Let’s see a show of hands: When it comes to racism in the United States, who out there describes themselves as “woke?” Okay, good. Now, readers of color, please put your hands down so I can see how many white folks describe themselves as woke. Okay, very interesting!
White folks, you can put your hands down.
Let me ask you this: What does it mean to “be woke”? Is there a difference between being a woke person of color vs. a woke white person? What do white people mean when we describe ourselves as “woke”? I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot over the past year as more and more white folks, progressives especially, describe ourselves as woke.
What is it about this concept that so resonates with us? What differentiates white “wokeness” from whiteness otherwise? How does this description align with our lived experiences in relationship to our neighbors of color?
Des Moines, Iowa–where I live–was named the 11th Best Place to Live in the United States in 2016. That same year, it was also named Third Worst City for African Americans. In 2015, the Des Moines metro was named #1 Location for Millennial Home Buyers. However, while representing 6% of the population, between 2010 and 2014, African Americans in the Des Moines-West Des Moines area accounted for just 1.4% of all home mortgages.
This year, 60.8% of Des Moines Public School students are students of color while 90% of its teachers are white. As one considers these facts, what does it mean then to be a woke white person living and working in Des Moines in 2018? After we decide we are woke, what’s our next step?
This spring, I will launch a pilot project called Coaching Towards Justice in collaboration with Next Step Adventure. In small circles with other white people, we’ll embrace curiosity over judgment and courage over fear as we explore how to live as white people into ways that align with justice and that serve to transform the real racial disparities evidenced in our communities.
Whether or not you describe yourself as woke, please contact me to learn more.