Tag Archives: Social issues

Performative Wokeness

As the years have gone by and media and technology have evolved, we have become more aware of the injustices happening around the world. In other words, we have become “woke”. Our awareness has made us realise the oppressive structures in our societies, and how we intentionally or unintentionally contribute to them. People have become more educated, and are trying to make media, workplaces and educational institutions more diverse. Now there is nothing wrong with “being woke”.  The problem arises when we put on a superficial show of solidarity with the oppressed without actually taking any big steps for change or fighting against injustice.

Jenna M. Gray of The Harvard Crimson defined performative wokeness as “drowning your lecture comments with a host of social justice buzzwords — try favourites like intersectionality, marginalised, discourse, subjectivity, or any -ism — without regard to whether other people understand you.” It rose in popularity with the recent Black Lives Matter movement. Thousands of celebrities, influencers and brands used it as a publicity stunt and tried to gain a larger following by trying to appear more aware and pretending to care about the movement without taking any significant steps to fight against the injustice. Their activism started and ended with one black square posted on their Instagram accounts with the #blackouttuesday. The sad part is that this is not a new phenomenon, it has been happening for years.

Under modern-day capitalism, where everything is associated with profit earning, corporations have somehow managed to monetise activism and social issues. Take the example of fast fashion brands like ASOS and TopShop. All these brands have clothing lines which they claim are aimed to empower women. They sell merchandise having quotes like, “We should all be feminists” or “This is what a feminist looks like”. But it is surprising to know that these feminist shirts are created by women in third world countries, who are assaulted, made to work in terrible workplaces, and not even paid the minimum wage. So they don’t aim to empower all women, it is all just a ruse to appear woke to sell their clothing.

Even celebrities are guilty of doing so. I’m sure all of us have heard of the Harry Potter series written by J.K. Rowling. These books were a huge success and pretty much universally beloved. Even the movies were commercial successes. The last movie came out in 2011, after which everyone expected that the story was over, and all that had to be told was told. Yet, J.K. Rowling managed to destroy her legacy by making changes to the characters to try to appear more inclusive than she was. If all of the changes were present in the initial versions of the books, then it would have been clear that she intended for her narrative to be more diverse. Yet, her adding on details years after the publication of her books shows that her activism is purely performative. (not to mention that she’s extremely transphobic)

It is saddening that we have managed to turn such important social issues into marketing strategies. Performative wokeness harms everyone, and it is definitely something which shouldn’t be normalised.

the bitter beverage

With more than 400 billion cups consumed each year, coffee is the most popular beverage in the world. The global coffee industry earns an estimated $60 billion annually. After oil, it is the world’s second-most-valuable commodity exported by developing countries, and people cannot get enough. Consumption of coffee varies worldwide, with some people even consuming 4 cups a day. As a student, coffee is a staple for me. Many people around the world, including me, cannot get by their days without consuming at least one cup of coffee. This love for coffee is justifiable, as it has many benefits. It energises us, helps us stay focused, reduce the risk of Dementia, and can even lower the risk of certain types of cancer. But, even though millions around the world drink coffee, many fail to acknowledge the dark side of it.

Caffeine is a highly addictive substance. Many people think that they need to consume some form of it. Excessive consumption of caffeine can lead to nervousness and restlessness, sometimes even death. However, we as a society have completely normalised caffeine addiction. Many joke about the fact that they cannot survive without that daily cup of coffee and call it a cup of “liquid sanity” when in reality it is not something to be joked about. It should be taken as seriously as any other addiction. Those trying to reduce or quit coffee, might experience withdrawals in the form of severe headaches, irritability, drowsiness, depression and sometimes even nausea and vomiting.

Conventional coffee not only harms your health (if consumed in large quantities ) but also have negative effects on our planet. Coffee was traditionally grown in shady areas, and it had its benefits. It prevented soil erosion and provided some form of refuge for the species native to the regions where it was grown. But, since the yields and therefore profits of shade-grown coffee are lower, many switched to open fields. Growing coffee under the sun depletes the nutrients in the soil, and render the land useless. Such type of coffee also requires a higher amount of pesticides and fertilisers. Since the workers working in such plantations are generally poor, they cannot afford proper safety equipment and suffer from skin rashes and difficulty in breathing.

Coffee farmers are severely underpaid. But, since this is sometimes their only source of income, they are forced to pull their children out of schools and employ them in plantations. It is extremely unsafe for children as young as 6 to be exposed to such high amounts of pesticides used, and even saddening to know that in Brazil child labour rates were approximately 37% higher—and school enrolment 3% lower—than average in regions where coffee is produced. Moreover, big brands such as Nestlé have admitted to purchasing coffee from plantations where slavery and forced labour are prevalent.

Unfortunately, ethical consumption of any commodity is challenging under modern-day capitalism, and a few people cannot guarantee safe working conditions and fair wages for all coffee farmers. Yet, there are still some things we can do on our part to make our coffee consumption more ethical. For starters, we can avoid buying from unethical brands like Nestlé, and instead switch to fair trade brands. The best thing would be to simply purchase your coffee from local shops that get their beans from small farmers. If you reside in India, then try purchasing from the largest certified organic coffee plantation in the Eastern Ghats, Araku Coffee. Moreover, do not stop educating yourself about these issues; don’t let them go unnoticed. The fight for change is a difficult one, but never stop fighting for what’s right.

Sources: https://foodispower.org/our-food-choices/coffee/

the tourism industry

Today’s article aims to ruin yet another thing people like- travelling. Who doesn’t love vacations? We get to take a break from our daily monotonous lives and experience different cultures, see the beautiful local architecture, eat local food etc. Not only is it relaxing for the tourist, but also beneficial for the locals. Many countries around the world depend on tourism. It brings in money and supports local economies. In 2019, about 4.2 crore jobs were created by the tourism sector alone in India, which accounts for 8.1 % of the total employment in the country. However, there are two sides to every coin, and the other side is unknown to many.

Let’s start with travelling. Getting to your destination requires some sort of travelling by planes, trains, cars etc. The main problem with the aviation industry is of noise and air pollution. In 2010, the aviation industry carried 2.4 billion passengers and that number is predicted to increase to 16 billion by 2050. It also produces 2% of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions globally. Choosing to avoid flying and taking a cruise instead? Good luck with that. A week’s worth of travel on a cruise is responsible for depositing about 210,000 gallons of human sewage into the ocean. It is also accompanied by many other problems like air pollution and destruction of coral reefs. If that isn’t enough, they also mistreat their workers. Cruise ship workers suffer many problems like long work hours, terrible pay, and inadequate healthcare.

Now, assuming that you’ve reached your destination, the troubles don’t end there. Often the locals have to go through hell, just so that the tourists can live luxuriously. Although it cannot be denied that the employment bought in by this industry is necessary, people fail to look at the kind of jobs being created. The main kind of employment created is low wage and seasonal, with no hopes of any promotion in them. Tourism is also expensive, and prices tend to be higher in tourist destinations. This means that the locals have to pay exorbitantly high prices for daily products like petrol, vegetables, fruits etc. The governments sadly pay more attention and give more importance to the tourists rather than their people.

Even animals cannot escape the adverse effects of tourism. Wildlife tourism is a multimillion-dollar industry and causes great harm to animals in their natural habitats. Endangered animals are drugged just so people can take photos with them, to flaunt their lifestyles on social media. Scuba diving is an activity enjoyed by many on vacations. Yet, its impact on marine life cannot be ignored. Breakage of coral colonies and tissue damage from direct contact such as walking, touching, kicking, standing, or gear contact and water pollution is common in tourist destinations.

There are many problems with this industry which are overlooked. However, we simply cannot shut all forms of tourism as many countries are dependent on it. The COVID 19 pandemic has shown us how some countries can be negatively impacted if tourism is stopped. So, reform in our methods of travelling is crucial. Some ways by which we can achieve this are:-

  1. Minimise waste generation 
  2. Support family-owned and local businesses by buying merchandise and souvenirs from them
  3. Try to find out ways to minimise your impact on wildlife 
  4. Do not travel by cruises or planes. Try trains instead 
  5. If no alternatives to flying are available, then choose direct flights

 Sources : https://www.atag.org/facts-figures.html

https://www.businessinsider.in/transportation/working-on-a-cruise-ship-can-be-brutal-but-two-lawyers-who-rep-cruise-line-workers-explain-why-even-terrible-cruise-ship-jobs-can-be-attractive/articleshow/66797307.cms

The despicable face of fast fashion

In the present times, everything is fast paced, and what might be trendy one day, is kicked  to the curb the other. The most common example of this is fashion, specifically fast-fashion. Fast-fashion is used to describe cheap, trendy clothing, which makes the journey from the runway, to your closet and then to the garbage dump, in the blink of an eye. These include brands like, H&M, Forever 21, ASOS, ZARA etc. They  pump out new designs regularly to stay relevant amongst the younger generations, and you cannot escape it. Chances are, the clothes you’re wearing right now are from fast-fashion brands.

Now why is this problematic? By putting out new clothes every month or so, and using extremely clever marketing tactics, they’ve convinced the average consumer that their clothes are “outdated” and they need to keep purchasing from them to stay in trend, thereby maximising their profits every single time. But that isn’t even the worst part. To quench their never ending thirst for money, these brands utilise sweatshops for production of their clothing. A sweatshop is a factory where workers are severely underpaid, and the working conditions are inhumane, ranging from excruciatingly long working hours, to unsafe and unhygienic work environments. Sweatshops are usually placed in third world countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia etc. where worker’s rights are minimal, where rich brands can get quick, inexpensive labour at the cost of actual human lives.  

Since these clothes are mass produced and cheaply made, it is not surprising to know that they go bad after a couple of washes, and are no longer wearable. Each year, the average consumer throws away about 32 kilograms of clothing, adding to the already over filled landfills . It is estimated that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than international flights and maritime ships combined. It also takes thousands of gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt and a pair of jeans, as they are made from a water intensive material-cotton. Further, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of water, leading to the fashion industry being responsible for 20% of the worlds water pollution.

As more and more people get aware of their malpractices, fast fashion brands resort to greenwashing, which is basically presenting a company as more eco friendly than it really is. They make false promises about making their products with organic cotton and recycled polyester. However, they fail to provide sufficient and definitive information, and refuse to specify how much of a garment is made with recycled material. Brands like LuLuLemon and H&M have been recently accused of greenwashing, yet their sales remain high.

It is saddening to see how many people are unaware of these evils, and those who are aware simply turn a blind eye to such issues. How can we prevent this? Our strongest weapon in this war against fast fashion is education. Educate yourself and those around you. Watch documentaries, read books and articles, and convince others around you to quit buying from such brands. Try reducing the number of shopping trips you take in a year. Another thing which can help is mending your old clothes, and wearing them at least 30-40 times to make the most out of them. Remember, every little step counts. Gone are the days when we were blind consumers. Now, the time has come for serious reforms.

Sources: https://www.businessinsider.in/science/news/the-fashion-industry-emits-more-carbon-than-international-flights-and-maritime-shipping-combined-here-are-the-biggest-ways-it-impacts-the-planet-/articleshow/71640863.cms

https://www.greenamerica.org/blog/factory-exploitation-and-fast-fashion-machine