By LaKeshia Myers
I am admittedly an “old millennial”. My contemporaries and I are part of a hybrid generation that lived before the advent of readily accessible technology, but we are also the generation that invented and popularized mediums like Facebook. We are also the cultural curators of being “woke”; being or staying “woke” is a political term which refers to an awareness of issues concerning social and racial justice. It literally means to always be awake, or to be ever vigilant.
With its modern iteration stemming from Erykah Badu’s song Master Teacher, in which the artist repeats the phrase “I stay woke”, the phrase has since been adopted by new thought intellectuals and activists alike to call out instances of racial injustice. Amanda Hess, in her 2016 New York Times article entitled “Earning the ‘Woke’ Badge” quotes Dr. David Stovall, a professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois-Chicago who said, “She [Erykah Badu] means not being placated, not being anesthetized. She brought out what her elders and my elders had been saying for hundreds of years.”
While I agree with Dr. Stovall about the historic significance of our elders passing the baton of activism on to the next generation, the work ethic associated with being “woke” has been lost. It is not enough to just call out racist behavior, but real work must be done within organizations and institutions to deconstruct the policies that allow the behaviors to exist. In the bible James writes, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26); the work of this generation cannot be reduced to simple sound bites, tweets, or Instagram likes. It will take time, membership, and activity in well-established spaces to push for change. The leaders of old said, “keep your hand on the plow”; but today I encourage my generation to not just be “woke” when it’s convenient, but to stay woke even when it is most difficult or even dangerous. Being woke is more than a hashtag, being “woke” must be a committed lifestyle.
I am known to
(A beautiful world I’m trying to find)
I’ve been in search
It’s just too hard
for me to find
I am in the search of something new
Searching inside of you
And that’s fo’ real
I Stay Woke