Dining across the divide: ‘I don’t think we fully agreed on a definition of woke’

One is from a leftwing family but moved right; the other from a conservative background and moved left. Did that help them understand the other’s perspective?


John, 57, Birmingham

Occupation Contract manager for a national charity

Voting record John, who has dual US and British nationality, describes himself as centre-left and usually votes Lib Dem here. Remain in the EU referendum

Amuse bouche John used to be a navigator in the US air force


Josh, 30, Cheltenham

Occupation Works in the aerospace industry

Voting record Josh, who has British and Brazilian nationality, has always voted Conservative here. Leave in the EU referendum

Amuse bouche Josh has a pilot’s licence. “Sometimes I’ll pop down to the Isle of Wight for lunch”

For starters

Josh My mother is British of Jamaican heritage; my dad Brazilian of British heritage. My family are pretty leftwing – I’m the only one who would describe themselves as conservative. I started taking note of politics as a kid in Brazil. I read about the Russian gulags at the time of the 2002 elections. Lula’s party emblem was a red star, and I got a bit of a red scare – started digging a bunker, in case the communists took over!

John I grew up in North Carolina, in a very conservative Christian household that had only ever voted Republican. The first person I voted for was Ronald Reagan, but at university I realised I wasn’t that way inclined. I came to the UK with the military in the 90s, and returned to live with my British partner.

Josh and John sitting at a restaurant table talking

The big beef

John I asked Josh for an example of what he thinks “woke” is. He told me about a university in California banning the word “field” because of its association with slavery. He saw it in the Telegraph.

Josh I don’t think we fully agreed on a definition. He took “woke” in the sense of having an awareness of injustices and a willingness to talk about them. If that’s what woke meant, it would be hard to disagree with it.

John History has been written from a white, male perspective – in the US, atrocities done to Black and Native Americans just aren’t part of our history. For me, being woke is about recognising that and seeing the implications today. It’s very positive – we need to discuss these things. But the extremists take over, talking about woke extremes rather than the real issues. Obviously I don’t agree with not using the word “field”!

Josh What passes for wokeness these days is superficial and performative. I think people jump to racism when actually the problems are economic. He grew up in the south in the US, where race usually was the issue, but in contemporary Britain the problems are often elsewhere.

Josh and John sitting at a restaurant table talking

Sharing plate

Josh He’s more open to reform and big changes, whereas I’m more “take things slow, change should be more bottom-up than top-down”. Our differences were not so much about where we should go, but how we should get there.

John The big thing we agreed on was that people need to have discussions. Take some of the emotions out of the emotive issues, look at the benefits and negatives to see what direction to take.

Josh and John sitting at a restaurant table talking

For afters

Josh My Euroscepticism came from the sovereign debt crisis, and the way the EU treated Greece. They forced Yanis Varoufakis out of office when he was finance minister in a democratically elected government. That was when I started to think the EU is not the benign force everyone thinks it is.

John My vote against Brexit was more emotional than practical. I felt the youth deserved the opportunity that being part of the EU would give them. I tend to want to join up rather than split apart. The more little parts there are, the more difficult it is to get consensus and bring people together.

Josh Whatever opportunities there were in Brexit have been squandered. We should have formed consensus around what we want, rather than allowing it to become a party-political football.

John I want to keep the UK together, too, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Northern Ireland joined Ireland, and Scotland will get another chance to leave.

Josh and John sitting at a restaurant table talking


Josh Because he’s from a conservative background and moved left, and I’m from a leftwing family and moved right, we could understand each other’s position. We sort of waved in passing as we moved along the political spectrum.

John It was nice to meet someone so thoughtful and engaged, and who does the research. That hasn’t always been my experience of people Josh’s age. We talked nonstop for two and a half hours.

Josh and John sitting at a restaurant table talking

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

• John and Josh ate at Friar Street Kitchen in Worcester

Want to meet someone from across the divide? Find out how to take part

US readers: would you like to take part in a special US edition of Dining across the divide? Let us know here.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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