We all watched as Matt McGorry went from the cute prison guard in Orange is the New Black to that woke white guy who’s using his celebrity influence to raise awareness around injustice and inequality. Thanks to the Internet and the removal of media gatekeepers, we’ve seen a growing number of prominent celebrities (what up, Penn Badgley!) wake up to the harsh realities that people of color face. Anyone who can access the web has a voice now, and while the Internet can be a breeding ground for hatred, it's also a place where we can learn from each others' experiences.
I know I'm not alone in waking up to the subtle and insidious ways that racism permeates the lives of so many Americans. Although I doubt most white people believe we're living in a "post-racial America," hearing stories from POCs about their experiences with racism is eye-opening. From rampant police brutality and heightened incarceration rates to socioeconomicinequality and job discrimination, there's an entire segment of America that many white people are unaware of.
At least, that's until they wake the hell up, and see what's going on around them. When white people go from oblivious to activist, there’s a certain pattern that emerges. Here are the seven stages of getting "woke":
Stage 1: Recognition
Maybe the seed was planted by the execution of Trayvon Martin. Maybe the videos of Tamir Rice or Michael Brown or Freddie Gray or Eric Garner made you recognize that something is not right, here—that there is a very real, very serious problem with the way people of color are treated in America. That recognition, like a light bulb above the head, changed everything. You knew you'd never be the same again. You knew something you couldn’t un-know.
So yeah, you feel guilty. And frustrated. And helpless. And then a little more guilty. But then you realize that your feelings are really not as important as decades of injustice, so you just sit back, listen, and then listen some more. Because white people's feelings about racism < people of color's actual racist reality. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Stage 2: Research
After recognition, it becomes all about research: reading books that may be uncomfortable to read; reading about privilege and the ways the world has opened doors for you based on your skin color—but closed doors on others for theirs. You go down the rabbit hole of information, and the more you read, the angrier you become. You start thinking: How did I not notice any of this before? How is this still the reality we're living in? This is all super messed up.
So, you fill your Amazon cart with books. You read novels by people of color. You click on essays by people of color. You want to know, to learn more, to be awake. You're done sticking your head in the sand, and pretending everything is fine.
Stage 3: Feel
Although knowledge is power, all the knowledge you now have makes you feel helpless. What should you do with your privilege? How can you help? How do you do your part to make things more equal? You're only one person, so you feel horrible that you can’t do anything to help except pay attention.
You try hard not to slip into feeling guilty, which will only lead you to feeling resentful and angry. The world does not need more resentful people. The world needs hopeful people, so you start to have hope—or at least, you try.