Woke people give me life.
I love seeing so many people challenging the problematic norms in our society. I love it when public figures like Zendaya and Colin Kaepernick use their platforms to take a stand against systems of oppression. And though it’s sometimes paired with strange conspiracy theories, the more common use of the hashtag #StayWoke always makes me glad that people are having important discussions about race in America.
Engaging in conversations with woke folks always teaches me a thing or two about social justice and equality, and sometimes I’ll walk away with a good book recommendation too.
But I’ve also noticed that many woke folks have some bad habits. We do a number of things that contradict our wokeness.
Now, I’m not casting any stones here because I am also guilty. I’m just pointing out the ways in which we can all do better. Here’s a short list of things we should stop doing if we really want to be all the way woke.
#1 Calling out people in unhelpful ways
I enjoy joining in on a good Black Twitter clapback and I’ll pull out a bag of popcorn and watch Black folks read racists for filth. But sometimes the response to the ill-informed person misses the mark or didn’t quite require a third-degree burn.
I’m not tone policing here either. In many cases, anger and passion are crucial to movements for justice and equality. We just have to be careful about using that passion in ways that do not further our causes. Sometimes we lose sight of the purpose of calling someone out, which is to teach them the ways in which they are being oppressive and encourage them to change these habits. Depending on the person we’re addressing, that may take form using various strategies.
For example, the combative tactic I’d use to address Kanye’s “Multiracial only” casting call or Lena Dunham’s utterly annoying White feminism might not work in other environments. I’d use a more instructional (yet firm) approach for the ignorant White people who fill the contact page of my blog with questions about touching Black women’s hair.
Now, if someone were to actually touch, or try to touch, my hair I might go off – and I bet they’d never try it again. But again, it depends on the context. No one approach works for all situations.
The best thing we can do is to know our audience and approach them with the tactics that will convince them to reconsider their racist points of view.
#2 Forgetting to check our privilege
We all know there’s no such thing as Black privilege. But there are types of privilege afforded to Black people who are male, cisgender, not poor, straight, light skin, thin, and able-bodied, among others.
Our Blackness interacts with, but does not cancel out, those privileges.
If we hold any of these privileged identities, we have to acknowledge that this privilege can impact our perspectives and can cause us to be exclusionary. For example, within the conversation about interactions with the police, Black women are routinely left out. So are Black trans people, Black people with disabilities, and Black people with mental health concerns. Police brutality, as we’ve seen constantly in the news and in the countless heartbreaking hashtags, affects Black people in every one of these groups. So our approach to addressing police brutality should make sure everyone affected in our communities is included in the conversation.
We have to understand that everyone does not have the same privilege and will have perspectives that differ from our own. People may also demand to be included or call us out on the ways in which our politics and activism excludes them.
Instead of ignoring how our privilege has influenced our perspectives, we should listen to make sure their points of view are included in our efforts for change. We can also use our privilege to make sure other members of our communities have a voice. For example, that could mean we ensure that the locations where we protest are accessible for people with disabilities. It could also mean that we stop demanding those without the financial means to support or boycott for a cause that would put a strain on them financially.
We can’t achieve equality if we’re all not equal. So we have to use our privilege for the benefit of those around us.
#3 Judging others who don’t think like us
All woke people do not think the same way.
There are still Black women who question my feminism because think it’s White and divisive. I don’t agree, but I understand where they’re coming from and I respect their decision not to claim the feminist label. There are still Black people who believe intersectionality in our movements is cumbersome, and would prefer to tackle one issue at a time, usually starting with the issues of Black cisgender heterosexual men. Again, though I don’t agree, I understand their concerns.
There are some things woke people won’t always agree on. You might be Martin and I might be Malcolm. And that’s alright.
There are levels to our wokeness. Sometimes, we are more knowledgeable about certain topics. Some woke folks understand more about Black LGBTQIA+ movements while others understand more about the complex relationship between indigenous peoples and Black Americans. So don’t look upon me like I’m the scum of the earth if I confuse the terms “agender” and “gender non-binary,” and I promise I won’t side-eye you for using the word “savage,” which, to this day, is still offensive to some native folks.
There isn’t a unified “Woke Syllabus” required of all people who want to claim they’re socially conscious. There isn’t even a rubric that decides who is woke and who isn’t.
We’re all learning and growing together.
#4 Looking down on “less-woke” folks
Often, someone says something that has a tinge of internalized racism, and we take it upon ourselves to climb our high horses that double as soap boxes and try to rescue this poor soul whose mind is not yet decolonized.
We really need to stop doing that. It reeks of an arrogant savior complex.
And if we’re being honest, it wasn’t too long ago that we were once in their shoes.
When I need to remind myself to get off my self-assembled pedestal, I look at where I came from. I used to sing the “what about Black-on-Black crime?” song and dabbled in the politics of respectability more than once. Those days remind me to be a bit understanding when talking with friends and family who haven’t learned that their views include racist narratives.
After all, none of us came out of the womb quoting Angela Davis.
Remembering the days when we weren’t as conscious helps us remember not to belittle those around us who aren’t as conscious now.
Wokeness should never be associated with a pompous attitude.
#5 Pretending like we don’t have more growing to do
The thing about being socially conscious is that it’s a journey, not a destination.
There is always more to learn. There are new identities being discovered, defined, and labeled on the regular – the LGBTQIA+ alphabet soup wasn’t always as long. There are protests springing up across the country that Black Lives Matter and organizations are raising awareness about, like NoDAPL. And there will always be a new book coming out analyzing race relations in America.
It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been conscious, how many books we’ve read, or how many African American Studies classes we took in college, there will always be something we haven’t yet learned. That’s something to keep in mind the next time someone calls you out for something you said or did that they thought was offensive.
Instead of taking offense, we should listen to them. Maybe you said a word you didn’t realize was offensive, or you said something exclusionary that you didn’t think about. They may be teaching you something that will make you even more conscious. The best thing we can so is to embrace wokeness as an ongoing path to self-improvement, growth, and understanding.
So, woke people, I’m calling you out, and I’m including myself in the critique. We are never going to be perfect. That’s not our job. But getting and staying woke comes with some responsibility. It requires that we continue to listen and learn. If we’re volunteering in our communities, coordinating or participating in demonstrations, and/or working to educate the people around us or in our social networks on important issues, we have to be aware of our impact. We have to be conscious of the habits we have that make people want to tune us out. An unhelpful call out, a classist or sexist statement, or an elitist “woker than thou” attitude can work against our efforts. If we really want to make a change, we have to work on kicking some of these bad habits.
When we do, we become more socially conscious people and more beneficial in our society.
So let’s do better and, of course, remember to stay woke.