In my opinion, there are two types of being woke: Woke and Woke AF.
“Woke” is slang for being on the level, knowing what’s up, being cognizant of the context(s) that contribute to a certain distribution of power. It’s most commonly used in the U.S. to refer to a person’s awareness of the current socioeconomic climate, particularly with regard to anyone who identifies as Other/marginalized/under-served/oppressed. An example of this is understanding that the level or rate of police brutality towards Black people in the U.S. is a symptom of systemic racism. It’s an awareness that race, sexuality, gender, economic status, and whatever else contributes to a person’s privilege, or as an alternative term, what Robin DiAngelo calls “internalized dominance,” exists on a sliding scale grid of intersectionality (s/o the Combahee River Collective, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks).
Woke AF, to me, has come to mean something a bit less obvious than the skin suits we wear. To be Woke AF means you understand we’re all running around wearing skin suits. This does not undermine the necessity of understanding those factors that contribute to systemic oppression. It just means that a person is also interested in what we can learn about the skin that we're in from, say, a different angle. Being Woke is like driving on the interstate. Being Woke AF is like going down the highway but at a drone’s eye or even a satellite’s eye view. Both vantages have their perks as well as their setbacks. If you’re too confined to the perspective in the car, you really don’t see the potential for all the different routes you could take to get to the same destination. Spend too long up in the air and you miss the scenic view and the random stops and conversations and playlists along the way that contribute to the unique time capsule that is a road trip.
I think about the labels of technical identity I’ve been assigned by other people, and to be fair, I usually just go along with these because it makes it easier to get by. I’m a woman, I’m Black, I’m heterosexual. I’m an English professor. I’m a writer. I’m a visual and performing artist. I’m a registered Democrat. I’m INFJ. I'm a Virgo. I’m divorced. I’m an activist. And so on and so forth. All of those labels seem to help other people become more comfortable around me, but they also limit peoples’ perception of me.
What makes it weird is when they start to get know the other parts of my personality that defy definition and start to involve a lot of dashes and parentheses. I like trap music—in fact, the trappier the better. I can read tarot cards and astrological natal charts, and I believe that crystals are like, ancient forms of technology. I use "like" a lot. I love poetry—not always a huge fan of poets though (too much time as an editor—also, have you met poets??). I don’t consider myself a feminist. I’m celibate by choice, but my ego needs me to clarify that it’s not for lack of opportunity. I believe in past lives. I do not believe in one heaven or soulmate to rule them all. I do believe you can have multiple soulmates—romantic, platonic, familial. I believe any of those can operate as divine partnerships. Sometimes, I get the feeling that the universe might just be holographic. I do not like playing Game of Thrones: The English Department Edition. I believe in the law of attraction. I believe the Dogon re: the Nommos and Sirius B and astral travel. I think a lot about the multiverse. I believe we are extensions of the cosmos and the natural world, and you know what? We’re still Big Bangin’, man, so how could we possibly mess any of this up? I subscribe to multiple modalities of spirituality and faith, primarily Buddhism (but not very well). I meditate and I've gone on vision quests through shamanic drumming (awesome for one's inspiration, btw). Despite my letters, I am in the process of trying to escape the feast-or-famine poverty consciousness of a career artist (read: trying not to freak out on a daily basis about residual debt). I sometimes see a therapist. I often like the idea of people more than actual people. I kinda hate my arms—as in, how they look. I blame myself for every botched relationship or friendship that ended because I should have known better or seen it coming. I hate admitting I’m wrong as much as I enjoy not knowing anything about a subject. My arrogance can be scary, as in, I’m coming for Neil Gaiman’s, Shonda Rhimes’s, and JK Rowling’s throne. Despite my love for mermaids, I haven’t been swimming in 26 years—not since we left Florida. Despite my affiliation for Kentucky, I’ve never ridden a horse. Also, I have a temper. A bad one. Which I have to work very hard at keeping in check. I can be mad bougie. I love slang and AAVE, and I code-switch a lot, even while teaching. Sometimes, I resent my students for having too many excuses. Sometimes, I resent my neighbors for their obsession with lawn care and having real extra barky dogs. Sometimes, I don’t know how to bring closure to a situation (read: be honest) other than just—pulling a Houdini—as in, yep. Sometimes, I ghost people.
Those latter bits contribute to some of my best writing material and some of my greatest regrets. They are the ever-evolving paradox that is my life. I know how I’m supposed to appear to people—my students, my clients, my friends, my family, my colleagues. I feel a lot of pressure to be consistent. To be declarative. To just get it. To know. And the part of me that feels certain a lot of the time about how it is, because people expect me to act like I do, is completely ego-based.
But being Woke AF allows me to understand that I don’t know anything about any of it, and what’s more, I shouldn’t expect to, and I shouldn’t expect others to, no matter how famous or learned. We are all walking Gordian knots of stories—the stories we are taught and those we live, even if other folks' narratives have been projected onto us—as in, we’re living the lives they didn’t or couldn’t or won't. Being Woke AF is the willingness to slice that sucker open and see what’s at the core, so we’re not confined to our stories (and subsequently our labels) anymore. We can blend. We can blur. We can shape shift. We can expand. We can change. Which is all any of us were put here to do.