In 'Stay Woke,' Penn State faculty member examines racism and anti-racism

June 17, 2020
"Stay Woke: A People's Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter," cowritten by Candis Watts Smith, associate professor of political science and African American studies.

"Stay Woke: A People's Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter," cowritten by Candis Watts Smith, associate professor of political science and African American studies. 

IMAGE: NYU Press

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As conversations about race and policing continue throughout the U.S., many people are turning to books, podcasts and other educational resources to learn more about the country’s history of racism and inequality and how to adopt anti-racist behaviors.

A book by a Penn State faculty member covers both topics in a way that’s both grounded in social science research and practical tips for everyday life.

Candis Watts Smith, associate professor of political science and African American studies, recently joined the Democracy Works podcast to discuss her book “Stay Woke: A People’s Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter,” co-authored with Tehama Lopez Bunyasi, assistant professor of conflict analysis and resolution at George Mason University.

The book provides definitions and historical context for terms like racism and white supremacy, which Smith said are often viewed in terms of individual thoughts and actions, rather than larger, structural issues that impact African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and other under-represented groups.

“We often tend to think about racism in kind of a personal hearts and minds way of thinking about different groups of people,” Smith said. “But that obscures the larger system of inequality where we see advantages systematically provided to some groups of people and disadvantages are doled out to other people systematically."

The journey to anti-racism looks different for everyone and is often a little clumsy, Smith and Bunyasi note in "Stay Woke." 

At a time when many white people are coming to grips with these concepts, Smith said it’s important for those who already practice anti-racism to avoid falling into a “woker than thou" mentality where they restrict others from joining the conversation based on a lack of experience or understanding.

“If you aren't doing it this way and you don't know these words and you don't understand this history, then you can't be a part of the group. And that has its own damaging effect,” Smith said. “What you're doing is making the boundaries of who can be anti-racist quite rigid. I think it's important for people to try to figure out the best way that they can show or be anti-racist.”

"Stay Woke: A People's Guide to Making All Black Lives Matter" is available from NYU Press.

Listen to the podcast episode at wpsu.org/democracy or by searching “Democracy Works” in Apple Podcasts, Spotify or any podcast app.

Last Updated September 03, 2020