Woke: A Guide to Social Justice, Titania McGrath, London, England, Little, Brown Book Group, 2019. 

Review by Jen Kamish, College of Engineering, Rochester Institute of Technology, [email protected]

In her literary debut, Woke: A Guide to Social Justice, self-proclaimed intersectionalist poet and activist Titania McGrath blends personal narrative and unconventional verse into a quick-witted satire that will leave readers oscillating between laughter and tears. At its core, the text is a call to action, encouraging its audience to sign up for Antifa, call their political representatives, and question their own privilege through a critical lens.

Employing sharp social commentary—often in the form of vignettes—McGrath tackles hard-hitting topics including race, feminism, marriage, culture, and misogyny with a voice that is, at times, both ironic and (sometimes painfully) accurate. Woke: A Guide to Social Justice is split into several sections, each of which is delineated by a laughably subversive title, such as “My Culture is Not Your Goddam Prom Dress,” “Suck My Hashtag,” and “Islamofeminism.”

In “Fuck the Patriarchy,” McGrath astutely introduces the concept of ‘othering’ by sharing that the word ‘woman’ comes from the Old English phrase ‘female human’ whereas ‘man’ simply means human. The implication here is that women are deviants from the norm.

In “White Death,” McGrath delves deeply into issues of racial prejudice when she discusses the ‘double jeopardy’ of identifying as both female and black.

n “Conclusion,” she encourages readers to fight unconscious bias against Muslims in a world where people immediately run if they hear someone speaking Arabic in a public place.

Alternating between humor and a refreshing shock factor many of Woke’s chapters are punctuated with sharp one-liners intended to elicit a strong reader response. While these incendiary quotes are sprinkled throughout the book, a select few merit attention as standalones:

“Virtually all of us at some point in our lives will have dabbled in bestiality, whether that be a long-term monogamous relationship with a favourite whippet or simply the occasional digit drunkenly inserted into a vole on a night out.”

“Topiary is becoming more explicitly sexual with many shrubs in public parks being refashioned into suggestive shapes. Find a plant and fuck it. It’s not so much a choice as a duty.”

“Imagine me as a potter in a workshop, and yourself as a malformed lump of clay.”

It is not a stretch to assert that the above is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to McGrath’s powerful prose. To sum up the author’s overall intent in her own words:

    “I adore the word ‘woke’, because our society is a slumbering beast that has been trapped in its     coma for far too long. It needs to be nudged. That’s where I come in. I am that formidable beast-            nudger.”

While the art of “beast-nudging” is imperative to the future of our diverse, ever-changing society, this topic–-and this book-–have particular relevance to the work of student affairs professionals, namely academic advisors.

Relatedly, one of the core tenants of the NACADA paradigm is inclusivity. By embracing this value, NACADA is inviting advisors to consider individual perspectives and to avoid the perpetuation of dangerous assumptions and stereotypes. In essence, inclusivity is about growth and broadening a person’s mindset to be receptive to ideas they had never previously considered. Through its subversive, highly-charged anecdotes, Woke: A Guide to Social Justice offers an accessible blueprint for positive change by way of inclusion.

Each time a student walks through our door, they are carrying a unique personal history and a set of highly nuanced experiences. As higher education practitioners, it is our responsibility to meet their multi-layered identities with compassion and respect. While we cannot compensate for every past injustice a student has faced, Woke: A Guide to Social Justice allows us to have empathy for the various obstacles each demographic may encounter. In essence, the book is not exhaustive in its addressing of race and culture, but it opens the door to a conversation. And, with enough conversation among academic advisors about inclusion and identity challenges, it is my hope that we can one day change the narrative for students who feel judged—for who—and what—they are.

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