Opinion | Bristol: a melting pot of activism or the epitome of woke hypocrisy?


By Freya Parsons, Third Year, Social Policy and Sociology

Active, liberal, and multicultural; Bristol students boast progressiveness with a sense of superiority over other universities, charged with a socio-political rage that can only be described as ‘woke supremacy. For a city that simultaneously preaches hardcore veganism yet is also labelled Europe’s ‘cocaine capital’ it’s hard to differentiate between what is altruistic social change and what is social media fuel.

Taken directly from its homepage, the University of Bristol is a self-proclaimed vibrant community that ‘is committed to attracting the very best students’ and offers a ‘diversity of thought, belief and background’.

Yet, it is no secret that the student demographic is painfully lacking in diversity with just over a quarter having come from private or grammar schools.

As the prospectus photographer desperately seeks out POC to put on the front cover, while the authors write enthusiastically about the support there is for minorities on campus, many are left eagerly waiting for change.

When facing these sorts of issues, it is easy to argue that any activism is going to be beneficial in some way, but performative activism can be dangerous – focussing on appearing as if you’re passionate about the cause over pursuing actual reform is counterproductive.

For those surface level activists who absent-mindedly posted their black square, after getting everything they needed to know from TikTok, Bristol’s pseudo-revolutionary aesthetic is their safe haven for the upper-middle echelon looking to facilitate the fascination of being ‘poverty chic’ without ever having to get their hands dirty.

being an advocate for veganism whilst having a soft spot for cocaine is nothing if not contradictory

The iconic streetwear advertised by students that includes the expensive baggy clothing, grungy layers, and rips verges on a borderline mockery of Bristol’s glaring homeless problem.

For a council that claims to provide services and support for those sleeping rough, the hostile anti-homeless architecture that can be seen around Cabot Circus and Harbourside is cold and calculated, designed solely to exclude, and cause discomfort to the most vulnerable groups in society.

Bristol has now made its way to the top five cities with the highest number of people living on the street. Although claiming to do all they can, after scratching the surface of our compassionate reputation, this is just one of the many deep-seated social issues that start to emerge.

it’s hard to differentiate between what is altruistic social change and what is social media fuel

When it comes to environmental issues, only a few seem to be vocalised. Bristol is recognised as borderline aggressively vegan-friendly, and if you are not prepared to be chased out of a café for asking for cow’s milk, it may not be the place for you.

Well, not really - the incredible range of vegan restaurants and general drive to be meat free for both environmental and moral reasons is impressive and remains one of the city’s star qualities.

Cutting down on meat consumption has many benefits and those who manage it belong on their cruelty free high horse (if you excuse the pun), but Bristol certainly has its fair share of vegans that will scowl at a sausage whilst happily engaging in other environmentally questionable things, like railing cocaine over the weekend.

it is easy to argue that any activism is going to be beneficial in some way, but performative activism can be dangerous

Very Bristol-esque, but being an advocate for veganism whilst having a soft spot for cocaine is nothing if not contradictory.

The effects of coca farming generates colossal damage to the rainforest through deforestation, which has led to multiple species becoming endangered due to loss of habitat.

It’s also important to mention the cost of human life associated with the cocaine industry, it’s been approximated by some that as many as six people die per kilo of cocaine produced due to the violent nature of drug trade. Whatever the true cost, it is undoubtedly too high.

The urban legend going round at afters that ‘coke is vegan’ unfortunately, is a lie. Is it okay to only be environmentally conscious when it suits the individual, or is this another branch of surface level activism? Doing something is better than nothing, but the lack of acknowledgement for the detrimental effects of cocaine use in Bristol is surprising. How meat free are we really being?

Are we too distracted by ‘oh so quirky spoon necklaces’ to recognise the impact we’re having, or is it just easier to turn a blind eye when it comes to guilty pleasures?

Bristol’s strong liberal woke agenda is something every individual should be proud of, but blindly following the perceived superior way of life is, ironically, not sustainable.

Bristol named the world's top city for veganism
Cocaine traces in Bristol sewage nearly quadruple in five years

Fighting for change is what makes this city so great and should be done carefully with wide knowledge and true passion – it is not an excuse to patronise but an opportunity to inform.

While ‘wokeism’ now seems a rather hackneyed term, the sentiment remains something we should strive towards. What’s important is that we’re not doing things just for show – this is when things start getting hypocritical.

If an institution promises change, we should expect them to deliver, token gestures are useless, and ethics shouldn’t change just because it’s the weekend - but at least Bristol has got the ball rolling. If we’ve got issues about being ‘too woke’ at least we’re going in the right direction. You never know, the rainforests might let you off if it’s a bank holiday.

Correction: The article published on 6 September stated that around 50 per cent of students attending Bristol University are privatly educated. In fact, just over a quarter are privately educated, with an eight per cent increase in state school admissions since 2016.

Featured Image: Unsplash / Colin Davies

What are your thoughts? Let us know!