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What It Means to ‘Stay Woke’ as a Black Woman in America

If you are unfamiliar with the phrase “stay woke,” don’t worry. It’s just a slang way of saying that you are being socially conscious of the things happening in the news, and how things like white privilege, white supremacy, classism and misogyny play a part in these issues.

The term “woke” is often used by African Americans on social media when they are discussing Black Lives Matter issues such as police brutality and the wage gap among races, amongst others.

As a black woman in America, it’s mandatory that I “stay woke.”

Had it not been for social media sites like Tumblr and Twitter, I would not know as much as I do. They don’t teach about white privilege in a school setting, at least from my experience.

Honestly, before Tumblr, I had no idea racism was still a serious issue. Racism is not something that is blatantly obvious anymore––it has learned to hide between wage gaps, the ink of laws written by white lawmakers and micro aggressions.

“Staying woke” makes me socially aware. In general, it’s good to be socially aware. However, sometimes I wish it wasn’t mandatory for me to “stay woke.”

A lot of people think I love talking about racial injustices, gender injustices and basic human rights––I actually don’t, because it comes with a cost.

A few weeks ago, I helped the Black Student Association at my school organize an event to stand in solidarity with University of Missouri. I’m a black woman at a predominately white university, so yes, we have a Black Student Association.

After the event, a video of me speaking at the event was posted to Facebook. A former student at my school made some rude, explicit comments on the video that I refuse to even repeat. She felt that we were hopping on a “bandwagon” of people protesting all around the nation.

It wasn’t the explicit language she used that offended me. It wasn’t even her rudeness, negative opinion or arrogance that offended me. I was offended because she used the term “bandwagon.”

She suggested that students of color at Brenau University–and at other colleges across the country–were standing in solidarity because it’s cool, for media attention, for attention in general.

The Black Lives Matter movement as a whole, whether it includes solidarity moments, protests, sit-ins or civil disobedience, has never been “cool.”

The movement is not a trend. No one who stands at protests wants to be there.

When I go to protests, I don’t think it’s fun. Do I meet great people during these protests? Yes. Have I made friends for a lifetime at these protests? Yes. However, people have to understand the cost that comes with it.

Remember that when we are at these protests, it’s normally because someone has died. A mother has lost her child. A student has lost his or her best friend. Someone has lost someone.

We aren’t there to draw media attention. Media attention is a good strategy to get more momentum behind the movement, but that’s all it is. We don’t protest so we can make silly faces at a camera. We do it out of grief. We “stay woke” out of grief and despair, because so much has happened to black people as a whole in this country.

Honestly, we all want peace. We all want to get to a place where we don’t discriminate for stupid reasons like race, religion or sexuality. I would like to see this country move forward in a way that is inclusive for every single person in every intersection of existence.

I hope there is a day when people aren’t uncomfortable talking about race. I want it to be a common courtesy to ask someone, “Which pronouns do you prefer?” I want everyone to “stay woke” so I can finally rest.

My name is Kenya Hunter! I am a freshman at Brenau University as a Mass Communications major. My focus is journalism!
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