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 Twitter, intersectionality, wokeness,counterstory,collaborative autoethnography]

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' (90).

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 unjust nature'.

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 of resistance'.

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 of wokeness'

Aeriel's story

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'.

Binca's Story

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 her heart.

Shamika's Story

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' (96).

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 justice.

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 woke.