Generally, there is great appreciation for someone who can control the narrative. That person who is skilled enough to master an honest and truthful round of discussion, discourse or dialogue is often rewarded with sincere admiration.
Conversely, he or she who resorts to dishonest use of facts is held in disdain by the honest dealer. Such is the case with those who hijack, distort, and reframe the meaning and significance of generally accepted “labels.” The current controversy regarding the words “woke” or “wokeness” exemplifies the shameful attempt of political reactionaries to apply a negative connotation to our increased awareness.
I refuse to accept this hijacking. As a Black person who has experienced and continues to live through the indignities commonly suffered by Black people, I REFUSE! As a Black person who, by accident or intent, is subject to ongoing disparate treatment and consideration, I REFUSE! As one who worked with and observed my friend Dick Gregory bludgeon “dishonest dealers” with the truth of the negative impact of their attitudes and actions, I CONTINUE TO REFUSE!
Those of us living a more progressive life know the pitfalls of allowing our wokeness to be distorted into something evil and unacceptable. We have watched the term “liberal” stolen and reshaped into an objectionable characterization. We have allowed the term “diversity” to become perverted into an imposition upon the emotional comfort of those who would continue to oppress us or ignore the existence of institutional discrimination and oppression.
Accepting the bastardization of these terms, we have also accepted that the use of these terms in the justification of positive change distorts that change into something offensive and unacceptable. By allowing the reframing of these terms we have contributed to the shameful suffering we experience.
We know what “wake up and stay woke” means. Being “woke” is indicative of accepting that time is long overdue for meaningful and constructive change in the lives of those who have long suffered the application of unjust obstacles to our full participation in the economic prosperity of this nation.
Being “woke” signifies an ability to critically analyze and actively move to restructure a criminal justice system that allows the environment in which vigilante justice flourishes, as in the cases of the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery and murderer Kyle Rittenhouse.
Being “woke” means drawing a line in the sand past which the illegal actions and practices of the police will not be condoned or excused. It means holding law enforcement officers to a standard of conduct that is consistent with the same laws they are directed to enforce. It means ending “qualified immunity” and establishing a national registry in which “bad cops” who have been dismissed for misconduct are listed and denied future opportunities for employment in law enforcement.
Being “woke” means refusing to be apologetic for merely existing. Unlike the admonitions of James Carville, who practically demands that we quietly hurry up and wait for the full measure of our citizenship, being “woke” means that there is no greater imperative than complete justice.
Unlike Winsome Sears, the gun-toting woman of color and current lieutenant governor-elect of Virginia, being “woke” does not mean that we have to imitate our oppressors to survive or realize the American dream. It means that we no longer have to align ourselves with those who hold us in contempt for the remote possibility of achievement or acceptance.
Being “woke” means that we must increase our assertiveness toward the achievement of social and economic goals that will secure our, and our children’s future. As “woke” folks, we must proudly tell our own stories. As with the African proverb, “Until the lions tell their story, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.”
Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women.