A Guide to Waking Up

Or a Pocket Guide to Wokeness

For all the white folks out there, when discussing race, white guilt is real. And while it has waaaay less repercussions than being perpetually systemically oppressed because of your race, this guilt is something that white people have to deal with. Wokeness prioritizes kindness, compassion, open-mindedness, and flexible thinking. It’s the idea that your perspective is not all there is, there are injustices happening that all people have to wake up to, and it can eventually lend itself to radical empathy for people on v different walks of life than you. If you are interested in becoming woke, (nay, you should be interested in becoming woke) here’s a starter pack for you.

Quick Quiz to see if you could potentially become woke:

  • Did you think Chris Rock’s beginning monologue at the Oscars was funny without exception?
  • Have you ever hashtagged #AllLivesMatter?
  • Have you ever treated your heritage like the gov-sanctioned healthy plate (i.e.: I’m 30% Icelandic, 20% Scandinavian, 40% Irish-did-you-know-they-were-enslaved-too-remember??, 10% green vegetables)?

I could keep going but… I shan’t.

Racism is complex. Some folks that occupy the far right spectrum of life want to make America great again. It has never been great. The facade of greatness was built on the backs of the oppressed, and we have to acknowledge that there are so many problematic elements of the history of white supremacy in the US that continue to pulsate today. While we absolutely will not solve racism or oppression or anything lolol, it’s urgent as a potential white ally to start to wake the ef up.

Here’s a white person’s starter pack to woke-ness.

1. Listen. Read. Recognize. Unlearn. Listen. Read. Recognize. Unlearn. No matter how progressive your Northern Virginia school was or the fact that you would’ve voted down Prop 8 had you been of the age or that you have a really good black friend, you have some things to unlearn. You might have listened to Kendrick’s Untitled Unmastered all last month or find yourself comfortable around POC (people of color), but that does not a woke person make. Be up on social media, read the news, read literature, listen to others. Sometimes you don’t have to talk, you just have to listen, read, recognize that you may have some fractured logic, and unlearn some things.

2. Value a multiplicity of perspectives. This is courtesy of my friend Sam Ellison, who offers lovely perspective on all interesting things in life (PS here’s his blog. An academic/Olympian-in-training, he is the definition of woke.) He says, expand your mofo friend group. Do not seek out a Vietnamese person and be like, “AY. Be my friend! I want a different perspective! How do you pronounce ‘pho’? Sorry about the war lol I wasn’t alive for it but it sounds like it sucked :/ .” Seek multiplicity of perspectives, but don’t expect people to be your sole resource. Google is a resource. Be friends with people because they’re awesome and y’all mesh. Be friends with Google because Google will help you with pronunciation and global history.

3. Acknowledge that you have privileges that accompany your skin color. Don’t take offense! It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault (we know 50p of you white folks’ favorite movie is Good Will Hunting, which TBH is a killer movie). Peggy McIntosh spoke at my college once, and explained how she was doing so much work with feminism and fighting sexism, when her Black female counterparts were like, “Hmm. This work excludes us.” Peggy was not woke right away, but she began with an acknowledgement that we do not live in a bootstraps-are-there-to-pull-yourself-up-you-lazy-piece country for everyone. She, like the men she was constantly battling, had privilege and power. She wrote about an essay called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. It’s a start.

4. As per number 1, read news sources, literature, and listen to podcasts. Subscribe, download apps, READ. If we’re picking one of each this week, try:

  • News: Democracy Now. Non-profit news source that’s radical and will nudge you awake.
  • Lit: So much effing awesome literature out there. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is good for this starter pack for so many reasons. Americanah will do you just fine for now.
  • Podcast: Another Round. Another Round. Another Round. Heben and Tracy are bae.

5. Word of the day! “Woke” is laid out in the podcast, make sure you’ve listened, homies. Here’s one more for your starter:

intersectionality (n). Coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, it is the idea that a person’s identity contains multitudes. People have a gender identity, sexual orientation, hometown, age, race, etc. For example, I’m a mixed race, heterosexual, temporarily able-bodied, cis-gendered female. Privilege, power, and oppression are all linked to the intersection of people’s identities.

Be kind to yourselves while also holding yourself accountable. Meet yourself where you’re at, and keep in mind you can always do better!

This guide was produced in tandem with the podcast Writers Who Don’t Write. You can listen to the episode that spurred this conversation with Bijan Stephen, an associate editor of The New Republic, here.