In 2008, Neo-Soul artist Erykah Badu released a song called “Master Teacher” from her album titled New Amerykah. Sprinkled throughout the song is the phrase “I stay woke,” often in response to her different observations that she notices. From the congregation saying amen to someone lacking the means to support their child, she has heightened awareness of the hurt and the everyday happenings of the world around her. In the thick of it and in the mundane, she admits that it is “a beautiful world I’m trying to find.”
Nowadays, the desire to “stay woke” has become a common thing. The spirit of Badu’s song rings throughout the consciousness that is more prevalent among us. The deaths of people like Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland have resulted in many cries for justice. The conversations that would happen in most black homes about how the system is not built for black folks have now become public. Conversations about sexism are becoming louder and words like “misogyny” and “intersectionality” are becoming widely recognized and utilized. And as such, many of us have chosen to “stay woke,” continuing to recognize systematic realities that disenfranchise various people groups and doing our part to dismantle those oppressive systems.
But in the midst of educating ourselves and in educating others about these sociological realities, some of us have inflated our egos in the process. We have read articles and books and in doing this, some of us have marked ourselves as unteachable. Some of us have participated in petty games like “I have read such-and-such book so don’t try to teach me” when a conversation is taking place. And while this not representative of everyone who is socially conscious, it made me realize something that many of us may have missed when it comes to expanding our worldview in this manner.
A number of us do not realize that the decision to “stay woke” is a journey, not a destination. At its core, “staying woke” is the desire to learn and unlearn. It is taking our worldviews as they are, acquiring new information, and doing the internal work of shifting around the contents of our worldview and seeing how this new information we have gathered fits in it.
It is furthest from being a battle of egos and we cheapen this revolutionary experience when we participate in such behavior. If anything, the acquisition of new information will remind you of just how finite you are.
Learning: life confirming over and over again just how little you know.
— pam (@pamnonga) November 6, 2015
And that is how it is supposed to be.
When we think about societal systems and the way it marginalizes different people groups, we must realize that the intersections of marginalized experiences are nearly infinite. With various combinations of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, immigrant status, religion, etc., there are so many narratives we do not know for every story we uncover. And it is this reality that proves that none of us, no matter how “woke” we claim to be, will never fully arrive.