No rest for the woke

Hello. My name is Jenice and I’m a woman of color who never grew up experiencing racism and married a white man.

This is an unsolicited meeting I walked in on and introduced myself. It’s called “Are you woke?” I wasn’t looking for this meeting. But I’m in attendance. First, do you know what this even means? If not, here is a short synopsis from the website

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. Becoming woke, or staying woke, is the acknowledgment that everything we’ve been taught is a lie (kind of/mostly). 

 Though I am fully aware that systemic racism exists as well as white privilege, these were things that I didn’t grow up being submerged in conversation about while being raised in a suburban environment. Both of my parents came from Lubbock, TX, (a place of a lot of racial tension even today), put themselves through college and then moved to Arlington, TX, when I was two. They wanted the best for me and even eventually put me through college. They didn’t spend a lot of time, however, focusing on the racial injustices. My mother told me of a time that she and her sisters went for ice cream as kids and was given scoops of Crisco instead. That was one of just a few stories I was told but we never sat down and had long conversations about race, though they just made a few comments here and there. Meanwhile many of my black peers physically and verbally attacked me for “acting and speaking white,” for having mostly white friends and for the way I dressed. This never made me hate being black, in fact the opposite. Why would I hate who I was? But it did confuse me and I didn’t feel that I would be able to be among a community of my black counterparts as much as I was with those who weren’t people of color — the ones who didn’t seem to judge me for who I was.

I was in my 20s when I experienced my first real receiving end of racism. The different ways they came to me were through quick locking of car doors, a few times being watched at retail stores, offensive sayings a white acquaintance of mine had heard for years but had no idea it was completely wrong and I set him straight. He felt horrible but does that even matter now? Then came dating a white man who had racist parents so we didn’t last long. I knew I was a secret and that wasn’t going to work. Then came a time I was handing out flyers for a fundraiser a friend was throwing and a white man told me he wasn’t going to support anything black people would be involved in even though I told him my friend was actually white. A few other things came along throughout those years but ultimately nothing that marred my experience enough to be furious every day.

Fast forward to what we are faced with today.  We are in a tumultuous time. And society is awakening to racial injustices and political figures continue to feed the systemic racism this country is seething in daily. Knowing this creates a lot of conversation online. And there are articles, videos and memes every day reflecting things that boil your blood. It feels like we are moving backward and sinking into so much division it is apparent that we just might not be able to even get our heads above water from it all. We are drowning in it. So this brings me to this meeting I’ve introduced myself in as I fidget my fingers and shift in my seat.

I’ve dated all different races, cultures and religions. The man I married just so happens to be an old friend who also happens to be white. I love him dearly. His humor gives me life and not everyone always understands that humor. His heart is big and you feel his love. He cares about people and if someone falls in front of him, he will pick that person up with no hesitation, dust them off and get them back on their feet. That’s just who he is but he also is not going to understand what it means to be black even though he gets systemic racism.

Every day now I tend to speak about these issues because of the climate we are in but I never did this before. I was in my corner of the world, loving the skin I’m in, knowing there are ignorant people in the world but trying to just be the best example I can be. This is also how my husband lives and that’s how he would prefer we live together and honestly, I can’t really disagree. This pretty much means that I’m not woke or what some folks would say, I’m “asleep” or “drowsy” at the very least. I have a friend who is a man of color who calls the times we are in the “label generation.”

I’m not fighting the fight daily. I try in different ways but they are often fruitless, in my opinion. But I continue to do things like support people of color who have small businesses or work for themselves. I speak up when I hear blatantly racist stuff or witness those injustices in person, which has been somewhat rare. I face it daily in some sense working for a Native American company where I have to be aware of insensitivities that may happen online on our social media outlets. But let’s be real: I work for a company, run my own business, handle a household and a marriage. My plate is full. I don’t have a lot of space for fighting this fight every day and shouting from the rooftops about how awful our world can be. Hello, my name is Jenice and this is probably me officially not being woke because it seems being woke also means you tend to do this every day.

Woke(ness) provides us with a basic understanding of the why and how come aspect of societies’ social and systemic functions. The phrase itself is an encouragement for people to wake up and question dogmatic social norms. It requires an active process of deprogramming social conditionings focusing on consistent efforts to challenge the universal infractions we are all subjected to. However, in order for one to stay woke, one must first, be woke. To quote Dr. Baverly Tatum, former President of Spelman College, “ignorance can only be tolerated as a temporary state of mind.“ To that I say, a(wo)men sister, a(wo)men.

I just want to live and I happen to like rest when I can get it. I want to finally have that child with my husband and raise that little kiddo up in all the possible knowledge we can muster about all cultures and belief systems and teach him or her that they are not limited by the color of their skin. “Be whomever you want to be but do no harm,” I will say. This is important to being the example: Do no harm.

I don’t know where this ends. I don’t know where being “woke” ever results in rest. I want the result of all this to be complete and total understanding of racial struggles to the point that there aren’t any but that is really idealistic! That hasn’t happened yet in all the civil rights movements, organizations and advancements. This is still a problem and shouldn’t be ignored. But what is the end game if we already know that complete change in the right direction is nearly impossible. And even when we all are all one race, so to speak,  through so many interracial relationships producing multi-racial offspring, it will be something else to fight about. That is the nature of our humanity. This isn’t about giving up but it’s about how we have an innate need to separate and I just don’t know why. Division will never truly end. What do you do, I ask in this confessional? Where do we stop? I’ve asked and I’ve been told that you don’t stop. How do you do that and still have wellbeing? I don’t have any answers but I will leave you with this video.