In certain circles, the idea of being woke—being cognizant of the realities and struggles faced by marginalized people—is a key component to agitating for social change and justice.
In other circles, wokeness is something to be performed for an audience so that they might understand just how down with the cause(s) you are.
But in the case of two small, independent brewing companies, "staying woke" isn't either of these things. It's a flavor of beer you should want to drink.
Both The Veil Brewing Co., located in Richmond, Virginia, and Antagonist Ales, a NYC-based microbrewery, have produced small batches of craft IPAs dubbed "Stay Woke" that seemingly have nothing to do with social consciousness and everything to do with ham-handedly co-opting a phrase the companies thought sounded cool.
NPR's Sam Sanders was the first to spot Veil's beer. He reacted indignantly:
While Veil makes a point of noting its beer's dank, intense, hoppiness, Antagonist Ales takes things a step further by explaining that the decision on the beer's name was inspired by the "death" of the brewery's first attempt at making booze.
"Our first beer came up dead. [We] needed an awakening," Antagonist Ales' description of their Stay Woke version reads. "Bursting with Citra hops, Stay Woke claws its way up from six feet deep to provide a pale ale hell-bent on enjoyable consumption."
Given the fact that many people have used the phrase "stay woke" as a warning to others in the aftermath of brutal, racially-charged police shootings that have left black and brown people dead, one wonders whether the people at Antagonist Ales fully understood the gravity of the name that they'd chosen.
When I reached Tom Sabiel, the co-founder of Antagonist Ales, he declined to speak about the beer on the phone, saying that he would only answer written questions. He didn't respond to the written questions I subsequently sent him.
These are the types of things that happen what brands try their hand at speaking the lingo in an attempt to make themselves more relatable to customers. Performative wokeness, much like saying "bae," is a Thing with corporations. Take Budweiser's parent company Anheuser-Busch for example:
The #BudLightParty supports everyone's right to marry whomever they want, then throw a party for all their friends.https://t.co/DhyGqXupk0
— Bud Light (@budlight) June 1, 2016
Brands wanting their customers to be more politically engaged with the very real problems people of color, queer people, and women face is not an inherently bad thing. Companies like Ben & Jerry's have proven that there are, in fact, ways a business can use its platform to draw attention to controversial, difficult topics and talk about them in a nuanced, sensitive, intelligent way.
But simply slapping a racially-charged buzzword onto a product is not the way to do that.