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How to Be Woke When You Still Feel Asleep

According to, the definition of being ‘woke’ is being ‘actively aware of systemic injustices and prejudices, especially those related to civil and human rights.’ In human-speak, it means you give a damn about the well-being and equal rights of all humans, whether their skin color, gender identity, sexual identity, or other distinguishing human quality is different than yours. But what happens if you’re trying to stay woke when you don’t feel like you’re aware of these oppressions? Could you be… oh no…. asleep?

Being an American youth has a different expectation than it did 30 years ago – due to the rise of modern technology, we’re given access to the world in a lens that our parents didn’t have when they were growing up. It’s a curse and a blessing when it comes to being ‘woke’: on one hand, we’re given the automatic assumption by our peers and/or adults that we understand current events and the historical buildup that led to such event (for example, police brutality and the systematic oppression of black & brown people in America); on the other hand, it’s a great way to connect to people in other parts of the country, region, or world, and we learn more about other countries and their injustices or indecencies (for example, talking to people from Malaysia and learning about the New Hope Movement [thanks, Wikipedia]).

But I’m sure I’m not the only teenager who feels like they have the expectation to be woke when you don’t feel woke. Being a gay black man, I’m usually asked how I feel about cishet black men in the BlackLivesMatter movement, or white priority in gay dating, or the aggressive black stereotypes in the gay media… you get the picture. And at first, I didn’t have all the answers. I didn’t even pause to think about why I rarely see black men (let alone non-muscular black men… but I digress) on Attitude or Out. I never thought the lack of women or non-cis men running black organization was abnormal… it was something I was used too. I didn’t realize black businesses were failing because the majority of Black neighborhoods feature gentrified or pan-Asian stores… that’s where I grew up. All these facts kept hitting me like bricks and I never truly understood what exactly it all meant. To be frank, I still don’t even know if I really understand, or if I’m just a sponge, absorbing the information with no filter for bias or media hype.

That’s one of the biggest issues when trying to become ‘woke’. Media bias can and will determine what you see, what people are facing the biggest crises, and maybe most important, who’s the oppressor. Relating to race issues, blatantly pro-white supremacist organizations, such as American Renaissance [] or the Vanguard News Network [] are not the issue; rather, moderate Republican networks act as separatists (yes, FOX News, I’m looking at YOU) that stroke the temperate ego of anti-woke white America.

“Anti-Woke?” Yes, there can be people called “anti-woke”. Most people refer to them as purposefully ignorant, but it doesn’t put them in the center of the issues discussed in this article. Anti-woke people refuse to understand oppression, socialized violence or minority issues, and in some cases, refer to the majority, White men, as the “victim”. Take Matt Heimbach, a young white separatist who was featured on ABC’s Nightline in 2013 to discuss his views on segregation and race. Heimbach stated, among other distasteful remarks, that “every other group is allowed to love their race… why can’t we?” and “white heterosexual Protestant men have fallen prey” to minority growth, saying that only a race-based war will be the end of America’s problems.

The simple truth is, if reading that paragraph above make your stomach churn or cause a bubble of anger to boil in your head, you’re on the right path to woke-ness; Understanding that while everyone can portray the victim, only a few types of people are; including minority races, women, and the poor (etc.); excluding the Caucasian race, (most) Christians, and the rich. If you have power to control and win in the game of life, you should also use your power to speak up for those who have not. It isn’t just about speaking up for a minority, or being disabled or being a woman. You should understand why these issues flow together and become an intersectional understander. People will be quick to call you “sensitive” or a “social-justice warrior” but that’s only because they don’t want to face the truth about what they’re saying.

So if you’re still asking “how do I become woke when you feel asleep?” Do your research. Get multiple perspectives. Avoid biased media. Understand just WHO America’s oppressed are, not just for their oppression but for their culture and happier moments. Speak up when you feel something is wrong. And no matter what, trust your judgement. We only live one life in this body; don’t waste it not having an opinion, because trust me, it matters.

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Marcus is a YouTube machinima producer, spoken word poet, and high school senior from Cleveland, OH. You can find him being an abnormal teenager on Twitter [@mannyjay_].

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