Sleep Woking Folks (“Stay Woke” Has Issues)

“Stay Woke” is so popular, you can buy a t-shirt and magically transform into the wokest of the woke. With this expanded understanding of how racism, and its intersecting oppressions shapes the social world, living woke has become critical to how you and I change the societal landscape.

Amid the swell of growing consciousness, I perceive something has gone awry with a growing cadre of our “woke” citizens of Wokanda, not to be confused with Wakanda.

If you are woke then you are in. If you are not woke, you are out.

Somehow, a sizeable faction of our woke friends have managed to defy the space-time continuum, traverse the innermost spheres of the spiritual universe to develop a consciousness of oceanic depth beyond the intellectual capacity of the rest of us mere mortals.

These individuals are so deep they are stuck.
So woke that they are asleep.
They are sleep woking.
And they do not even realize it.
We need to talk about it ’cause staying woke has issues.

First, I share my desire for a woke world. Next, I take up three key problems with sleep woking. I close with introducing a way to wake up out of woke slumber.

The World Needs To Wake Up

I think the world needs to wake up. I want the world to be woke.

The day is calling humanity to open our eyes to see what happens beyond our opinionated bubbles. Take off our centuries-old pajamas, take a bath, style our hair, brush our teeth, clothe ourselves for life beyond the bedchambers, and take on a new day.

In a world where little Black boys are shot when carrying toy guns and almost 60 percent of unarmed Black women are killed by the police and the response of masses of people, a grand cohort of which are White people, denies the legacy of racism, we can use waking up.

To add more insult to injury, we debate the existence of racism when it should be common knowledge by now.

We have been fast asleep about the existence of oppressive structures and regimes throughout the world, pulling the covers over our heads and hoping to ignore even our indirect roles in creating nightmares in people’s everyday lives. It is a Western epidemic for many of us to work to live the dream without dealing with racial reality.

And if an oppressive structure supports this way of living, all the better for you who benefit from it, and all the worse for those who do not.

As for you, whose eyes have been open to these insidious workings of our social world and the privileges from which they emerge, you challenge the negligent framework of building your dreams at the expense of dashing opportunities and lives of people in all of its visible and invisible forms.

Like you, I want the world to wake up and remain awake.

The Problem With Sleep Woking

The moment we become so woke that we cease to examine ourselves, we have fallen asleep.
We become sleep woke. Here are three underlying issues with sleep woking.

1. Agitation and No Healing

Sleep woking rubs me the wrong way. Kind of like this purple mohair sweater I wore as a child. It itched the life out me, even when I wore a shirt under it. It was adorable for vanity’s sake but it was not worth the agitation-a study in form over function.

I think this prideful superficiality is a focal issue when you are sleep woking. You are not doing the kind of strategic social agitation that creates change. You are just being agitating because you can and have the nation of Wokanda permits you to do it.

Bellowing out, “Stay woke” becomes yet another license act out your pain on the world instead of healing your wounds.

But you do not have time to heal, for you deny the toll living in a racist world has taken on you. You persist on screaming, “White supremacy, Patriarchy, White feminism, and White privilege!”

You keep screaming.

Because deep down, you want to be heard. You want to be whole. You want the world to be whole. You want justice.

You want this maddening racial sickness to stop poisoining the land. You want White people to care more. You want them to be more human and treat you like you are human.

I feel the pain and distress of sleep wokers, which helps fuels my loving critique. I have lived locked in searing bitterness and anger that narrowed my racial view of the world. The cold-hearted responses of different White people can rightfully illicit anger.

With the racism in this world, it takes intention on my part to resist allowing the ignorance and hatred of anyone to define my life.

2. Sole Focus on White People

Sleep woke people primarily or only focus on White folks. I think constructs like White supremacy, White patriarchy, White feminism, and White privilege are real with real consequences.

However, sleep woke people think People of Color do not have to do anything but stay mad at White folks. Watch their actions, and the fruit will reveal the tree.
Instead of saying, “Stay woke,” they should just say, “Stay mad at white folks.” It is not as catchy, though.

If we want others to question and think critically, then I would think woke people would be the main ones practicing it. But sleep woke people only question Whiteness and think critically about Whiteness. They demand that White people open their minds to a different perspectives-their perspective-and do not even bother to listen to even the ones who are trying to “get it.”

3. Social Justice Hypocrisy

When it comes to talking about race, sleep woke people’s approaches can work on par with people who maintain racism and White supremacists. I place it under the category of social justice hypocrisy. Different motives. Similar emotional and behavioral patterns.
Let’s take a closer look. Both:

  • Are avid know-it-alls, have self-righteous faux humility, and struggle with how to engage and sustain substantive dialogue with differing views.
  • Restrict their critical thinking to examining the wrongs of the Other, thus ignoring the complexity of humanity.
  • Are easily triggered and gifted in the art of reacting online and offline, without listening, reading, and reflecting.
  • Both construct a narrow vision of the world and attempt to police people who do not share it.
  • Both can regurgitate their respective believes and ideologies. Neither have made time to question them. Questioning is the job of the Other.
  • Both thrive off of bandwagons and mob tactics. These individuals get loud and draw a crowd.

Considering these issues with sleep woking, can you really bully people into lasting relationship and change?

Even from a structural level, in order to shape policies, requires people. People make the decisions, not the actual homes of people and government buildings. There is no escaping relationship. In order to deal with the macro level issues, requires influence on the individual and community level of society.

Compliance through fear and force are not tactics for transforming a nation where all people can truly thrive and get along. It is a short term remedy that erupts into more violence and billows of social wrath.

Blindly following and unquestioningly retelling our philosophies as sole heirs of truth reflect more of living within the REM stages of sleep than any semblance of wokeness.

I do not know which is worse? A person who is asleep or a person who is asleep but proclaims a woke superiority over everyone.

Conclusion: Bring back “And”

I do not have all the answers.

Neither do you.

I believe each of us possess a piece of the answer. By learning to hang in there to connect across differences, we learn to generate the real answers we need-together.

I lovingly contend that the way we can be truly woke is to examine not only the outside world, but our interior world.

It is both.

One way to truly wake up is to embrace an “and” approach.
No one gets off the hook in the world of progress.

And justice is paramount.


People of color taking up an active cause in our own lives, such as dismantling the ways we have internalized racism and sexism and act it out on each other, does not negate the ways White people need to unpack racial privilege and their role in maintaining the legacy of racism through intentional and unintentional personal, communal, and sociopolitical means.

Black people did not create racism and enslave masses of White people, so the kind of work required for all of us will look differently. Microaggressions are real. Flat out aggressions still happen every day, so stay woke.

Racism impacts us. Are there White people who are digging in their heels because they do not want to truly learn to share the United States of America? Yes, yes, and exponentially yes.

Because of this issue, sleep woke people act as if racism is the root of all that’s going wrong with Black people. Stubbed my toe-blame racism. Forgot to pick up dry cleaning-it’s the White supremacy. The store ran out of artichokes-it’s the White privilege. Your child decided to blow off doing her homework-it’s White patriarchy.

When we make racism the sun, moon, stars, and universe, and negate our power, we unintentionally spread disempowering messages to People of Color.. When we blind ourselves from seeing the ways People of Color buy into racism or the ways we take the systemic bait, we are only on a slow road of communal self-destruction.

And as an unapologetically Black woman, who writes from the lense of my lived experiences, that’s not enough for me.

As some of you know, I critique the negative manifestations of Whiteness, White privilege, racism, etc. I think you need to call it out and face it to change it.
I think this practice represents a portion-not the totality- of the work to change the world.

Racism creates and maintains policies that make it extremely challenging for all people to have life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. People of Color can persist without the evils of racism furnishing a rationale to absolve us of our own God-given ability to do something for ourselves.

Racism’s continuance does not justify People of Color turning a blind eye to the violence we act on ourselves through uninterrupted misogyny and internalized racist self-hatred.

Can we undo the racism across and undo the ways we vehemently hurt each other because deep down we believed the lie that Black people, or darker people are inferior?

Can we push and agitate across and sit with the agitation we feel when we ask ourselves the tough questions about why we do what we do?

Oh, I forgot, according to the sleep woke crew, these are questions, I, as a Black woman, am not suppose to ask.

The attitude of relinquishing agency and giving full power to anyone is the opposite of woke.

It is an insult to our ancestors.

Harriet Tubman, one of my all-time sheroes, did not risk her life so that your child can get a tax-payer paid education, and spit on it by acting up in school.

Oh, we are too woke to talk about it without defensiveness and anger.

She did not make repeated sacrifices, so that we can argue about and defend fatherlessness-a contemporary phenomenon-either.

Excuse you, my wokeness , in part, draws from a legacy of Black women and men who would snatch y’all up admonish you for encouraging young Black people to only focus on the system bringing them down.

They would attempt to guide you away from discouraging People of Color from responsibility and hope to even bother.

That’s what we do when we are sleep woking. We encourage only animosity, anger, and fighting at the other.

But we don’t encourage ourselves or the next generation to fight for ourselves, too.

We dig in our heels to avoid the pain of facing problematic choices we have made. It is easier on our pride to simply find new ways of justifying all that we do.

Can woke people do self-work and disparage ableism, xenophobia, sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and the multitude of oppressions impacting us?
Can woke people challenge each other and fight for an equitable world?

I believe it is possible.

I want all of us to tap into our inner fight and lovingly strive for a better world.

An answer, not the answer, to staying woke lies in living with “and.”

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