The Nightmare of the Newly Woke
About this time last year, right before COVID-19 confined us to our homes and screens, I went to see activist and author Layla Saad on her book tour for “Me and White Supremacy.” The event, hosted by a local Black-owned bookstore, Uncle Bobbie’s, drew a primarily white audience. Sitting in the crowded church where the event was being held, I kept mostly to myself in a roomful of superfans who collectively gushed as Layla took the stage. With nearly every point she made, there was a deep bobbing of heads, punctuated with overly enthusiastic snapping, sometimes clapping. One white man in my row periodically shouted a passionate “Preach!” to add to the chorus of approval. With every blatant display of “wokeness,” I shrunk deeper and lower into my seat. It was too much, even for me. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. So when Layla finally took her seat to sign books and the crowd rushed to get in line to greet her, I slipped out the side door, annoyed, judgmental, embarrassed.
Then I remembered.
I remembered the me of just a few months ago. I remembered how I felt and acted, and my judgment turned to shame. I remembered how I enthusiastically told every Black person I encountered that I was the white lady who shared the Starbucks video. That tired, frustrated look on their faces that I couldn’t decipher at the time made sense to me now: I was insufferable, exhausting, immersed in all the things I just realized, the same things they had been living with since birth. I acted like racism was new when it was just new to me. I remembered how I sent articles I saw to my friends who are Black, likely triggering pain for them. And I realized I was almost as troublesome to white people. I could hear my condescending tone, recall the judgment I inflicted, the roll of my eyes that I tried to suppress when they asked questions that I thought they should have known the answers to. And here I was, barely past my evangelistic wokeness, judging fellow white people for being right where they were supposed to be in their racial identity development, right where I just was.
There’s this thing that happens when we white people first start to realize that racism is not just something outside of ourselves, but embedded in the…