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Britain's Most 'Woke' Cities Show Young People's Zeal for Gender Equality, Climate Action, and More

Why Should Global Citizens Care
To be woke is to be aware — to understand the problems of the world and want to do something about it. A lot of those issues boil down to the UN’s Global Goals: 17 objectives ranging from fighting gender inequality to stopping the climate crisis that will help us end extreme poverty by 2030. Join our movement and take action here.

Sometime in the distant future, a languages professor is working late, utterly flummoxed by one word repeated over and over in ancient documents — "woke." 

Record scratch. Let’s start again.

The word "woke" has taken on a life of its own. The Oxford English Dictionary officially added it in 2017, meaning “alert to injustice in society, especially racism.” It’s become a bit of an identity — to be “woke” is to see the world, know its truth, but to never self-style. The OED traces its popular use to a 2008 track by Erykah Badu called “Master Teacher.” With origins in black culture, the term has now been widely adopted around the world and used nearly to the point of exhaustion.

And now, the word has been officially plotted and mapped. A study by Bankrate called “The Woke Index” has examined all the things us youths love to frolic in — recycling, vegan restaurants, low-emission cars, council diversity, voter turnout, a shortening gender pay gap — and has created the absolute, definitive list of British cities, ranked on all that aforementioned wokeness.

Here's the official list. 

10. Leicester 

You know Leicester. It’s where the Most Moving Moment in Sport happened, in 2016, when Andrea Bocelli sang “Nessun Dorma” next to manager Claudio Ranieri to celebrate Leicester City’s against-all-odds Premier League title triumph.

It makes the woke list on account of its high volume of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the city — Bocelli opens his grey hoodie, revealing an electric blue Leicester shirt, the crowd howls in emotion — which includes a fetching Indian joint called “Herb”, top ranked on TripAdvisor, described in reviews as "really flavoursome" and "very good value" — there it is, the crescendo, and a single tear, trickling down my face — there’s even a Vegan Festival in March, 80+ stalls, £3 entry, equal to a Tesco meal deal, what a steal — the dignity, the pride, I’m crying, full infant bawling now, this must be pure beauty, my fingers are tingling, is this what synesthesia feels like?

Yes. Leicester is on the list.

9. Exeter 

Author Dolly Alderton, in her book Everything I Know About Love, wrote that Exeter University was an “apolitical” place. That’s half-true: the most political act I saw in my time there was when the Students Guild hosted a 2013 referendum (before it was cool) to condemn, but not ban, Robin Thicke’s controversial hit “Blurred Lines” (go democracy?).

But its place on this list is largely thanks to voter turnout. Like all the other cities here, Exeter has a burgeoning hub of students. Perhaps the 2017 “youthquake” — where young people supposedly flocked to vote in Britain’s last general election — played its part?

You will not find “woke” in Exeter’s clubs. But you might find it in its soul — deeply wedged between a fascination with skin-tight salmon-shaded polo shirts and weeknight lacrosse socials.

8. Cardiff 

If you were born in Cardiff, like I was, you would know that the city centre is frequented by a local hero known only as Ninjah. 

He’s a dreadlocked revolutionary; a self-styled motivational speaker; a street percussionist (apparently his dad played the trombone with Bob Marley). But as children we were told that he was part of an apocalyptic sect that believes if all its members drum on natural objects, like bins, at the same time, the world will end, just like that.

Interesting, then, that Cardiff scores so highly on the list for recycling. A prophecy of the fire and brimstone to come? It’s also the second-best in the top 10 for the lack of disparity between men and women’s hourly wages, despite Wales reportedly having the widest gender pay gap in the whole of the UK.

7. Leeds 

Leeds: the first UK city to lower its childhood obesity rate. Leeds: one of the first places in England to follow Scotland in giving out free “baby boxes” at its hospitals. Leeds: home to Britain’s first food waste supermarket.

It’s its own micro-society really: hot on the number of Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles per capita — and the number of female or BAME representatives on its local councils. 

Above all, it’s the hometown of actor Matthew Lewis, who played Neville Longbottom — known only to millennials as “Sexy Neville Longbottom” — in the Harry Potter movies. He was pretty concise when reflecting on his city: “good boozers in Leeds!”

6. Bristol 

Like Leeds, but accentless. Big balloons. 

The similarities are profound: Leeds is known for looking after its kids — and Bristol is miles ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to protecting young girls from female genital mutilation. Leeds is strong on the environment; while Banksy’s hometown is bringing bears and wolves back into the same habitat for the first time in a millennium.

And remember the story of the Bristol Uni students who raised £1,500 to pay for cleaner, a Windrush immigrant, to visit his family in Jamaica? My heart.

5. Cambridge

So few things happen in Cambridge that an escaped pet fronted the news for four days in July.

I kid: it was a 9 foot python called Turin — and the whole country lost their collective minds. By the end of the debacle, it had its own Twitter bio and Tinder profile. "He is a big snake and we got to touch it,” the man who found the python told Cambridgeshire Live. “My wife touched it on the head."

The fine residents of Cambridge also score extremely highly on recycling. Put that in your plastics bin and (don’t) smoke it.

4. London

We get it, London. You’re progressive. You produce perhaps the highest ratio of articles talking about Carly Rae Jepson in intellectual terms on the planet. You have the Queen, and are pretty nonchalant about the fact. You cycle. Stop rubbing it in our faces.

3. Bath 

There’s two things you need to know about Bath: it’s very clean, and very white. 

Far higher than the national average, Bath’s population of 100,000 is 95% white — and 1% black. Even its architecture is rooted in whiteness: most of its buildings are made from Bath stone, giving the entire city a pale-ish, golden hue. 

Bath ranks among the highest here for vegan and vegetarian restaurants, for recycling, for voter turnout. Yet it languishes near the bottom for council diversity and the gender pay gap. 

So, so clean. But so, so white.

2. Brighton and Hove

If anybody gets "woke", Brighton does. At least on paper. The study gave it a maximum score for “search terms” — meaning how frequently locals Googled woke-related words in the last five years. Terms monitored included: LGBT; fair trade; volunteering; climate change; feminism; protest; sustainability; charity; human rights; and politics.

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1. Oxford 

Oxford has the UK’s second-youngest population — and Malala goes to uni there. 

Its city centre could be the world’s first zero-emissions zone next year and it stripped Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, of a key honour following her response to the Rohingya crisis.

Woke isn’t just an understanding, and it should be more than an empty word. It’s the boldness to share that understanding in challenging circumstances. It's about sacrifice — putting activism out there even when you know that internet trolls might get paid to attack you for it. To be woke is to be afraid that the world has scary, seemingly insurmountable problems — but keeps you signing petitions, drafting protest sign puns, and voting, always voting, in any election we can get our hands on.

Own it, kids! Woke (adj.): to be young and hopeful; to be borne ceaselessly into the future; to seriously give a damn.