The Wake Up
This is a book easy to read because the way the author (Michelle Mijung Kim) writes takes you in a smooth flow throughout the chapters. Moreover, it is a book that requires time and distance to assimilate the learnings, absorb the punches, and digest such a richness of concepts, metaphors, and real-life examples.
I have learned a lot. I have been seriously confronted. I have experienced several feelings and emotions while reading it. I think I am in a better position to continue my journey after reading this marvelous book that I can’t recommend enough.
I tried to bring some lines that called my attention, those that made me reflect deeper even if I did not agree or felt it was said in a proper way. Those are not my words, are hers, directly from the book. I hope this summary contributes to creating room for further reading, and for having open and courageous discussions.
The book starts with this fundamental line: “At the core of this book is the belief that we cannot transform the world without transforming ourselves and our relationships with one another first.”
Therefore, the book is an introspective journey to help close the gap between good intentions and real change.
Let’s get into the substance of the book.
Our waking up to others' suffering isn't enough; change requires that we wake up to ourselves - our complicity, our power, and our capacity to transform ourselves and the world around us.
The right balance between compassion and criticality is imperative to creating sustainable change while inviting more people to be part of this important movement.
The what is important, but without first understanding the why, the what, and even the how eventually fall short of achieving sustainable change.
Before jumping into the what with frantic and reactive energy, practice understanding the why behind every move from a grounded and steady-state.
This will help anchor us to ensure that the implementation of what is fully extended, meets the wide-ranging needs of marginalized communities while guiding us to be in alignment with our deeper purpose throughout the journey.
However, we need a why that includes ourselves in it, one that recognizes our role and culpability, not a why that is only about others.
The most sustaining why is one that directly involves ourselves.
It is the why rooted not in our desire to "help" others from a place of distance but in our understanding that we each play a critical role in upholding and dismantling systemic oppressions that ultimately impact all of us.
This why reveals that our ignorance and inaction do not make us neutral bystanders to systemic oppression; instead, they make us complicit and will harm us.
I want Asian people to want to fight against anti-Black racism not only because we don't want our Black friends to get hurt, but also because we understand that its remnants live on in our own communities through anti-Blackness, colorism, casteism, and neocolonialism.
I want men to want to tear down the patriarchy not only because the women in their lives hurt from it, but also because they recognize it's the same force that forbids them from being emotionally vulnerable or staying at home with their kids without penalty.
I want cisgender people to want to eradicate transphobia not only because their trans nephew is getting bullied at school, but also because they understand it's the same force that confines them to outdated and restrictive gender roles within the limitations of the gender binary,
I want white people to want to eradicate racism not only because their coworkers of color experience racial trauma but also because they know it's the same force that creates enduring moral injury.
We have an obligation to understand our privileges because we have a responsibility to understand the repercussions of our ignorance.
We often repeat the phrase “check your privilege”, but we also need to understand and remind ourselves of the deeper why behind this important call to action.
Doing our own homework and learning deeply about our particular privileges is one way to take responsibility for our own hidden stories that we were not taught to investigate.
We weren't supposed to find out about these hidden stories because our waking up to them threatens the widely held and proselytized belief that our society is a meritocracy in which people are given equal opportunities to succeed, and everyone's success is determined solely by their merit and hard work.
What possibilities exist when we can break free from the binary thinking that white supremacy has taught us and embrace the messiness in the in-betweens and keep trying to do the next right thing?
What would it look like for us to sit with the discomfort of not being either-or but both-and and work toward being less of the thing we don't want and more of the thing we do want?
Remember: white supremacy is the air we all breathe, and its toxicity flows through each of our veins no matter the color of our skin. It is critically important to emphasize that though white supremacy was built by and for the benefit of white people, it resides within everyone, including people of color.
This is why representation alone cannot solve white supremacy
White supremacy and, more specifically, white male supremacy are in the overwhelming, hegemonic power white men have over decisions that impact everyone.
Virtually every industry is dominated by white men in executive leadership positions.
92.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were white
and only 7.4 percent were women,
while only 1 percent were Black,
2.4 percent were East Asians or South Asians,
and 3.4 percent were Latine.
By 'white supremacy' I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups.
I refer instead to a political, economic, and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, and conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread.
We cannot solve for inclusion and equity if we don't first agree there is exclusion and inequity for certain groups of people.
We cannot achieve justice unless we acknowledge there is oppression first.
Creating change begins with a shared understanding that change is, in fact, necessary.
Being oppressed means the absence of choices.
Without full context, our justice work becomes a mere politically correct way of being polite on the surface rather than creating systemic shifts to restore dignity, respect, and power to historically oppressed people.
When we fight for inclusion and equity, we're not just campaigning to “be nice to everyone"; we are doing so in the context of centuries of systemic oppression and exclusion that have marginalized people from specific social identity groups, prevented them from entering the workforce, barred them access to building generational wealth and forced them to play catchup just to get to the same starting place as those who did not face those barriers.
And when we fight for representation it's not an intellectual thought exercise of gathering diverse perspectives for the sake of variety or innovation; it's a fight that seeks to address the historical legacies of slavery, genocide, disenfranchisement, misogyny, xenophobia transphobia, homophobia, ableism and the likes that made any representation of marginalized groups an impossibility, especially in positions of power.
Practice holding space. Holding space means "being physically, mentally, and emotionally present for someone." We can do this by practicing active listening through which we seek to fully understand without doubting, projecting, problem-solving, or centering on ourselves the validity and truth.
Surface-level representation, or diversity as a mere symbol for justice without substantive systemic shifts, is one of the most common ways our society showcases and prematurely celebrates progress.
Representation without a deeper analysis can quickly turn into another Band-Aid solution that perpetuates harm, for example through tokenization, generalization, appropriation, and erasure.
Centering on the most marginalized is an approach that helps us proactively recognize any deficiencies in vital perspectives outside our bubble of privilege that can only come from the lived experiences of those most impacted by the issues we're trying to solve.
Our allyship actions are time-bound and should not be used to elevate ourselves or to absolve us from practicing accountability. Remember, allyship is about consistency and achieving equity and justice, while holding ourselves accountable to the needs of the most marginalized.
“Accountability will never be easy or comfortable, but what if it wasn't scary?
What if our own accountability wasn't something we ran from, but something we ran towards and desired, appreciated, cherished, and held as sacred?
What if it wasn't rooted in punishment, revenge, or superficiality, but rooted in our values, growth, transformation, healing, freedom, and liberation?”
Language matters and words have consequences.
We assign meaning through language, and even the slightest shift can fundamentally affect the way we view ourselves, one another, and the world.
Language is a powerful tool at our disposal, and we must use it to create positive change.
Would it be fair to measure our commitment to equity and justice by our willingness to sacrifice what is important to us?
Instead of asking, " What can I do to achieve equity and justice?"
What if we asked, "What am I willing to give up to achieve equity and justice?"
One of the most important questions I ask C-suite leaders before they make any public commitments to DEI:
"What are you willing to trade-off in order to build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization?"
Having honest and upfront conversations around trade-offs is incredibly important for building a sustainable DEI strategy, and yet many organizations dive into the to-dos before grappling with different tensions inherent in the work of disrupting the status quo, setting themselves up to fail and disappoint their teams in the near future.
Whether we're an organization or an individual, being able to anticipate, name, and make different trade-offs help pressure-test our commitment beyond our good intentions while preparing us for the challenge zone where unexpected demands for sacrifice cause many to give up the journey.
Being truthful is the first step toward understanding what gets in the way of living our values, and only then can we begin to repair the harm caused by our compromised choices. This honest reflection also helps to ensure we set ourselves to make decisions that are better aligned with our values in the future.
In order to stay in alignment with our proclaimed values, we will be met with countless opportunities to truthfully ask ourselves what we are and are not willing to sacrifice to be the person we say we want to be.
Our commitment to equity and justice will be tested and measured by our willingness to give up our privileges and comfort in moments that require them to tip the scale of injustice.
I'm asking us to sacrifice our comfort for others' safety, our politeness for others' dignity, and our maximum profitability for others' livelihoods free of exploitation.
We also have the opportunity to proactively create conditions that lessen the negative repercussions for the marginalized, making it easier for everyone to do the right thing. When more people, and people with more privileges, move in solidarity to share this burden and risks, our necessary sacrifices become more equitably distributed and our chances of succeeding enhanced.