On Being “Woke”


What does it mean to be awake? Does it mean that we are simply conscious of reality around us? Within the last year I heard for the first time the phrase of being “woke”. Maybe you know what this means maybe you don’t. What I’d like to explore is what I have found this to mean in my life after living in this “age of brutality.”

The spur of this thought came from just finishing a book by Ta-Nahesi Coates called Between the World and Me. This book was written as a letter from a father to his son and explores the father’s perspective of the world in which his son is now entering into as a young black male.

One of the themes of this book, is the idea that our world is currently, and has for a long time been, separated into two main groups of people: the Dreamers and the Conscious.

From reading Coates’ words, one gets the definition that Dreamers are 1) oblivious to the reality around them, 2) are taught that the world is their oyster and that they have mastery over their lives and futures.

The Conscious on the other hand realize that their life is governed by outside rules that exert force and rule over their bodies. They are limited by externalities and intrinsic qualities that they have no control over. They are taught to be twice as good because they will receive half the justice [1].

The question that I had to ask myself is, “which one am I?” Do I believe that I could do anything that I want to do given the right effort? Do I feel like I could go anywhere I want to and not get stopped by local law enforcement? Do I worry about how my culture will view and treat my future children?

Asking these questions and others to myself it was pretty obvious that I fell into the Dreamers category. After this realization, and struggling to accept it, there were two breakthroughs that I came to.

The first is a point that Coates made which hit me pretty hard. The fundamental difference (between Dreamers and the Conscious) that has been significant for me to understand is that everyone here in the world and, yes, even in America lives by different rules. The rules that I live by as a white male (you can be anything you want, just follow the rules and you’ll be fine, etc.) are entirely not true literally or especially for other ethnic groups.

The second breakthrough for me, was the idea of what separates the Dreamers and the Conscious. In physical sleep, rarely do we we make the conscious choice to wake up (hence the term unconscious). However, in this situation, the barrier between the Dreamers and the Conscious can be crossed by simple choices.

These choices have to be a declaration to oneself that we will not jump to our preconceived biases when we hear a story of violence and sadness, that we will listen more than we speak in an attempt to listen to people who have stories we may have no comprehension of, and that we will attempt to become aware of the real issues at hand, issues which we may never have had an understanding of before stepping out in faith.

You see, everything can be rationalized if you try hard enough. What creates this rift between the Dreamers and the Conscious is that for centuries the Dreamers have been the ones in power, which has only deepened their sleep. They have passed through life with little knowledge of how other people experience the world that they have had a hand in creating. This is the root problem. People going through life without having a clue as to how their actions affect others.

And for me, right now, this is what it means to be “woke.” I do not consider myself being awake right now, but rather taking small steps towards this awakening. I am taking small steps in trying to understand the pain that truly exists. My motivation is not guilt (which is probably a whole other conversation) but what I do start to feel is compassion for people who are hurting due to a broken system.

I know that I do not have the whole picture. I am still learning and the thing that helps me the most is having honest conversations with people, something of which I could have more. If you have a thought on this post or think I am wrong or right or have a story to tell, I would really enjoy listening. There is so much that I have left unsaid in this post, but hopefully I have been clear enough and what I have not said others have spoken much more eloquently on than myself.



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