How can we listen to what we aren’t hearing?

Young People, ‘Woke’ culture and self-censorship

Ellie Wroe-Wright, April 2024

“I’m tired. I’m tired of having to censor myself all the time” were the words from one of the young people we spoke to.

Self-censorship amongst 16–34-year-olds in the UK and US is on the rise. Many blame the Media, social media, and Right-wing politicians for linking young people with the ‘wokerati’.

Young people we spoke to say they hold back from asking lecturers questions at university, or speaking up in the playground, to avoid being mocked or cancelled for saying the ‘wrong thing’.

Interestingly though, ‘the wrong thing’ can go both ways – young people are not just self-censoring because they are worried about being mocked for being too woke; they are also self-censoring because they are worried about being cancelled for not being woke enough.

In fact, 53% of young people in US/UK say they hold back from sharing their views for either reason.

And contrary to widespread media narratives… or what your grandparents might think (!), not all young people see themselves as ‘woke’; their views are more nuanced.

While close to half of young people (46%) say they do identify as woke, over a fifth (22%) say they ‘don’t know’ and nearly a third (32%) reject the ‘woke’ label altogether.

Having grown up immersed in the world of (online and in person) cancel culture, young people are becoming increasingly reticent. Neutrality is seen as the ‘safest’ and most ‘socially acceptable’ line to take on topics like gender, racial and sexual equality.

There is a potential this could lead to increased polarisation as these young people grow up. Many are holding back from sharing their views or asking questions about beliefs that are different to their own. Instead, they seek refuge with those who share their own views, creating an echo chamber on the political left and political right…driving each side further apart.


By Ellie Wroe-Wright