My Slow Journey to Woke

Note: I wrote this in the days after the horrid events in Charlottesville, and I didn’t post it before because I wanted some friends to read over it first and give me the green light. So … here I go. Please know that I share my story with a humble heart. If I offend, or if you need clarification, I invite you to please contact me. Here’s my story.

wokeI grew up very conservative in a small town where I can recall nine students of color in our local schools. I was born in 1982, so I lived my teen years smack-dab in the nineties evangelical subculture (think: Joshua Harris and cheesy t-shirts and conferences meant to generate intense spiritual experiences). Oh, and I had undiagnosed OCD with the flavor of religious scrupulosity, which magnified everything times a thousand.

I went to college. I met Christians who truly, deeply loved Jesus and yet had different theological beliefs than I did. I had friends from other cultures, friends with skin that doesn’t glow in the dark like my own pasty self. I read Transformed into Firewhich sowed seeds in my heart that would grow into a full-blown embrace of my truest self. I was finally diagnosed with OCD and underwent exposure therapy, which broke my chains of perfectionism. I watched friends get married, sometimes separate, sometimes divorce, sometimes lose their faith. I learned about all the myriad shades of gray in between the black and white ideas I’d grown up with.

I started this blog, which helped keep me vulnerable and transparent in an Instagram world that usually only shows the smiles and laughter. And as I did so, I found that it created a safe space for other people to share too– and my friends actually liked me more for showing my imperfections. And I liked myself more too.

It was as if all of that was preparing me to become Who I Really Am. I had to get out of my small town and out from under the thumb of OCD and out of my own way first.

After that, God ushered people into my life– people who did life with me, who sat with me, talked with me, cried with me; people who– yet again– loved Jesus so deeply and yet approached things from a different angle than I ever had. And those people would passionately share their thoughts with me over and over again until one day–

something clicked.

I read this article. All of my experiences, and most especially the friends who had spoken into my life, were like one trillion pounds on me, a girl built to “withstand” one trillion pounds, and then this article was a bird that landed on my shoulder, and bam: my whole LIFE changed.

It was like having my eyes opened for the first time ever. I guess that’s why people say “woke.”

These simple truths suddenly made sense to me, suddenly seemed simple, seemed obvious.

  • Just because something is not my experience doesn’t mean it’s not someone else’s.
  • White people are uncomfortable talking about racism, so they dismiss it. This is part of what we call privilege. Victims of racism don’t have the option to dismiss it.
  • My first steps toward becoming an ally are/were to admit that, as a white person, I have some sort of internalized racism. To realize that, to acknowledge that, did not destroy my awakening. It propelled my awakening.

Every meaningful change in my life has been accompanied by humility. 

I am trying to listen, to ask good questions, to come alongside (and not to speak over) my sisters and brothers. I am not even close to doing this perfectly, but I will spend my life in pursuit of these goals, and maybe over the years, I’ll inch a tiny bit closer.

On Saturday morning after the horrid events in Charlottesville, I woke up to news of what happened, and all those old hypotheticals we white kids would ask ourselves when reading books about the Underground Railroad, the Holocaust, etc. — what would I have done if I was there? — they were not hypothetical anymore.

Listen, I will not be found on the wrong side of history.

So, in case it wasn’t clear: I denounce racism and hate speech and hate crimes. I denounce white supremacy. I am proud to stand alongside my sisters and brothers of color. I humbly admit that there is almost certainly institutionalized racism in my heart, and I pledge to spend my life eliminating it. I declare these things in the name of Jesus, the Middle-Eastern Jewish man who saved my soul.  

8 thoughts on “My Slow Journey to Woke

    • Thank you, Alison! I have to keep reminding myself (especially in 45’s America) that I did not change overnight. I want everyone else too, but that’s not how it happened for me. So I’m trying to start conversations instead of arguments. When I’m able. 🙂

  1. Thanks for posting this, Jackie! This will be an exciting journey. As you open up your thinking and your heart, I recommend fervent reading on the subjects of race and justice. Here’s an article that might help you get started. In addition, pick up a copy of Waking Up White by Debby Irving and The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone. You will never be the same!

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