I am aspiring because “woke” is not a title that white people should ever bestow upon ourselves. There was a time when being “woke” was primarily about information gathering, and these days a lot of people gather information almost exclusively through social media. Post Ferguson, however, keeping informed of racial injustice on Facebook and Twitter is only part of the conversation. Soon after the murder of Michael Brown, Black Lives Matter folks on the ground in St. Louis began calling on allies to act on their knowledge in order to “stay woke.”
I am a white teacher who every January and February teaches U.S. slavery to mostly black and brown students in an urban school. If I don’t at the very least stay informed concerning the continuing systemic legacy of the South’s “peculiar institution,” then I am not part of the problem, I am the problem. If I do not see my curriculum through the lens of 21st century anti-racism, then I am merely a cog in the machine of institutional racism. Failing forward, the best that white people doing anti-racism work can hope for, is what I do when I teach. I also aspire, in my writing, to “radicalize” other white teachers for social and racial justice.
There is always more work to be done, and there is always another book or think piece to read and reflect upon. A galvanizing experience for me was learning of the back to back murders of Alton Sterling (July 5, 2016) and Philando Castile (July 6, 2016). I was moving to a new classroom over the summer, and later that month I found myself painting in giant letters on my new classroom wall, “BLACKLIVESMATTER.” This was a small gesture in hindsight, not a praiseworthy act of “allyship.” I write this not to evoke praise, but as a challenge to the Oklahoma “School Choice” people to mount a serious effort to get those words removed from my classroom or have me fired.
If I don’t at the very least stay informed concerning the continuing systemic legacy of the South’s “peculiar institution,” then I am not part of the problem, I am the problem.
It was that same summer that I became active on Twitter, a preferred platform to Facebook for gathering information from change makers in real time. After all, Black Lives Matter (@Blklivesmatter) started with an Alicia Garza (@aliciagarza) Facebook post followed by a Patrisse Cullors (@OsopePatrisse) tweet. “Black Twitter” is a non-white space, but nonetheless, a space where white people can observe and perhaps cautiously participate in an ongoing critical dialogue about race. Twitter has never been about friends like Facebook once was. To read acclaimed New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah Jones’ (@nhannahjones) response to Trump’s daily diarrhea of the mouth, I don’t need to “friend,” I simply “follow.”
Raising white consciousness is still some of the best work for white people, and that always starts with the self. So in view of the continued importance of gathering the right information from the right sources, I give you my five confessions of an aspiring “woke” white teacher followed by five calls to action.
Confession #1: Bree Newsome (@BreeNewsome), confederate flag destroyer and general badass, regularly creates epic Twitter threads, and I rarely read them in their entirety.
Confession #2: I follow Shaun King (@ShaunKing), prolific purveyor of everything BLM, but I seldom read the whole post and click through to the original source.
Confession #4: Despite my intentional effort to follow influential people of color, my Twitter “following” list looks like this: total = 756, organizations following = 185, white people following = 393, and people of color following = 140. That makes my Twitter feed 52% white and only 19% nonwhite.
Confession #5: My Facebook feed has at least the potential to be even worse. My friend list is as follows: total = 429, white friends = 393 (ironically the same number as above), and friends of color = 36. Granted, Facebook is no longer a place where I regularly see posts from all my friends, but these numbers still create the possibility of a feed that is 92% white and only 8% nonwhite!
Call To Action
Call to action #1: If black lives really matter to me, I have to read the whole story from multiple sources, follow all of the developments, search for reactions from black influencers, and not stop short of watching the entire video no matter how harrowing to my white sensitivities.
Call to action #2: I cannot be satisfied with knowing more than my white peers. That bar is set way too low. My need for knowledge should derive from an internal desire for change, not a compulsion to “out woke” other white people.
Call to action #3: I need to spend less time peddling my own content on Facebook and Twitter and spend more time connecting and interacting with (commenting and retweeting) content created by people of color.
Call to action #4: Twitter is no longer bite size. I should not treat it as such. I commit to finding what matters and spending the time necessary to consume it responsibly.
Call to action #5: I commit to seeking out educators of color to follow and friend, to undo my #feedsowhite. Please check on my progress and join me on Twitter, @bakerleft.