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Rethinking Woke

This blog post is written by member Jazmen Moore. It is the second of two parts. You can see the first part here.

The idea for the following two videos emerged from conversations spurred by the NCTE Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English. We chose to record videos as a way to genuinely communicate the emotion and sense of urgency we feel about the importance and necessity of this work.

Woke has become commodified
you can now purchase “woke”
at your local Target or Walgreen’s
pick two or three up off the shelf
when you’re running low.

This is name brand woke
Kendal Jenner in a Pepsi ad, woke
“I’ve got one person of color friend, so I can’t be racist,” woke
“I teach poor kids in the inner-city,” woke
“I respectfully disagree with your sexuality/religion/humanity,” woke
Well-meaning intentions but ever harmful actions, woke
and the list goes on.

But, the real woke is beyond label
can’t be found for purchase
is queer in nature
is brewed up at home
my Granny calls it the antidote
is liberation minded
is about getting free
is about securing the freedom of others.

This woke ain’t trendy
may not be popular with your colleagues next week
could lead to strange stares in the copier room
or the dismissal of your ideas and proposals at the next staff meeting.

In the classroom,
this woke is bigger than
your soapbox rants
is much more than piñatas on Cinco de Mayo
or teaching Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech”
for the millionth time during the month of February.

This woke requires more than sprinkling the terms
diversity, inclusion, and social-justice
throughout your syllabus, mission statement, or classroom vision.

This woke recognizes that
equity will never be achieved through lip-service
but in action.

The real woke is about calling out your own biases
holding a mirror to your morals and being honest about
what lies in your reflection.

It’s about asking yourself at the end of each day
after the students are gone
the papers are graded
and the desks rearranged,
am I an agent of change or a tool of oppression?

Does my instruction help liberate or subjugate?

Am I constructing sanctuary cities
in my classroom
or building walls?

It’s about moving from the center
to the margin and calling
everyone in.
this woke is about identifying the silences
that exist in your curriculum,
instruction, and
classroom
and making sure they are disrupted.

It’s about listening as much as you speak; if not more.

It’s about holding space for your students
to tell their stories;
to bring all of themselves –
their languages, practices, and beliefs
into the spaces that you share.

It’s about teaching them to
think critically
to question everything
to demand change.

This woke is about
action
and words
and scholarship
and heart.

About honoring each other’s
humanity
and our
right
to live
and learn
to speak
and be heard
and to
be
without fear.

This woke is about imagining
the future we want
for our students
and putting in the work
necessary to
create it.

Jazmen Moore is a Chicago based educator, spoken word coach, and poet. She is an NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Award recipient and a member of NCTE’s Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English. Follow her on Twitter @jazmen_moore

Photography credit for Jazmen Moore: Jennifer Jasso, Jazmen’s former student.