a gallon milk equate to me lacking resilience or resolve? Yes, lactose-free means I am sensitive to lactose products. But do I lack resilience? I am a teacher; resilience is practically my middle name!

The words ‘snowflake’ and ‘woke’ are becoming part of the furniture in political circles but they are dangerously misleading and de-politicising very real grievances of many. Black Lives Matter or changes to the curriculum, even the LGBTQ movement are not ‘much ado about nothing’. These are generational discrepancies, disadvantages and discrimination that need urgently addressing. It truly is stumbling into the territory of gaslighting if you make others feel bad and then want to tell them how to feel about YOUR actions. The war on equality starts with depoliticising real life grievances thus silencing real life grievers. Silence is complicit in the cover up of inequality. The world is in a mess right now, we are all feeling a real sense of uncertainty and anxiety. Resilience does not come from brandishing buzzwords or throwing shade at others. We must place everything within its context to discover why people are aggrieved and how we can them feel less disillusioned and apathetic about the society WE all share. On that note, I have some banana bread to make which I burnt last time, and yes, I am still grieving over it! ❄️

Every battle is worthy, everyone is trying to cope and although the times have changed, this generation have not grown up in the utopia our elders once promised us.

Thank you for reading

Shuaib Khan

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