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Now that you are woke: Will White allies actually be willing to “get out of the bed?”

“The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – Frederick Douglas 1857

I wrote several weeks ago that the current marches, protests, and such are the easy parts of this anti-racism battle. Many White people would be willing to jump on this bandwagon because those things are not all that challenging compared to what comes next. I sat back and watched the protests continue, listened to the spoken platitudes about Black lives mattering, saw the murals painted, and heard about the book clubs and other sessions starting to inform and educate people. That was wonderful. That was a huge shift in America. But this is not enough.

This work has without a doubt presented challenges for many. Whites in this country are looking to find allies in communities of color, and they are risking the loss of friendships and relationships to do this work. They are putting Black Lives Matter signs in their yards and at their businesses and places of worship. They are speaking up about systemic racism in a louder voice than we as a nation have ever heard. People are still being brutalized by the police as they peacefully protest around the country. Many have honored the legacy of the late John Lewis and CT Vivian for their sacrifices during their long careers fighting racism. Many are certainly on the right path.

But we should be honest and assess the reality of the situation. Have we seen any real substantial reform to policing? Have we heard our elected and business leaders detailed plans for anti-racism work or have we heard their words about anti-racism work? The NFL, NBA, WNBA, and MLB have appeared to embrace the movement. We are seeing Black Lives Matter on the basketball courts in Orlando where the NBA is attempting to continue their season in the midst of a pandemic. We have seen the WNBA put Breonna Taylor’s name on all of the players jerseys. A select few NBA players are putting social justice slogans on their jerseys instead of their names but most of the biggest name players are choosing to not do so. Professional athletes in some sports that have restarted have shown their support by kneeling or walking out during the national anthem. NASCAR has banned Confederate flags. People have painted large Black Lives Matter murals on streets and buildings around the country.

These are all just symbolic gestures. They may attest to how woke people are and how much they support the efforts but in the general scheme of things they don’t change the racist structures in our society. They don’t completely challenge people to be anti-racists instead of staying in the comfortable space of learning about racism. Actively fighting racism is a lot more intense. It’s not a spectator sport. Their will be bumps and bruises along the way. Like in boxing, sparing sessions are great, but when you get in the ring against a real opponent every thing is more intense, difficult, challenging and potentially injurious.

I feel very gratified to be in the space where I can be a voice to educate people about how we got into this racial calamity. I can speak and write about the challenges and offer suggestions to fix things, but one thing needs to be perfectly clear. The hard work is still yet to come. As the weather begins to cool off and the marches dissipate, and people go back into their homes, jobs, communities, churches, synagogues, mosques and other comfortable places, what will change?

Will the spaces look any different in six months or a year from now? Will businesses that barely employ people of color actually hire more? Will management represent the complexion of the community and nation we live in or will it continue to be mostly white? Will the challenges of racial disparities we see in health care, employment, housing, education, and other critical places be really dealt with in an honest way? Will institutions tear themselves down and rebuild with a racial equity lens? Will the voices of the marginalized be truly listened to or just heard as a murmur in the space?

Real change means our schools will throw out their history textbooks and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth despite how hard that might be. Real change means we will not continue to be told to “go slow” or “have more patience” or “their are two sides to every issue” because ultimately these things are more of the roadblocks Americans have erected to avoid making the changes that are just.

Someone needs to be held accountable for voting for and supporting racist elected officials. They are emboldened to make their racist views be known in a way we have not seen since the “bad old days.” We sit back and shake our heads and say I can’t believe that someone has that mindset in 2020. You better believe they have that mindset.

We are not living in some fantasy world where change comes about because people say all the right things. Real change comes about when people do all the right things. Those who are woke know what these things are now. There are no more acceptable, polite excuses. Are people willing to make real change happen or will they wait for someone else?

Are the woke folk willing to do more. Are the woke folk ready to get out of the bed and get showered, dressed and go into their spaces where they have sway and demand change immediately. Gradualism is a ploy of the desperate. It is employed by those who claim they want change but are really satisfied with the status quo as long as they are comfortable. Discomfort comes with real change.

For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

How willing are woke folk to make sacrifices? How willing are woke folk to call racism out at the dinner table, on the golf course, in the office, at the places they worship? How willing are woke folk to share the privileges and resources that have been hoarded by the white majority for far too long? How willing are woke folk to admit that white people are so far ahead because they have prevented people of color from having access to the things that allowed them to be successful? How willing are woke folk to listen instead of feeling they need to be a white savior?

This is where the proverbial rubber hits the road America. Will the citizens of this country burn rubber taking off into this work or will they drive like a Sunday driver? History will judge us by our actions not our words. People of color will evaluate your passion by what you do and not by what you say you will do. Writing checks will not defeat systemic racism if the walls of the system of racism which has benefitted white people for generations while disadvantaging people of color are not dismantled.

The paint on the murals will fade away but will the words and emotions attached to them do the same? Will we be in a place where we are still having the same exact conversations two, three, five, ten years from now? I sincerely hope we are not. Americans have taken the baby steps but still have a long way to go. Racism is an entrenched adversary that will not go down without a massive fight.

It is time to become introspective and ask if you can handle the heat. Will you become frustrated by the entrenched views of those who push back against this work? Will you give up, thinking it’s not worth it or that it’s too hard. Are you willing to lose relationships if you do this the right way? What are your personal limits?

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

About The Author

Reggie Jackson

As an award-winning Senior Columnist for the Milwaukee Independent, Reggie Jackson covers a range of African American issues. He is also a Consultant with Nurturing Diversity Partners, and volunteers as Head Griot for America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) in Bronzeville.