“Woke” is a term used to assess your consciousness with hidden racism. The term also addresses your level of “Blackness” and being aware of your community.
What is the purpose of proving that you are “Blacker” than someone else? The growth and prosperity of our community can’t come to fruition when we subscribe to these melanin melees.
I learned a lot about my own Blackness and wokeness during my trips back and forth to Johannesburg, South Africa.
In Johannesburg, there is a very rich and glowing Black presence. Black Africans represent 76% of the population, and Coloreds account for 6% of the population. Coloreds are multiracial, defined as a person of mixed European (white) and African (Black). An African American is considered Colored.
Going to the motherland and being so close to the birthhood of your race is such a unique and life-changing experience. Everywhere you go there is a sea of Black people.
Airport terminals and public transit: Black.
Shopping centers and grocery stores: Black.
Pedestrians on the street and driving on the roads: Black.
Restaurants, bars and clubs: Black.
Look to the left: Black. Look to the right: Black. Up, Black, down, Black.
All Black everything (in my Jay-Z voice).
You would think being immersed in a country besieged with so many Black people would create a feeling of extreme belonging. Actually, I have never felt less Black in my life.
Woke? Nah. More like completely comatose.
Let me explain.
We have an African American culture that connects to our diaspora, but mainly our connectivity to being Black is engrained in the color of our skin — that’s how we associate Blackness, it starts externally.
In Africa, everybody is Black, and even when you ask someone about their identity, being Black never comes up. Their Blackness starts internally.
The first thing you’ll hear anybody talk about is their tribe. Whether you’re Zulu or Sotha, Xhosa or Swazi, there is such a great sense of tribal pride and ownership. Then there’s the history of the land, that rich red clay, and the knowing and recitation of ancestors for generations — the number of languages spoken, and the types of food, personal artifacts and architecture that embodies a person’s distinctiveness.
Their identity is deeply rooted in who they are, while our identity here in America is indoctrinated in what we are. That’s why I felt less Black in the motherland. I didn’t have the profound history of who I am to share, just the muddled pieces from our diaspora to the listening of the Diplomats (Dipset!).
There is agency and power in having an identity that is deeper than the context of sub-culture or the color of your skin. Who you are can never be challenged, manipulated, taken or transferred.
The first thing I did when I returned from my first trip to South Africa was call my father. I needed to know more and more about his father, and the Bacon lineage. Our elders are our biggest resource in understanding who we are as Black people in America. COVID-19 is taking away our elder leadership in droves. I fear that if we don’t make an intentional effort to connect now, and learn, then we will lose a vital opportunity to better understand ourselves.
And it’s important to understand who we are in America. It’s important to understand Black history in Indianapolis. It’s important to understand your family’s history. It’s important to learn more about who we are, which will provide more comfort, context and security in our belonging.
We are in the midst of a Civil Rights Movement that will redefine the world we live in. Understanding who we are will bring us closer together. Understanding who we are will help inform our decisions and strategy as a people — as a village.
Alan Bacon is a humanity advocate, community leader, musician and innovator. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.