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Don’t confuse being “woke” with allyship

“Racists suck” is a general sentiment that I think most people on this campus would agree with. But before people mistake this article as a declaration of thanks and congratulations to the white allies at The College of Wooster, let me quickly say that this piece has other intentions.

Last year, the viewpoint I wrote for the Voice was a call to action for white feminists to practice more genuine intersectionality, and while I got lots of kind verbal feedback from students, faculty and administrators, I was greatly disappointed in the lack of action that many of my white peers and mentors took in reflecting on their intersectional discourse and shifting it into praxis.

So here I am again, spending more of my time trying to explain to all my white College of Wooster peers why they should stop chasing after the myth of being “woke,” a term that has long been appropriated from AAVE [African American Vernacular English] and should never have been used in the first place.

A week ago, someone I considered to be a very close friend and ally to people of color made a joke about Indian people loving curry to my face, expecting me to laugh along, because white allies are allowed to have off-days and slip ups, because allies are people too, right? I hope my sarcasm translates well over text.

In reality, my reaction was one of pure confusion, heartbreak and shock. How could this person whom I have never seen or heard saying or doing problematic things up until now make the oldest racist Indian joke in the book, and then get upset when I was visibly displeased? I immediately began to second guess my anger and questioned whether I was being dramatic and overreacting to what was a seemingly harmless comedic statement.

Thankfully, two hours of insecurity and invalidation later, I called my best friend to lament about yet another incident of me being gaslighted, and she, in all her brown femme wisdom, reminded me of the pesky little concept of hegemonic white supremacy (the ways in which white identity and culture are ingrained as the default form of existence in the United States, making white people to be inherently complicit in supporting structures and systems of oppression).

Suddenly, I had a “That’s So Raven”-esque flashback to the time my “woke” white friend disturbingly tokenized my presence on a white cis male-dominated panel on diversity. Unfortunately, since then, I’ve realized that many of my peers are unwilling or unable to engage in ways that attempt to redistribute privilege and power, despite being shown many avenues through which to participate in substantive allyship.

Although I am not being compensated to take on the emotional labor of laying out what some of those methods are (there are thousands of resources that exist online, and also, I am not the representative voice of all POC [People of Color] at Wooster), I strongly encourage all my white peers, faculty and staff to do some critical reflection on the ways in which you may unintentionally participate in white supremacy, and understand how those actions harm the nonwhite bodies that you care about.

P.S. Please stop taking Transnational Feminisms or Intro to Africana Studies with the sole intention of performing “woke” whiteness.

Vrinda Trivedi, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at VTrivedi18@wooster.edu.

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