Wokeness Unlocked: Level 9

Had an interesting weekend on my Facebook wall with a Christian pastor who applies a version of the Billy Graham Rule to communications with women within a ten-year span of his age in relations to his church functions. While he was cordial in tone, he seemed to have a hard time understanding what many woman on my page were saying about the living under Christian patriarchy that suffocates woman’s humanity. The humanity of women is constantly revoked under rules which are meant to protect men’s integrity — well-meaning or not. The fact that he couldn’t quite grasp this isn’t surprising. I’ve lived most of my life in Evangelicalism and much of that in complementarian churches like Tim Keller’s (Women and men hold to distinct gender roles where a woman’s role is to be submissive to the man’s spiritual leadership. This of course includes but is not limited to the fact that a woman cannot preach nor have final say in the home). Realizing the ingrained-ness of these destructive habits, particularly if they’re encultured and approved by your peers and denomination, can take a bit; changing them, longer. I was hoping some seeds were planted.

Yet, by his account this pastor is not a complementarian. He used personal examples to demonstrate that he supports women in the ministry and in the workforce. Concurrent to this encounter, he half-joked on Twitter that he viewed himself as ‘woke’. And yet, he follows a rule that says that private communications with women ten years under or over his age are off-limits unless his wife or her (presumably) husband were cc’d on the email or text. The underlining virtue being: Be vigilant; women are first and foremost sexual temptations.

I’ve been noticing how we apply this term, being woke. Awake and thus not asleep to the struggles of the oppressed and marginalized (particularly in racial contexts), in African American English. The lumpenproletariat gaining racial consciousness. But I’ve also seen the term self-applied quite a bit; bandied about by White people among peers as a type of earned badge.

The Badge of Wokeness.

Recognition is a reward, an encouragement. Being rewarded for work comes in all shapes and sizes, and obviously monetary rewards only cut so deep. Sometimes we need social encouragement for our behavioral modification.

Untitled cat under blanket. Image by Brittany Reid

But being woke isn’t really the work. It’s recognizing, it’s seeing, it’s learning, but it’s not applying. It’s the first step, and an important step. Yet often we mistake that first step for the destination itself. As an educator, I take exception to the idea that learning should be removed from some sort of application. We should always resist turning what we learn into static objects in and of themselves, useful only to retrieve at staid cocktail parties. Justice education works against becoming a consumable object, to be bought and sold on the market like any old wicket.

What is there to do with consumables but to obtain them, trade them or consume them?

Maybe everyone wants to Be Woke and few want to Stay Woke. But maybe Wokeness shouldn’t be tied to an idea of perspective, but of practice. Knowing is not the ultimate goal, change is.

This may sound cynical. After all, shouldn’t allies and accomplices have some sort of reward for joining in the fight? I personally believe that’s not a way towards a long-standing fight. A lot of our approaches toward justice and liberation have been guilt-based and territorial, thus we need various and different ways of enticing the brave and beautiful souls who join the struggles. After all, we are different and we learn differently and at different paces.

The social capital of badges operates in much the same way that self-care routines do. Because we do not have actual caring communities where we take care of each other, because #BossCulture exploits every bit we have, and because capitalist racism and sexism are so degrading to our emotional, spiritual, psychological and physical well-being, we have to go through extra steps to outsource our care or just shut everything down. The Woke Badge gives us a sort of confirmation without allowing us to enter the temple of caring community.

A glaring problem with allied activism is that the gates are guarded by territorial allies who received their Woke Badges and feel (wrongly) that there is only so much room at the Woke Table. Would-be participants must enter through the narrow gate, must be similarly woke. We sometimes scold people for not having shown up earlier, for not carrying the requisite language, for not learning much about the movement before diving into the work, for not chanting the right chants when they should have.

It makes sense to require much of would-be allies in that a few populations (notably women of color) tend to do the heavy-lifting. But rather than turn away potential recruits for not being up to speed, maybe we can reorganize our modes of activism and liberation in ways that will allow us to do more of the necessary work together — taking the burden off the few — and allow people to participate and learn in the process. Learning isn’t static and happens in multiple ways and through many means.

Some of us learn by reading, others by touching, others by hearing, others by doing, most by some combination. Asking everyone to read all about it on the internet isn’t a workable solution for the vast majority of people, and those of us working towards a broad liberation should be aware of that and work around it.

I’m thinking that a different form of solidarity needs to be built. One that recognizes participants’ assets, strengths, and limitations. One that is caring and expansive. Where needs are met by mutuality and gifting, potlucks and rent parties.

One where the majority of the work is not placed on the shoulders of women (and particularly women of color) while white men get the majority of credit — but where the work is more equally distributed.

Black Lives Matter provides a template, where the work and leadership is divided and shared, where there is no singular head upon which all the weight, failures and success lies. Imagine socialists and disability activists joining feminist groups in the struggle for universal childcare or domestic worker pay, and feminist and prison abolition groups joining immigrant activists fighting deportations.

The people who lead these campaigns are the ones most affected by and knowledgeable about the situations and affectations (which, surprise, is a very overlapping Venn Diagram). But our fortunes and liberations are tied to each other, and we recognize that and work towards a mutual liberation.