826CHI: The Term “Woke” by Angie C.

In order to write our way into more just futures, we have to name the present in all its grit and complex gravity. With an eye towards tomorrow and a resolute ear planted firmly in today, tenth grader Angie C. offers us a portal into her own nascent truisms, the importance of being “an upstander,” the limitations of being “woke” and what self-worth means to her, as part of our ongoing partnership with nonprofit organization 826CHI.

For over two years, Ace Hotel Chicago has worked with the org to give a platform to their students by throwing birthday parties, collaborating on zines together, hosting art shows and even featuring some of their books in our guest rooms. Each month, we highlight a piece of writing from one of their students. 826CHI is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Their services are structured around the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

The Term “Woke” by Angie C., grade 10.

It is fair to say that being “woke” is a term coined to make the average white person feel like they are doing enough to benefit the marginalized community. It is definitely a step in the right direction, but when they do this for the wrong reasons, a whole new level of hurt is reached — a brand new form of oppression.

Many people feel obligated to denounce their privilege with the intent of being woke when, simply, that will not suffice. Being woke should be about wanting to help us advance as a community without any sort of reward. When a non-marginalized community that was once the oppressor seizes the opportunity to make themselves look like the once-blinded victim, it makes my blood boil.

Of course, many of these “woke” people aim to do it for the right reasons, but catering to our every need at school, in the office, or just on the street makes me feel like a child, or someone who ​needs their help. Don’t talk to me like I’m dumb. Treat me like a human. That is all we have ever wanted. We want to be treated like people — people who have the same rights, the same opportunities, people who have the chance to prove their self-worth by earning things themselves.

Claiming wokeness and then throwing your privilege at us is not benefitting anyone; it is simply an ego-booster for you. It reprograms our brains into thinking that we ​NEED you, and if it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t have been able to get to where we are now. When someone comes along and actually treats you as an equal, it’s sort of a wake-up call because you’ve experienced the pity and the hand-feeding nature from these “woke” people for so long that being treated like a normal person is just weird​. I am not a colored person! I am a person of color. I am and will always be a person before anything else.

Being woke isn’t about being a bystander; it’s about being an upstander. We want you to use your privilege to give us the one clue we need to find the key that will unlock what we crave the most, not to give us the key. We need access to the same resources, and once we do, let us utilize them the way we want. We cater to what the “white world” society told us. Embracing our own “flaws” and differences is what makes us beautiful.

Don’t look at me when you see, hear, or read something about minorities and expect me to know every little detail about it. When you see me, don’t put me in a bucket. Get to know me. I don’t need your pity. There is no need to feel bad, just let me advance the way I want to advance. Get in my way, and that’s where your “wokeness” has its limitations. “Woke” means you support, endorse, and defend our growing societal impact. Being “woke” is not a trend, a way to gain attention, or a way to make yourself feel like someone we need to depend on; it’s a way to let us know that you care enough to go against the system that has shamed and belittled us for years.