I recently posted this on Facebook about the toxic word “Woke”: According to WordHippo.com, as an adjective (dialect, African American Vernacular or slang), the word means “conscious and not asleep. In the US, Canada, as slang, it means “alert and aware of what is going on, especially in social justice contexts.” What is the opposite of the word “woke?”: flaked out, dozed off, vegetated, lulled, zizzed, crashed, zoned out, and, my favorite, asleep at the wheel.
(By the way, during the past seven years attending college with 20-30-somethings, I have never heard the word “Woke” ever uttered by them or any professors. This is a total figment of the right wing’s imagination. Get help. See a therapist).
This is why I prefer the word “Awake” as an alternative to the one that the right wing in this country has weaponized as an insult without realizing they have no idea what they’re talking about. WordHippo.com asks, “What does awake mean?” Being “awake,” according to the website, is being in a state of “not asleep; conscious” and, by extension, “Alert, aware,” two states of being that give me power because it allows me to know what is happening around me.
WordHippo.com defines it further as “to excite or to stir up something latent” and “To rouse from a state of inaction or dormancy.” I interpret this as being able to stir up some action when necessary. If there is one bit of wisdom I’ve learned in all my years is that one must be prepared to stir the pot to boil when one witness some wrongs. You could ignore it, and you would probably be able to live the rest of your life contently. Except I was taught from a young age in Catholic School and even through American history studies that Americans fight for justice (it’s the American way). Of course, there has always been that disconnect between slogans and reality. However, I think I took much of that belief to heart.
For some time now, as part of my morning ritual, I’ve studied wise quotes from men and women throughout history. Insightful, jaw-dropping, mesmerizing statements that provide me with plenty of Aha moments. One source has been a Kindle book, “Positive Affirmations for Atheists, Agnostics, and Secular Humanists, edited by I.M. Probulos. The chapters are categorized with titles such as Reason, Success, Self Help, Happiness, and Journey. If I may borrow a quote by tennis great Artur Ashe, “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” Life is a journey full of successes and failures. What is most important is that you deal with each victory and each defeat at the moment and learn a lesson from each without caring about what you will make of it a year, five years, or ten years from that moment. Who gives a shit about the future when it is that moment that is most important. What bit of wisdom could you extract, or did you blow the opportunity and instead decide to worry about the long-term impact of your choices?
This is especially true when you witness any injustice, whether a bully in your class or a group of people who mock another group because of their religion, race, or gender. You can see what you see, shrug your shoulders, and walk away to be what you want. You didn’t learn anything at that moment in your life journey. Or you can say something, do something even better. Not alone. Stir others to join you. Find power in rousing “from a state of inaction or dormancy.”
I’ve been awake since my formative years in the seminary (1962-1964) when I became increasingly aware of a world beyond the classroom and study hall where evil men and women engaged in immoral acts against the less powerful. During those moments when one or two of my classmates felt it was OK to shout a racial slur at me, I realized that they were not isolated incidents or were alone in their behavior. They must have learned that behavior from someone. That someone was from somewhere in the real world called America.
That awareness carried with me when I returned to the Bronx in 1964, and I would watch for the next four years the continuing struggles for freedom and against injustice not only in the south of this country but also up north. Our failings as a nation were exposed, and many of us took up the burden to do what we could. We were awakened to the contradiction between what we were led to believe is the ideals of this nation and the reality of race and class.
I wasn’t always right. It was easy to fall into the trap of being sucked up by slogans and the illusion that we were winning the fight for justice. Through the seventies, I believed that journalism was the weapon to be used for fighting the good fight. Sometimes it worked, and other times I realized that the goal of a commercial television station was to sell commercials, not always the truth. Inevitably, you find yourself swimming in doubts about the fight, and you surrender to instincts about survival (paying the rent, food, clothing, and a car). Suddenly you’re not awake anymore but instead find yourself, according to WordHippo.com, asleep, dormant, dozing, unawakened, inattentive, crashed out dead to the world.
That is why I write every week. To ensure I don’t fall asleep, be inattentive, or ever crash out dead to the world again. It’s a small act, I concede. I may not reach large audiences, and my words may not sometimes make sense because I may not use the right words to inspire and break through the wall of ignorance that seems to envelop us all these days in our silos.
In the meantime, I’ll keep doing whatever I can to stay awake, whether it’s reading, writing, or throwing verbal hand grenades to bust down those walls to continue the fight against injustice and all the social and political afflictions that prevent us from being the best America we can ever be.