The Off-Switch to Wokeness



1. to have been emerged from a state of sleeping

2. to be socially aware, appreciative of, and emotionally sensitive to the cultural history and practices of minorities

As we have entered the strong-willed Scorpio season (where my sisters at?!) and a step closer to the end of 2017, I have done a lot of self-reflection. For most of October, I realized that I was a pessimistic, low energy form of myself. I opted for solo Friday night wine dates instead of socializing with friends like a ‘normal’ college student, and in a twisted sense punished myself from indulging in any form of self-care. I felt that because I didn’t ‘accomplish’ enough based on my perfectionist standards, I didn’t deserve any type of reward. I felt constant anxiety over the unforeseeable future and un-inspired to create meaningful work. The simple act of getting out of bed or responding to a friend’s text felt equally as draining and ingenious.

To add to my slump, half-hearted hookups and me blowing off friendships became a regular occurrence and did anything, but help me. The interactions I was exposing myself to were not fueling my passion for social justice. I found myself often stuck in shallow conversations like: “You’re from Hawai’i?! Okay...if you could only have one pizza topping for the rest of your life, would it be pineapple or ham?”

Now, I have not always been woke and recognized that every person of color’s (POC) experience is varied. Growing up as the majority in Hawai’i, I never gave a second thought to race and the high impact it played in my everyday life. My hometown of Honolulu in itself is a diverse melting pot of very racially-ambiguous people (I am Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, & German). To give you some historical context, migrant workers from Asia, predominantly Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos, worked on Hawai’i’s sugarcane plantations in the 1900s.

When I attended college and was placed in a white majority environment, I was forced to become more aware of how much space I took up as a POC woman. A common occurrence when talking to white people about race inevitably ends in a passive-aggressive conversation to somehow prove me wrong about a racially based experience that I’ve experienced.

Fed up with these conversations, I decided for the month of October to avoid at all costs the topic of race in an effort to best save my energy, and ‘switch off’ my wokeness…

it did the complete opposite.  

One moment that threw me for a curve ball in my this racial hiatus was the word wokeness itself. While hanging out with my existential pizza topping ‘friend’ I explained my mission statement [harmonizing a love of foliage with shattering Asian & Pacific Islander stereotypes through an eclectic collection of pins] for my pin company venusgurlz.

All of their endless questions dealt with race, which included terms like how ‘white people can be more woke than a POC’ and how ‘all Asians who are American citizens are still considered as ‘fresh off the boat (FOB).’

I have always been encouraging white allies to ask open-ended questions about race and stereotypes, but this case was an exception. In my self-pitying stint in October, I realized I had been cocooned in my privilege. I reflected that I was limiting my emotional capacity with surface level encounters and sheltering myself from the microaggressions that are sadly an integral part of my daily life.

It is a waste of energy trying to force most white Americans to link an emotional connection to my experience. Amidst my off-switch mode, I easily became disconnected to my mental health because of my ‘say-yes-to-everything-under-the-sun-with-a-smile’ mentality. I still have a long way to go in the journey towards understanding structural racism, but in the meantime, I can set boundaries for myself to conserve energy. Daily breath work, meditation (I do this through journaling), and yoga all helped me to realign myself with my own needs and goals. 

If a close friend of yours is experiencing a situation similar to mine, don’t take it personally if they didn’t immediately respond to your reaching out. Sometimes giving support in the form of space is the most effective care you can extend. 

by: Missie Yamamura

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Instagram: @missie_san  @venusgurlz