From White To Woke — In 9 (Not So) Easy Steps
If you’re reading this I’m assuming that you are either, 1) interested in learning more about the terms ‘whiteness’ and ‘wokeness’ or 2) eager to make the transition from white to woke. Either way — great! We have lots to talk about.
Whiteness and wokeness are two terms that are being used more frequently nowadays. Whiteness, because in an increasingly diverse society, the concept of being “white” also needs to be defined. What does it mean to be white? And wokeness, because our increasingly diverse society is still plagued by injustice, and if you want to be a good citizen and a decent human being, you need some level of awareness of what’s going on around you. What does it mean to be woke?
Obviously, in order to talk about or use these terms, we first need to define them. I’ll start by trying to do just that:
Whiteness — If you google this word, whiteness is defined as “the property or quality of being white in color” or “the fact or state of belonging to a human group having light-colored skin” (which by the way: I am, and I do).
While I completely agree with those definitions I would like to offer up my interpretation. Just like my wife (and 2050 Co-Founder) Kat Gabrielle I believe that whiteness is indeed a skin color, a behavior (like awful, awful dancing) and a culture, but more importantly — it is a state of mind. Whiteness, to me, is often synonymous with privilege, and furthermore with not being aware of or acknowledging said privilege. Another defining character of whiteness that I’ve become all too familiar with, is the firm belief that everyone is equal, yet as soon as someone points out inequality, it’s instinctively met with doubt and debate.
Why do you always have to make it about race?
Wokeness — If you google this word, many of the results are often in the form of “what the hell does woke mean?!”. According to Urban Dictionary: “Being woke means being aware. Knowing what’s going on in the community”.
Blavity offers this definition: “The phenomenon of being woke is a cultural push to challenge problematic norms, systemic injustices and the overall status quo through complete awareness. Being woke refers to a person being aware of the theoretical ins and outs of the world they inhabit”. In short — wokeness is a state of mind, a state of social awareness and self awareness and an ability to challenge social norms and societal structures.
I make it about race because structural racism is still a thing!
Now, if you already consider yourself woke these definitions should (hopefully) make sense and you can stop reading here. If this on the other hand is somewhat new to you and you are looking to make a personal transition from whiteness to wokeness — stay with me.
I took the liberty of listing a few steps that could make the transition a little smoother, because to be honest it can get pretty awkward, mainly for two reasons. First, you will have to practice challenging everything that you have been taught, both internally and externally, and sometimes that process hurts. Second, you’ll need to remember that you will make mistakes in the process. Like me, you will say and do things that others may find offensive or hurtful and sometimes you won’t be able to repair the damage. So you have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. You have to start thinking before you speak so as to not make others too uncomfortable. And if you fail to do that, you have to start practicing the phrase: I’m sorry.
So without further ado, and with the risk of sounding like an infomercial, here’s my list for how to go from white to woke in 9 (not so) easy steps:
- Make some new friends. Look to your left, now look to your right. If you’re surrounded exclusively by people who look like you, you need to make some new friends. How are you supposed to learn about other people’s experiences if you’re surrounded by people who all have had experiences similar to yours?
- Listen! It might sound easy but it’s not. You need to practice active listening. When someone tells you about an experience that you are not familiar with (e g I was discriminated against at work today because of the color of my skin), you need to just sit there and listen. Don’t question, don’t debate, just listen. People don’t make up shit like that and they deserve your attention.
- Accept & Acknowledge. This point also translates roughly into: be a decent fucking human being. If someone tells you about a negative personal experience that they’ve had, try just accepting what’s being said and acknowledging how fucking terrible it is. That’s it.
- Ask questions. This point comes with a disclaimer. Don’t ask every stupid question that comes to mind. Look at it this way, when you meet a person of color, that person has most likely already been asked the first 5 stupid questions that pop into your head (probably that day). So you can do everyone a favor and do some googling first. But then get out there and ask human questions such as: What’s your experience? What do you think? How does that make you feel?
- Identify your own privilege. Take 5 minutes and count your blessings. Ask yourself what privileges you have had and still have. Have you ever been discriminated against? Have you ever had to worry about money? Are you aware of, or made aware of, your ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation on a daily basis? Whoever you are, I guarantee you that you have privileges that others don’t. If you are a white person, start by googling white privilege.
- Deal with your white guilt. Once you’ve googled and accepted the privileges you have, a natural next step is a wave of guilt, also known as white guilt. Make sure you deal with this on your own time. Telling people of color about your white guilt is not a constructive use of your time (or theirs). Instead dedicate yourself to creating a world where everyone has the opportunity to have the same privileges as you.
- Educate yourself. Read books (like this), articles (like this), follow those who speak about social inequality (like this), watch documentaries (like this). Take responsibility for your own learning journey and get comfortable with the fact that it will never end.
- Educate others. Once you’ve educated yourself you will likely find yourself with some strong newfound beliefs. Build confidence in those beliefs and practice the arguments that support them. Believing in something that’s right doesn’t give you any bonus points, you need to get out there and educate others (starting with your own friends and family).
- Prepare for the worst. When you’ve familiarized yourself with some of the horrible things that happen to certain people, for example based on the color of their skin, be prepared to act when you see it happening. If you bear witness to discrimination it’s your obligation to speak up. If you haven’t made up your mind beforehand, odds are you won’t.
One last thing, these are only my humble definitions, thoughts and opinions. I hope that you find them helpful and I’m curious to hear what you think. If you have anything to say, positive or negative, feel free to get in touch with me at email@example.com and let’s talk about it.