Notes on: Ashlee, A., Zamora, B., Karikari, S.
(2017). We Are Woke: a Collaborative Critical Auto
ethnography of Three "Womxn" of Colour Graduate
Students in Higher Education. International
Journal of Multicultural Education. 19 (1):
89 – 104.
[lots of themes here -- racism in HE and on
Their racial identities differ — Asian American,
Latina and African-American but they have formed
'out of necessity — a powerful womxn of colour
sista scholar familia' (89): they gravitated to
each other for survival. They want to honour and
reach out to each other, to show they're not
alone, and to 'give voice to their truths, to
build community and 'reject the toxicity of
dominance and oppression inherent in the Academy'
They use intersectionality, of race and gender, to
refer to 'overlapping systems of subordination',
as in Crenshaw, emerging from legal studies. They
are interested in the 'interplay of racism and
sexism within the Academy'. Wokeness is critcal
consciousness to [sic] these intersecting systems.
Being woke means holding 'an un-retractable
embodied consciousness and political identity
acknowledging the impression that exists in
individual and collective experiences'
[unretractable means incorrigible?]. They think
that oppressors keep them blinded and silenced 'by
claiming a post racist and post sexist America'
but their job is to stay woke, articulating the
system's existence, not necessarily naming
oppression but 'know of oppression and reject its
It is connected to the articulation of
consciousness and 'standpoint epistemologies',
aimed at cognitive liberation as in Anzaldúa,
Collins and others. They see themselves as
Collins's '"outsiders within"', women of colour on
the margins of the Academy, as with other marginal
features. They propose a 'political and personal
identity that unites womxn of colour' (91) using
'critical collaborative autoethnography as an act
This involves researchers engaging in 'a
collective examination of individual
autobiographies to understand the sociocultural
phenomenon… [Including]… power relations between
the researcher and the researched'. They want to
understand others through the self, understand
themselves in terms of 'recycled discourses of
oppression in the Academy'. Thus collaborative
critical auto ethnography is not only a
methodological approach but 'a form of empowerment
that facilitates survival, solidarity and
resilience' and destabilises the 'hegemonic
assumptions of the male dominated white
supremacist institution, namely higher education'.
They are 'vulnerably sharing our stories'.
Their very paper is a form of critical activism.
They provide brief narratives of their own
journeys and then do some collective data analysis
identifying three themes: 'the agent of wokeness;
the duality of wokeness; community as a necessity
to staying woke', and conclude by calling for a
movement to unite women of colour. Each co-author
independently wrote a personal vignette, following
particular prompts — sharing an experience with
intersectional oppression during graduate school;
what it means to be woke based on an example;
sharing an isolating experience in graduate
school. They include portions of their stories to
provide 'insight into our epistemological process
She took to Twitter to commit to dismantling white
supremacy she was exhausted and frustrated with
demonstrations of white dominance even though they
were well intended and produced by apparently
antiracist allies. She was then targeted with
'horrific racist, sexist, xenophobic,
anti-adoption hate' on social media, trolled,
attacked as a person. She soon learned to block
this but lived with pain and fear and was
traumatised she turned to a fellow WOC who urged
her to survive and endure and realised 'the
realities of racial battle fatigue' (92) and
became determined to persevere.
She experienced 'brutality' in the Twitterverse
which chicks affected her 'personal wellness and
academic performance' and now felt daunted and
unsafe while walking through campus at a 'rural
and predominantly white institution' [although she
received abuse through Twitter]. She had to combat
'an angry mob of online dissenters' while managing
this isolation' and felt extra wounding knowing
that 'white male counterparts in academia do not
have to endure this kind of treatment'(93). There
is 'a special kind of hate reserved specifically
for those of us whose very existence challenges
the status quo'. She took comfort from another
scholar's account of persistence.
Should she ever boldly and publicly resist, she
feels she will risk being subjected to further
hate and humiliation. She has previously thought
of being woke as 'hard but not dangerous', but
Twitter responses have had alerted her to the real
risks. She is exhausted but comforted by her
'fierce sista scholars'.
She is woke Latina in white dominated institutions
and has experienced racism as an undergraduate. In
graduate school the intensity of oppression
increased and since completing, she feels she has
'a spiritual cleansing… A positive physical
reaction to the reprieve from white academia and
its oppressors'. She is affected by Confederate
flags, bumper stickers and T-shirts worn by white
men [in the town, not on campus?]. She is
encouraged by feminist writing, in
particular Anzaldúa, sista scholars and her
own writings. She lives in a 'racist and sexist
town'. She is able to retreat to a deserted area
at her apartment complex, but she has a white
undergraduate roommate who stereotypes her with
'Latin American' comments. She is asked questions
like what are you, and insults like '"beaner"' and
stories about having dated Mexican girls
In her second month she noticed that white women
are sobbing because their lives are disrupted with
conversations on race on a particular course,
'fixated by the racism and sexism they refuse to
acknowledge within themselves… [They]... feel
uncomfortable with their power being addressed'
(94). She feels no need to stroke their egos. She
thinks her well-being and agency are in constant
tension with her oppressors, she needs to
strengthen her armour and continue her journey,
holding sista scholars and her journals close to
Once awake, especially being introduced the CRT,
she realised that black and brown scholars were
invisible in the Academy and that scholarly works
did not represent her community or resonate with
her, and this led to the 'erroneous belief that I
did not belong in the Academy, despite being sold
the dream that I was "graduate school material"'.
She is into poetry and has been encouraged by Hill
[?] who has used poetry to get students to express
their thoughts about race, both to expose their
trepidations and imagine new possibilities. So
she's written a poem [oh dear – page 95 — all
about finding a voice, listening to the
experiences of a heart, and becoming black and
proud, all in nice little four line versus with
alternate rhymes. At least two lines rhyme].
CRT enlightened her, a course taught by a Black
womxn, mainly attended by students of colour so
she was in the racial majority. It empowered her,
gave her confidence, energised and excited her and
gave her the view that she could find a space in
the Academy. She learned to be more at ease with
emotions including rage, and felt empowered.
An anecdote follows [jointly authored?] They are
discussing wokeness, meeting with the sistas,
feeling empowered, feeling they are doing
resistance. They read each other's stories and
tried to collectively make sense of the data,
especially exploring 'connections between our
personal accounts… And the structural realities of
higher education institutions'. They identified
three themes: 'the criticality of an agent of
wokeness as a catalyst… The duality of wokeness as
both painful and healing… The necessity of finding
and cultivating a community of sista scholars'
The first one provokes critical consciousness.
Various woke agents are apparent, such as a
learning environment, an historical figure or a
literal person as the stories reveal. For some, it
might be a quote from an historical activist as in
Bianca's case, or a faculty member as with Aeriel,
a black male, whose 'maleness does not inherently
impede his ability to serve as an agent of
wokeness' (97). It shows also that '"writing can
be academic and still authentic to my experiences
as a Black womxn"', indeed written words and
critical writing seems crucial.
The second one, the duality of wokeness reminds us
that woke people will often encounter exhausting
tension, 'concurrently cherishing and detesting
our wokeness' (98). So a single racist remark can
remind people that there is a 'larger system of
white and patriarchal supremacy' and wounds can
'fester as internalised shame and insecurity'.
Asserting wokeness can lead to a 'barrage of
online threats' which can affect acts in everyday
life such as navigating campus, or panic on being
apparently followed by white men. At the same
time, there can be agency and empowerment in
identifying the source of 'oppressive pain'(99)
and rejecting the limits of 'white male centred
academia' by finding authors that spoke to them,
or creating independent study based on social
They 'do not want to overly romanticise wokeness'.
It is an antidote and can lead to healing,
although it can also open people's eyes to pain.
Women of colour should acknowledge the
contradiction 'of desiring the liberatory
potential of critical consciousness while also
shouldering the wrath and weight of wokeness'
A supportive community is essential to survival,
collective solidarity. This is often lacking, and
WOC often experience solitude and isolation.
Collective discussion and co-creating knowledge is
powerful and liberating, and generates confidence.
It is different from past collaborations where
they are felt 'timid, insecure, and passive'
(100). Acquiescing to isolation risks wokeness and
sanity. Community helps create knowledge and
resistance, and even benefits the Academy.
At first, their academic home 'felt more like a
prison' and they sought each other out for
survival. They endured and formed a familia. They
realise there's something in common with earlier
scholars. They may be the beginnings of a movement
and an awakening. They are realising their
potential and power. This is what they mean by