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Let me acknowledge the elephant in the blog right away. I recognize that I’m a black man writing content to and about a group of people I don’t belong to – white people. In the world we live in it can be intimidating to engage in content about race as a white person, especially a white male, and while I don’t feel sorry for the privileged class, I do understand how difficult it is to engage in healthy dialog with a mark against you before a conversation can even begin. It never feels good to be judged or dismissed based upon factors you were born with and are beyond your control, and I want to assure you at the very beginning of this blog that I’m not writing to attack you. I’m writing to help you engage – not because YOU need to, but because if you don’t, we as a people will never heal from the damage of our past.  If more white people, specifically white males, don’t get involved in helping to tear down racism, sexism, and xenophobia we will fall deeper and deeper into the great abyss of hatred, fear, and racial paranoia. Minorities alone aren’t enough to overthrow a system that delegitimizes their claims of oppression and second class citizenship. Only people operating in full legitimate standing as American citizens economically and socially have the power to enact the change that minorities are clamoring for. Fortunately, there are more and more such citizens beginning to speak out and use their voice to speak for the voiceless. I’ve noticed an uptick in white Americans acknowledging privilege, asking questions, and standing on the front lines for the cause of racial equality. I’ve had many conversations with white friends and colleagues over the past two years, and here are the stages of wokeness I’ve witnessed through our dialog.

Stage One: Awareness

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This stage is where the majority of white woke folks are. People in this stage ask questions, read content, and generally seek out all the information they can about racism, systemic injustice, and white privilege. They have mostly moved beyond fragility and denial, but don’t know what to do with their new found awareness. Often times people arrive at this stage through some personal experience such as adopting a POC or witnessing an injustice in their community. At this stage, it’s still intimidating to engage in the dialog with people of color about race, but the thirst for more information drives aware people beyond their own fear. This stage is about my struggle with racism both in my own consciousness and in the world at large. The people here wrestle with their own subtle contributions to the problems of systemic racism, and experience white guilt. The experience of guilt is a bit of a tipping point in the awareness stage. It’s where a person can potentially become defensive in an effort to try and lift the guilt. If an aware person chooses defensiveness it can show itself in a myriad of ways. One of them is by becoming reclusive about the issue. This is the silence we’re witnessing from some of our religious institutions. You’d be hard pressed to find a single religious leader that doesn’t recognize that there is a racial divide in America, but you’d be pressed even harder to find those same aware leaders actively involved in healing it. A better response to white guilt is to allow it to propel you to the next stage as I’ve seen many people I know do. Awareness is a great place to start, but this is not the stage to rest in. There is more work to be done.

Stage Two: Alliance

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Once a person goes on the long journey of awareness and made it through their experience with white guilt, they typically look for a partner to walk the journey with. That partner is usually, and understandably so, a POC. In this stage white people engage in deep and honest dialog with friends, colleagues, and neighbors of color about their experiences being minorities in America. These conversations help put flesh and bone on the research allies did in the awareness stage, but there is more to this stage than dialog. This stage is characterized by assisting POC in their struggle for equality, so allies find ways to help minorities. They are empathetic, and will reach out to black and brown friends when there is a racial tragedy such as: a shooting of an unarmed black American or a nationally broadcast supremacy rally like Charlottesville. These are people who truly have “black friends”. They have shared meals with people who aren’t white, and have a great deal of respect for black and brown people. Allies are willing to be lead, coached, and mentored by POC, and loathe racism on every level. They engage privately in open discussions about the evils of racism, and encourage the bravery of black and brown people who speak up. They are the people you’re most likely to see sharing anti-racism posts on social media. Many of them have black or brown family, friends, mentors, or bosses. Allies participate in peaceful protests and attend community events designed to heal the wounds of racism.  The proximity they have to POC makes them far more sensitive to the plight of minorities. They are willing to help people resisting systemic and organic racism. Allies are like your friends who come out to watch you run a half marathon and make sure you have plenty of water as you do it. They are extremely proud of you for running, and are your biggest fans, but they aren’t running with you. That’s allies. They cheer on the people in the struggle, and have great ideas for what they should do next. They are not using a large amount of their own resources or influence to resist racism.  There are legitimate reasons people settle into alliance. It feels like they are helping the cause. They are far from racist, and extremely supportive of their black and brown friends. I’d conjecture that this is the fastest growing stage of the three. With the advent of Trumpian rhetoric and the amount of material being put out on a daily basis presenting evidence of more racism in our country, many white people are settling in this stage if for nothing else to show that they don’t agree with racist rhetoric or practices. It can be a long journey to get to this stage, and it can feel like the end of the road, but there is another stage of wokeness. Honestly, there are many black and brown people who haven’t progressed to the final stage. It’s not for everyone I suppose.

Stage Three: Advocacy

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This final stage has the least amount participants, but especially white participants. This is the stage where the struggle against racism and for racial equality is our struggle. People in this stage are outspoken advocates of social change. Not everyone in this stage is outspoken in the same way. Folks who progress here are: community organizers, writers, film makers, artists, and leaders who don’t need permission from anyone to use their influence to advocate for change. The energy that drives their activity is generated from a deep sense of purpose, and you’ll find white people in this stage on the front lines of resistance to racism whether they are joined by POC or not. They use their platforms to uphold justice and equality. Many of the people in the advocacy stage have committed a significant amount of their time and resources to make sure that efforts to dismantle systemic racism in America continue to move forward. Advocates don’t just attend events, they organize them. They are the people whose content black and brown people read and share. They are running the race along side POC and actively seeking more ways to make sure the message is heard. They are helping raise awareness and recruit allies for the cause. Advocates renounce their own privilege, and though they don’t have the existential  urgency to act – they do anyway.

If you’ve read this all the way through, you’re likely in one of these three stages.

What stage do you most identify with?

Are you satisfied with the stage you’re in?

5 Comments

  • Im covered in chlorine all over my body clothes and face. Have -10 $ sleep in a closet uder the staircase drive a car i cant afford to fix even though i can do the repairs myself. And im priveledged and shoud axknowledge that i have a leg up in the world that others dont. And if i dont believe it im in denial. The only thing i can do to remedey it is admit to partaking in innequality and shame.

    • KaitlyN Polka says:

      Privilege is no necessarily about your experience in life. It just means you skin color, something completely out of your control, isn’t one of the things making it harder.

      You can be in a tough place in life and still recognize that you are privileged.

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  • Man, this is so carefully and accurately said.

    I don’t know where I am in this. I hope I’m on the journey. And it’s kinda not the goal to ask myself where I am, except maybe to ask “Can I press in more?”

    One thing I’m discovering is that there isn’t a rulebook or set of tasks that define the journey. We do the next things as they come up, we listen and then we move in love while seeking wisdom.

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