Stay Woke

Stay Woke

Stay WokeThese days I find myself having difficult conversations. Regularly. With my students. With my friends. With my boyfriend. And with my family members. Though disguised in many different forms—religion and spirituality, politics, ethics and morals—we’re all wrestling with the same question: What will you do when our society falls apart? Which values do you believe at your soul’s core? What will your move be when you’re the next targeted group?  Will you fight, flee, or as my mom cautions with every ounce of love and fear inside of her, will you march to the internment camps in stunning disbelief?

2016 almost took my whole heart. What began as a year full of promise and unabashed Black excellence (cue Beyoncé’s Super bowl performance, Harriet Tubman selected as the face of the $20 bill, Nate Parker’s pre-scandal ascendance, Jesse Williams’ speech at the BET Awards, among other highlights), ended with more police brutality cases than I can remember, the deaths of Black cultural titans, and the rise of a distinctly fascist American president. But just when we all thought it was safe to breathe, reinvent ourselves for the next 365-day stretch, let go of the hurt, and move the hell on, 2017 came in with the left hook. 2017 came to remind us that hatred is timeless and knows no limits. 2017 came to show us the lining of America’s uniquely and unforgivably racist underbelly. It brought people into the streets who had never previously felt targeted or ostracized by government policy. There were pink hats. There were clever signs. There were detainments. Families with immigrant origins have been ripped apart in the name of American safety. The state has made its arrests, sprayed pepper in eyes demanding justice. Bodies have blocked traffic on highways and in the streets. Millions have already been divested from faceless corporations who don’t care about sacred memories or know the basic tenet that water is life.

Despite having grown up in a family that revered Black history domestically and internationally, we find ourselves having conversations that we never thought would leave the realm of the theoretical. We are arranging our family’s emigration. We have purchased emergency preparedness kits. We are purchasing guns and learning how to use them. I remember learning about slavery as a child and telling myself and my friends with the utmost confidence that if I had been alive during slavery, I would have run to freedom, whatever the cost. But as I watch civil liberties get stripped away from citizens by the day, as legal immigrants are turned from American borders, as pipeline construction forges on, I am humbled by the complexities of personal, familial, and legal freedoms. Resistance, survival, and freedom are far more convoluted concepts and realities than I could have ever imagined and my investment in them is shockingly nebulous.

While I do my best to prepare for the worst, I am also faced with a heavy sadness. I worry for the people who are unafraid of the turn society is taking, and who, like the abiding Jews during the Holocaust, or like the Japanese Americans who were ushered into their own incarceration, didn’t think things could ever get so bad as to threaten their own families, lives, and futures. I am troubled by the amount of people who don’t have enough sense to be afraid, if only partially. I think of those people often–some of my own relatives, my students, coworkers–and I keep them in my prayers. Everyone has the right to bliss, whether ignorant or woke.

But if you are like me, and have been reading the news, have sat in classes where you studied reigns of terror, have read your share of dystopian novels, or know the personal and generational impact of trauma induced by the banal policies of an unquestionable authoritarianism, I want you to ready yourselves. For a state of living that you never allowed yourself to conjure in your worst nightmares. I want you to think about living under curfews, showing IDs to move about your city or town. I want you to close your eyes and feel the internal repression of pledging allegiance to a leader that you can never publicly speak against or question. I want you to imagine the burn of pepper in your eyes and the particular bounce of the rubber bullets against your skin when you dare to speak out. And I want you to listen to the deafening silence of the masses who will passively accept the new order. We are in dark times, friends, and Big Brother is keeping his promises.

It is with all this that I encourage you to take seriously all you hold dear. Make the preparations that are suitable to your life and values. And stay ready, so you won’t have to get ready. Because then it will be too late.

And of course, always hope for the best.

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