I’ve been thinking a lot about waking up. Quarantine has had me sleeping a lot more than usual. It’s partly stress and partly opportunistic — I can, therefore I will, sleep late and nap.

But stress is definitely a factor, and part of that is related to that other meaning of waking up — becoming woke: “alert to injustice in society, especially racism.”

This is hard work and often depressing, especially in these tumultuous days.

Right now I am reading Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. It’s well written and interesting, but I can only read a chapter at a time, and then I need to take a break. I can, therefore I will take a break.* 

*I am aware that many, many people cannot take a break from the effects of racism.*

I won an essay contest when I was in elementary school, writing about the defection of Simas Kudirka. I was full of patriotism and just knew he had made the right choice when he fled the USSR. 

I wrote a report when I was in eighth grade about the heroes of the American Revolution. I included so many men that the report was about five times longer than required. I was so proud of it – and of them. I was an American! Liberty and Justice for all were what those men had fought for, and I helped maintain! 

What I don’t remember is anyone — not a teacher, not a parent, not a book — suggesting that those men were not wholly admirable and deserving of my hero-worship. 

I was not unaware of prejudice. When I was six, my parents told me some people had objected when my best friend’s family moved in, because her father was Filipino. But good people like my parents had objected right back. So that was all okay. (I wonder how much this had to do with my eventually marrying a Filipino.)

I don’t recall ever thinking that my government could be culpable until I was in high school, and I read about the “Trail of Tears.” It was a one-paragraph sidebar in my history book. I was horrified. I researched and wrote a report about it. There. Mischief managed. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have thought about prejudice, racism, injustice, all my life but it was all academic. Even when I married my husband, I was not really cognizant of the effects of racism. He only ever joked about people who assumed he was Mexican and expected him to speak Spanish. 

But when I had children, THAT was when I truly started to look at these issues. THAT was when I started to SEE systemic racism, macro aggression, microaggression. That was when I started to Become Woke. 

“Being aware of everything that happens in the world and developing a sense of empathy can come at a huge cost.”    Jesse Bernard


So, I’m trying to give myself a little space to mourn the George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin*, and other “founding fathers” whom I so much admired as an adolescent. At the same time, I remind myself that others have to live every day with the results of the hypocrisy of those men and the racist laws they built into our government. 

So I pick up my book and read another chapter. I write. I protest. I vote. 


*I wrote a humorous short story about Ben Franklin when I was a teenager. It won a prize.*