Last Thursday, senior columnist Imani Thornton wrote an op-ed titled “Can you be ‘Woke’ and B.S.E.?” She concludes that because B.S.E. students are not required to take social analysis classes, they were not “woke” enough to participate in the protests. As an African-American B.S.E. student, I say that this is completely false and baseless.
First, I’d like to address the term “woke.” I’m aware of the problems facing the black community, but as a lover of grammar, I would cringe to describe myself with a word that is so grammatically incorrect. When there are plenty of words in the English language that precisely describe this concept — “aware,” “heedful,” “perceptive,” “savvy,” and even the phrase “awake to” — I find it embarrassing that we’re using a word like “woke” to refer to those of us in the black community who are perceptive of the racism affecting us. Additionally, I’ve only ever seen it used positively for people that share a certain perspective on racism. Those of us who disagree are told to become “woke” or “stay woke.”
I’d also like to address Thornton’s claim that B.S.E. students aren’t involved in on-campus protests because they do not take enough social analysis classes. I am a B.S.E. candidate majoring in computer science, and I have taken a social analysis class and an African American Studies class. In the interest of transparency, the social analysis class I took was Social Networks, and the AAS class I took was The American Dance Experience and Africanist Dance Practices (both of which I highly recommend). I get the distinct impression from her op-ed that Ms. Thornton was referring to social analysis classes that support the Black Justice League perspective.
Ms. Thornton assumes that if more B.S.E. students were taking social analysis classes, they would have left class to support the BJL. At 11:30 a.m. that Wednesday, I was in a 300-level departmental class. There was no way I was skipping class to go to a protest, especially one whose tactics and demands were disturbing to me.
I believe that the BJL’s mission is to combat racism on this campus and I agree with that aspect, but I completely disagree with their tactics and their demands. The BJL’s demands may make them feel more welcome on this campus, but they do absolutely nothing to address the mindset of prejudiced or racist members of our Princeton community.
In the class I was attending on the morning of the protest, I am one of only two black students. This is representative of a greater problem in the tech industry — a dearth of underrepresented minorities, particularly African-Americans and females. I am defying the stereotype of the introverted white male software engineer just by being a computer science major, and I quite frankly believe that I was doing more to dismantle racism in the hour and a half that I chose to sit in that class than the BJL did in the 32 hours that they spent yelling in the office of University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83. By being one of a small percentage of African-American females in computer science, I am transforming people’s expectations of what a software engineer looks like. Changing people’s hearts and minds is a much more effective way of combatting racism than creating an “us vs. them” environment like the BJL has created.
To use Ms. Thornton’s words, I am “woke.” My “wokeness,” however, has taught me that the best way to combat prejudice is by being a counterexample and encouraging others to be one as well. If we spend more time pushing each other to defy the stereotypes placed on us by biased people, we will do more to eliminate racism than any protest ever could.
Allie Burton can be contacted at email@example.com.