#BlackBlogsMatter Challenge Week 5: Working While Woke vs Woke Work

March 3, 2018

You read the title and now you may be wondering why this week’s topic is attempting to compare and contrast two seemingly identical concepts. At first glance “working while woke” and “woke work” appeared the same to me as well. I questioned:

How are these things different?

Are they in opposition to one another?

Is one better than the other? 

What DOES it mean to be “working while woke”?

I’m confident that the majority of Black professionals are on some level.  I figured that with very few exceptions they’re aware and have first-hand experience with the issues, challenges, and disparities of working while Black.

  • They’ve likely experienced microagressions.

  • They’ve heard dog-whistles.

  • They can admit that it’s both exciting and troubling that today they can be a “first”.

  • They will admit that diversity and inclusion are more buzzword than priority at most organizations.

  • They wonder why in 2018 there are only 3 Black CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, the lowest since 2002.

  • They are or have been an “only” in their workplace.

  • Black women are still Hidden Figures despite being the most educated group in the US.

  • Black women earn 65% and Black men earn 73% that of White men.

And the list goes on.

As I looked closer at examples of varying degrees of “wokeness” that have played out over the past year I came to the realization that “working while woke” and “woke work” are different.

I thought about actresses like Mo’Nique and Viola Davis who have both advocated for equal pay in Hollywood (and for the rest of us as well). I thought about Colin Kaepernick and Malcolm Jenkins who peacefully protested during NFL games.  I thought about Jemele Hill and Shannon Sharpe who have used their media platforms to speak out against racism.  I thought about all of the opportunities I and some of my former colleagues had to call out discriminatory practices. Some taken, some not.

In comparing and contrasting those items, I realized that “woke work” stretches beyond awareness.  It requires that one actively address and combat issues in a consistent and effective manner.

Woke Woke is difficult at best and depending on the person, can appear impossible at worst.

  1. Woke Work is risky.

  2. Woke Work is selfless.

  3. Woke Work is its own reward.

  4. Woke Work empowers others and creates allies.

  5. Woke Work requires commitment and focus.

  6. Woke Work says no to Opporcoonities  and can’t be done in the Sunken Place.

  7. Wok Work is unapologetic.

  8. Woke Work is done outside of the comfort zone.

  9. Woke Work won’t compromise to fit an alternative agenda.

  10. Woke Work forces change.

“Working while woke” won’t dismantle established, long-stranding systems of bias and oppression in the workplace.  Most people will not risk losing a job, alienating their co-workers, or being black balled so they shy away from the labor of “woke work”.  Without more support and participation from the “working while woke” there is little hope shifting to a mindset of “woke work”.