Stay Woke

My colleague Tehama Lopez Bunyasi and her co-author, Candis Watts Smith, have made a wonderful addition to the growing literature on anti-racism in the United States. In what they call a people’s guide for making all black lives matter, they start on p. 2 by making the case that

We aim to convince enough people that until Black begin to matter, the United States of America will never be a liberal, egalitarian democracy.

They do so with scientific rigor, grace, and dignity. And, unlike most other authors in the field, they incorporate idea from peacebuilding in large part because Lopez Bunyasi teaches in a conflict resolution and peacebuilding program.

The scientific rigor comes with best—and most readable—review of the literature on inequality in the US which they attribute, in large part, to what we in the peacebuilding world call structural injustice or the de facto power and violence that is built into the system. Readers new to the field will also benefit from their long chapter on the terms that define racial inequality in the United States and the ways they are often used to perpetuate the status quo.

Even more importantly, they argue that dealing with the continuing impact of racism requires our long term attention. There are no quick fixes. As they say on p. 146

Staying woke is a process of developing habits of antiracism.

They do not think we can be race blind or think that we are nearing a post-racial America. Instead, we have to become more aware of race so that we can effectively counter its negative impact(s). And, they argue that racial inequality reflects all the other inequalities in our society which have to be tackled together, reflecting the academic buzz word, intersectionality.

Most importantly, they devote their last substantive chapter to twenty-one steps we all can take that involve insights both from antiracism and peacebuilding worlds. Among the ones that grabbed me the most were the final six:

  • Collective action is and has been powerful
  • Calibrate your time scales
  • Be for something
  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
  • Dream big
  • Have fun

They realize that like all reconciliation work, staying woke will take a long time and be based on big dream. It has to be constructive. And, frankly, it has to be fun, too.

In the end, this is an important book on many levels. For me, it is one of the very first that even partially applies peacebuilding ideas to other issues.