MY late grandmother was the most ‘woke’ woman I have known. Long before the term existed, she was the wokiest of the woke.
She never cancelled anyone. She certainly wasn’t vegan and had no concept of organic food. She would’ve assumed that avocado was an American state.
She was woke because she loved everyone, all colours, genders and sexualities.
She particularly loved the “les-bins”. She couldn’t pronounce the word properly and didn’t really know what they did—something she once chose to share with her stunned teenage grandson—but she loved them anyway.
As she pointed out, a “les-bin” fancied women just as her teenage grandson fancied women. So I was probably a “les-bin”, too.
Her daft sense of humour underlined a priceless simplicity. Everyone was equal. She was incapable of prejudice, a rare quality even now, let alone back in the 1980s among working-class communities.
Her door was open to everyone except Jim, who ran the corner shop and once overcharged her for a bag of sugar during the Second World War.
She was a sweet soul, but she had her limits. Anyone was welcome in her house, unless you took liberties with the price of sugar.
Today, when I meet, teach or occasionally lecture young Singaporeans—often without being asked—I tell them that they remind me of my dead grandmother.
They are not always flattered by the comparison.
But to listen without prejudice is a precious commodity. To speak up for the different, the marginalised and the vulnerable out of a sense of compassion, rather than self-interest, is awe-inspiring.
My grandmother always concerned herself with the interests of others, even when she didn’t understand those interests.
To her, animal welfare might as well have been a band on The Muppet Show. So when I became a vegetarian, she offered me a ham sandwich, but with wafer-thin ham to, you know, support animal welfare.
Her actions were naïve, but kind, sincere and selfless.
In this regard, my nan had something in common with Greta Thunberg.
A kid with a homemade placard skipped school and sat outside the Swedish parliament, demanding that world leaders acted on climate change. Within a year, young people were mimicking her efforts across the world
It’s wonderful to watch, especially when the debates follow similar lines.
Young Turk: We would like to save our planet. We would also like people to be treated the same, whatever their sex, race or gender.
Old Fart: Naïve fool! We must serve our political, economic and religious masters. Stop being so damn whiny and sensitive.
Young Turk: OK Boomer.
Whiny and sensitive Old Fart explodes.
Yes, not everyone over the age of 40 bows at the altar of Trump, Brexit, racial privilege and untrammelled greed whilst whipping homosexuals and sucking shark’s fin soup through the exhaust of an SUV.
Though I’m sure there are websites for that sort of thing.
Similarly, not everyone under the age of 25 volunteers at a soup kitchen and wears second-hand clothes, eats only fruit that fell naturally from the tree and travels the world on a skateboard.
Though I’m sure there are TikToks of that sort of thing.
But young people are seldom speaking up for anything other than their conscience. That’s the wonderful bit. Thunberg scares her most rabid critics because she has made climate change a black-and-white issue.
Forget the geopolitical considerations. Is climate change good or bad?
Thunberg’s youth and naivety—the apparent weaknesses that are often highlighted to ridicule her idealism—are in fact her greatest assets. She’s too young to be tainted by connections to big business. She’s simply following her moral compass.
Just as Monica Baey wasn’t a secret emissary, plotting to overthrow the Singaporean patriarchy from within a prestigious academic institution. The 23-year-old just felt that perverts shouldn’t secretly film women taking showers and should be punished appropriately when they do.
Like Thunberg, she cut through established, archaic thinking and simplified. Is sexual harassment right or wrong?
Jihye Yang is asking similar questions of South Koreans. A key feminist voice, the 22-year-old has taken her case to the United Nations, demanding safe spaces for women after thousands were secretly recorded in toilets and showers.
In Taiwan, Weng Yu Ching has campaigned for LGBT rights for almost a decade. She’s only 24. After years of lobbying, Taiwan became the only Asian country to legalise gay marriage.
In each instance, youth was the unstoppable force that overcame a previously immovable object. Youth ensures a purity of vision. Only the moral issue matters. Should the planet be saved? Should sexual harassment stop? Should all people be treated equally?
These Young Turks are sidestepping vested interests and distilling each issue down to its essence. What’s right? What’s wrong? Which side are you on?
There’s no ulterior motive as Thunberg’s indifference towards being Time’s person of the year demonstrated. Remember, Donald Trump once photoshopped himself onto a Timemagazine cover and displayed it at his golf club.
Here are two people with very different priorities. One is pure and untainted. The other is orange.
So I’m in awe of young people trying to deal with the climate catastrophe, reduce our dependance on single-use plastics, change outdated views on the LGBTQ community and remind perverts that the occasional grope on the MRT and a quick video of a student showering isn’t ‘a bit of laugh’.
And I’m in awe of young people attempting to do all of this whilst my generation—and those that came before—prices them out of a property market, reduces job opportunities, shrinks land space, pollutes seas and oceans, depletes fish and meat stocks and then mocks the millennials for being spolit and ungrateful.
Hey, kids, you’re welcome!
But seriously, thanks for trying. My late, woke grandmother would approve of such selfless efforts.
In fact, she’d make you a vegetarian sandwich with wafer-thin ham.