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February 27, 2019

I’M STILL WOKE… I’M JUST RESTING MY EYES: 5 Ways to soothe political insomnia

I remember first having to tell my stepdaughters to take a social rest. Their “intro to sociology” classes affected them deeply. The race and ethnic studies portions in particular, made college life a bit more than they could handle calmly. You see, they are “biracial”. Their mother is Caucasian. Their father is my fiancé. He is a beautiful shade of mahogany that he inherited from his Cuba-born father and Puerto Rican mother; both whom were clear products of the African Diaspora. The girls always knew they were mixed. But now, in young adulthood, they were grappling for the first time with a greater sense of awareness around the injustices attached to it. They were exploring and examining the embedded social, historical and political consequences of being Black women in America… Black Latinas [1]  to boot, which seemed that much more complicated. What did it mean? What would it mean for them?

I watched as their curiosity turned to animosity, then hope, then fear, then confusion then helplessness. Sometimes it was gratitude for what we’ve overcome as a country. Sometimes it was rage for what we overlook as a people. What were they to feel? The injustice seemed to be everywhere – from the subtly racist comments of their professors to the cost of their hair products. It was as if they had taken the red pill and no matter how many times they blinked, nor for how long, they just couldn’t reawaken in the matrix. [2] Sure, there had been some elusive shakes and shoves to their consciousness growing up –– but now… they were for sure “WOKE.” [3] I recognized it, admired it, and sympathized with it all at the same time. Why? Because I suspected that the longer they stayed “woke,” the more exhausted they’d become. And as much as I know that we can’t afford to “sleep,” sometimes we can really use the rest.

Otherwise, we can go crazy trying to process, oppose and reform all the injustice that we see. I know that we want to think of the large bulk of it as being in the past. But it’s not just our history. It’s our trauma history, and just like the traumas of individuals, they have grave impact on the experiences of generations for centuries to follow. They are not gone and forgotten. They’re sewn into the fabric of our country like a white sweater stitched together with red thread. YES, we have come a mighty long way. But the weeds too, have grown as we watered the flowers.

Think about it. We are still pushing through the legacy of land theft and genocide that disenfranchised the country’s original indigenous inhabitants. Not to mention trying to navigate an economic system built on the subjugation of vulnerable populations – slaves, children, immigrants; and it continues to profit from the systemic oppression of people of color. And don’t forget the impact of historical claims to women as inferior and as “property” which still dominates corporate culture. While we’re at it, can we also talk about redlining and blockbusting. Oppression, injustice and prejudice are such insidious parts of our infrastructure. There is simply no way to prevent bumping into it – especially, when you have an eye for it. As a woman… as a woman of color… and a sociologist… I have what you might call a “third eye” for it.

For instance, I’m greeted at the nail salon by a technician who requests I, “pick a color.” Innocuous enough right? Except the bottle labeled “natural,” is a rosy tint of pink. Hmmm. Whose “natural” color is that? I step into the supermarket for a few things – common, no? Sure. We all take trips to the market, But I go straight to a tightly packed, middle isle marked “ethnic foods.” During my walks through the mall, my eye is caught by the cutest outfits, all hanging off white mannequins. The furniture store owner makes his way over to my fiancé and I to say, “we have lay-away.” A man we know from around town, asks to connect with us, followed by the comment, “I know I’m white, but I have black friends…Not a lot of them… but the ones I have think I’m cool.” You really can’t make this stuff up! The social consciousness alarm clocks don’t stop for me. Forget trying to get woke… I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to! I’ve become political insomniac!

So when “The Hate U Give,” was released and white folks all over the world started crying in theaters [4], I just didn’t know what to do with my dueling feelings of gratitude and frustration. A part of me was screaming with enthusiasm about who we could be as a nation and a species, with every shift toward greater awareness. Another part of me was seething with resentment – how did these people still need to be woke-n up? I mean, I ain’t slept in years!

For most oppressed groups, social “sleep” is a luxury that we learned early on, we simply cannot afford. And the truth of it is that rest-deprivation of the social consciousness can be as detrimental as physical exhaustion. Warning: It can lead to value-burnout and compassion-fatigue. It has been known to cause political-anxiety, impatience, irritability and helplessness. And it will very likely incite anger at a system that you can’t ignore and feel like you can’t seem to affect!

For me too, young adulthood sparked a fire – protests, rallies, community organizing and activism. That bred confusion and sadness which led to frustration and rage. It wasn’t long before that turned to self-righteous arrogance and intolerance of people who were intolerant themselves. All of a sudden, I was turning into the very narrow-mindedness that I hated. But was the alternative? Endorse the injustice by ignoring it. I couldn’t live with the guilt of doing nothing. Afterall, I have a responsibility as a woman of color to challenge, educate, reform, rebuild and represent.

So I struggled – as I still do… and as many others that I know, also do – about how to keep from turning every micro-aggression into a Black Panther rally (as warranted as it might be)… and about how to keep my sanity and reclaim power over my mood, and choose to be happy in spite of my knowing, “what’s up.” The question that I asked myself, cried about and live with, is:

How do I stay Woke… and still get some rest?

It’s a deeply personal question that every individual needs to answer for him/herself. For me, the answer is in finding balance. When I catch myself losing myself, or fluctuating between extremes (fight or flight), I try to remind myself of these 5 things:

1. Social justice is a marathon, not sprint. It will take generations to unearth the damage we’ve done to one another, to help people see the impact it still has, to rebuild collaboratively without blame or defensiveness and to be accountable as a people for how far we have left to go. Conserve your energy. You’re going to need it.

2. The personal is political [5];  so should it follow that the political is also personal. We can, and do, affect systemic change through our personal choices. How we live makes a statement. Am I making personal choices that raise the bar, represent a people, honor a legacy and contribute to the elevation of our collective voice?

3. There’s revolution and reform in the rebuild. Despite the many social systems that still need changing, some change has come. This offers us opportunities to help people through healthcare, education, housing, the arts. There are plenty of platforms through which we can already begin affecting change by re-envisioning, re-educating, rebuilding the social consciousness of our country – one person, community or conversation at a time.

4. Staying mindful is a way of being militant. Militants are thought of as aggressive and combative toward social injustice. And in many situations, for many reasons, that may be exactly what is required. But there is A LOT to be said for staying mindful, in real-time, about how you think, speak and move through the world. Mindfulness can aggressively combat injustice. So, can I see the situation for what it is? Can I capitalize off any opportunity that this second of time brings to me? Can I be the change in the moment, in my practice?

5. I have the right to choose my battles. I am not a traitor to my cause or a discredit to my people if I choose to use the Aunt Jemima syrup the diner gave me for my pancakes (sigh). I may post all over social media about its origins and its problematic romanticizing of plantation life and Black female slave domesticity. But I don’t have to argue with the waitress about it. I’m entitled to some peace of mind. As long, as I don’t lose sight of the peace we still have to secure.

That is the lesson for all of us who are passionate about change; not only my stepdaughters, but my goddaughters, nieces, nephews, students, clients, friends, other family and self. While social consciousness is important, so is self-care; and while we must stand up for our rights, we also have the right to lay down and rest sometimes.




[1] Nieves, D. (2018, February 20). Latina Is Not The New Black. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from
[2] McCready, M. (2016, September 20). Red Pill Or Blue Pill? Retrieved October 29, 2018, from
[3] Hess, A. (2016, April 19). Earning the ‘Woke’ Badge. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from
[4] Menon, R. (2018, October 16). Amandla Stenberg Said She’s Seen a Lot of White People Cry During “The Hate U Give”. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from
[5] Napikoski, L. (2017, December 31). The Personal Is Political: Where Did the Feminist Slogan Come From? Retrieved October 29, 2018, from

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