I am no stranger to a good debate. In fact, I quite enjoy a healthy conversation comprised of fact, experience and well-placed opinion every once and again. The operative word here is healthy and by healthy I mean all parties in the debate are allowed their perspective and are illustrating a unique perspective rooted in actual facts.
I have often heard from colleagues, friends, and family that having conversations about inequality and racism are difficult. They have said it is an argument you can’t win and so they just don’t touch for any reason. Conversely, I have taken a different stance. I have an extremely difficult time seeing society run amuck with incorrect narratives about groups of people. I have an even harder time seeing how injustice doesn’t just stop at narratives and propaganda but extend to gross violations of civil liberties.
I have been increasingly outspoken about how we are all participating in this matrix of social constructs that oppress and label groups of people so we can perpetuate the lie that one group is more superior to another. After countless conversations, some solicited and many more not, I have come to a few conclusions about why it isn’t necessarily a good use of my time to engage in racial conversations.
Here are my conclusions:
- Most people have made up their mind about the history of events that led us here and why racism and inequality remain pervasive. In making up their minds, they have actively absolved themselves of any wrongdoing while making the assertion that every man has free will to overcome these significant obstacles that they intentionally created to have an enduring and lasting impact on the socioeconomic status of specific groups.
- I’m a black woman which makes almost anything I say dangerous and aggressive. If I sat around spewing fake news all day that would be simple, people would simply say my ignorance is just another example of why black people have found it difficult to reach the upper echelons of society. That I pride myself on being well-versed in the issues, history, complete with reasonable explanations for the usual rebuttals makes me a threat.
- Being a credible activist for what is right and just is exhausting. I’m not nearly close to fighting the good fight in the way that civil rights leaders did in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, yet there is a soul-deep lethargy that sets in when I find myself having to explain basic tenets of human decency, empathy, and fairness to people who see themselves as reasonably intelligent avatars.
I can’t help someone see beyond my color and the threat of my presence if they have decided that black means bad and white means right. It’s not always in my best interest to dialogue even superficially if you can’t separate fact from lies you have been indoctrinated with to preserve your social status. I am not your Racism 101 professor that you get to tap into because I appear to be tempered in my approach to the subjects at hand. I’m likely consumed by fire on the inside every time a white person finds my perspective unfortunate which is really code for I really wanted to like you Janine, but your desire to be forthright makes me uncomfortable.
As I mentioned in the last #BlackBlogsMatter post, my north star is peace. Don’t be shocked if my chatter sometimes goes quiet. I am tired for myself and for my ancestors. I have tried my best with some of you. Preserving me and addressing what I can fix among my own is starting to look like the best thing I can do for us all. Sometimes the loudest thing you can say is to say nothing at all.
This week’s theme for #BlackBlogsMatter is “The Tao of Woke”. As a result, I decided to speak about the state of “wokeness” and what it should mean for you as we continue to navigate difficult themes around race relations and society.
The word: “Awake” is defined as: “to stop sleeping or wake from sleep”. “Woke” being a derivative of “awake” must then be related to that definition. You are not “woke” if you wear kente cloth and are vegan. You are not woke if you wear ankhs and have changed your name back to something more tied to African culture. You are not “woke” if you are white and have 3 black friends, where faux locs, watch Good Times reruns in your free-time, listen to Jadakiss and act as a part-time activist on social media for black liberation. You may not even be “woke” if you are out there daily as a full-time activist for equal treatment across the spectrum of societal issues concerning people of color.
Please know there is nothing wrong with any of those things I mentioned. Full transparency, I have an ankh tattoo. What I am saying is that being “woke” is not a function of those things or evidence that you have your sights on seeking the truth. It is more often than not that people do a mashup of these things in an effort to be seen as culturally-aware or even culturally-sensitive.
To be “woke” you have to awaken. To awaken you have to stop sleeping. Being “woke” is a matter of consciousness and in that state of consciousness, you must also have a conscience. In other words, you have to care, be aware and open to seeing things as they are; not what you think they are. The state of our country is in a disarray not just because 45 is at the helm, it is in a disarray because of decades of neglect, discord, and greed among a few things I will not mention here. If you are awake and seeing things clearly, you understand that narratives like “black people are in dire straits and suffering” is not only not true, but you would know that if there were such an instance in being Black in America that it has more to do with the disproportionate ways we are educated, compensated, and treated legislatively that contributes to poverty in our communities and even crime.
There is a state of consciousness you have to be in to not merely accept the neatly-packaged narratives you are fed by the government, media and even loved ones. To be “woke” you have to be willing to discover the unabashed truth. You have to be willing to speak honestly about what you find. It is a state of being that will not allow you to turn a blind eye to the suffering and truths of others. Being woke means you lead with heart over head understanding that it was never in the plans for any human to suffer on their journey here.
To be woke is to explore yourself coming to a place of understanding for that which is most integral to your values and morality. Wokeness is having all of that knowledge in a world of representatives and boldly deciding to show up as yourself every day regardless of the consequences.
Is it easy? Not at all. Is it worth your time and effort to get there? Absolutely.
Let us not make the term “woke” another social banality that we get so tired of hearing that we missed the message and lesson it tried to teach us.
As humans and as professionals in a human-centric industry, we owe it to ourselves and to the people we serve to try a little more every day to awaken to the truth of other people’s experiences. You may not understand it fully, but exposing yourself to narratives that make you uncomfortable is a start.
I hope you will take the steps necessary to quiet your ego, speak less, and allow space for other people to speak their truths. If you can do that at a minimum, you are well on your way to being “woke”.