How to Become Woke

A few weeks ago, my dear friend Idelette McVicker asked me to contribute to an ongoing conversation about race and issues of representation at the magazine she edits, SheLoves. I love the way that the women at SheLoves want to address these conversations humbly and with respect. I wrote the following piece for them:

How to Become Woke

My college students introduced me to the word “woke” a few years ago. The term describes people who are, as Urban Dictionary puts it, in a state of “being aware” and “knowing what’s going on in a community” in relation to racism and social injustice. I know it’s a bit awkward when I incorporate that term in our class discussions (I still remember the way one of my professors carefully said, “Oh, I’m sorry. That was my mistake. It was MY BAD!” So terrible.) Even if my students cringe and smile when I say it, however, I like “woke.” It describes a sense of being awake, of not wanting to have your head in the sand.

Following the horrific violence and racism of the last few weeks and years, I have seen a deepening desire on the part of many of the white people I know to become woke. I want to be woke myself. I want to know what words I can use, what action I can take, to let people of color know I support them. I want to stand alongside them without them feeling that I as a white woman am doing what so many white people have often done: appropriating the stories of people of color or speaking for them. I want to listen and learn. I want to advocate for and support.

I want to know on a practical level how to do that: When should I speak? When should I be silent? What can I say? What should I never say?

Read the rest of the article over at SheLoves.


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