I never used CliffsNotes.
Not because I believed in some uncompromising code of ethics that made me reject shortcuts in favor of hard work and discipline. My mother just wouldn't let me use them. When I was a rising 10th-grader, I tried to get her to purchase a copy of the CliffsNotes for Albert Camus' The Stranger. Not only did she refuse (I later found out it was because we couldn't afford CliffsNotes), but she asked me, "What if you went to a doctor and you found out that he had only read the CliffsNotes to brain surgery?"
I wanted to tell her I'd be cool with that because I'd probably be anesthetized; plus, was there something wrong with my brain that she wasn't telling me? Of course, I didn't say any of this because I didn't want to activate my mother's slapping superpowers, but I understood what she meant.
Later, my more fortunate friends (everyone but me) in the honors English program would lend me their CliffsNotes for reading assignments, and I discovered they didn't help me understand or digest the material; they just made it appear as if I had read and understood the material.
Among the group of black people formally called "the conscious community" now rebranding itself as "woke," there have always been CliffsNotes. There are hordes of people who drop the names of Frances Cress Welsing and Lerone Bennett Jr. in casual conversation, but if you ask if you can borrow their copy of The Isis Papers or Before the Mayflower, they break into a fit of "Ummms … " and "Ahhhs …"
They haven't read them; nor have they digested anything past the first paragraph or the internet summaries of all the "woke" literature they like to cite. To them, an "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt, a cursory viewing of Hidden Colors and a few Facebook posts are all they need to arm themselves with the knowledge of "wokeness." In reality, they do not want to educate themselves; they just want to appear educated. They don't want equality and truth. They want credit.
I call them "half-woke."
Nothing symbolizes the plague of the half-woke better than the stances of many in the conscious community when the conversation extends beyond blackness. Once any discussion about freedom and equality crosses the boundaries past the people who were brought to America as slaves, the half-woke tendencies always bubble to the surface.
Whether it is a dashiki-wearing dreadlocked brother wearing copper ankhs in a barbershop or one of the masses of pseudo-intellectuals who peddle Hotep conspiracies under the guise of uplifting our people for a small lecture fee, there is always the inference that black people should reject the predefined roles and limitations of oppressors.
Until they start talking about women.
Women are a different story for the half-woke. According to them, half of what is wrong with the black community can be traced to the emergence of booty shorts and women who choose to do what they want with their vaginas. Talk of freedom and equality in conscious circles ends abruptly when it comes to the minds and bodies of women.
They reject the insidious antebellum argument that God's "natural law" placed black people somewhere between mules and human chattel, but wholly accept the belief that there is a "universal law" that determines a woman's place. That place invariably consists of a demure, quiet box that only allows women to deep-fry chicken, read the Bible and dust-mop the living room.
A discussion of sexism and misogyny will shut down any conversation among the half-woke because being "conscious" has become a religion, and—as with all religion, from Christianity to Islam to tiny cults—adherents eventually devolve into learned men with beards and loose shirts figuring out how to keep women from thinking independently and f—king whomever they want. The vilification of feminism in the conscious community is the same as when Southern churches cast out abolitionists or Catholic churches excommunicated people who thought the earth was round.
If this seems like a treacherous domain for a "woke" discussion, please do not dare venture into the territory of sexuality. Those who raise their black fists for freedom will castigate anyone who dares to include the struggle of the LGBTQ community with blackness. They again revert to the Ku Klux Klan-ish argument that uses Bible verses and "natural law" to explain why discriminating against gays and transgender people is OK.
They talk about "the assault on black masculinity" in the same way alt-right neo-Nazis talk about the war on the white man. Their argument is easily dismantled, but using logic and reason in an argument with someone who is half-woke is like trying to explain quantum physics to someone who is half drunk. They both have convinced themselves they are sober-minded, no matter what facts are presented. It's about their belief.
Whenever anyone speaks against misogyny and homophobia, many in the "conscious" community will brand that person a "man-hater" or troublemaker. Some will even tacitly admit that the accusations might be true, but counter that they derail the primary discussion of black lives, freedom and justice.
As a straight man, I am often looked at as someone who might buttress the idea of the conspiracy to make black men gay or that black feminism is "anti-male." Whenever I am asked about this, I show them the emails, messages and tweets that I receive on a daily basis from Caucasians accusing me of being racist against white people. Those are the people the half-woke sound like.
Ultimately, hypocrisy devours them all. Justice and equality cannot be partitioned. One either believes in freedom for all, or none. The justifications used for subjugating women and the LGBTQ are versions of the same reasoning this country used for slavery and Jim Crow: "Why should they use our bathrooms" is the same as "separate but equal." "Marriage is between a man and woman … " is based on the same Bible that instructs slaves to be submissive and women to remain silent.
Perhaps the worst thing one can be in the Hotep half-woke universe is "the White Man." "A white man" is just a Caucasian male, but the White Man is the ultimate personification of the evil, power-lusting leviathan that has perpetuated injustice, greed and inequality throughout history. The White Man enslaved black people for 400 years. Even though black proxies may have pulled the trigger, the White Man killed Malcolm X. The White Man is an oppressor. The White Man is evil.
But the White Man only lives in the CliffsNotes version of the story. The full text reveals that misogyny, racism and homophobia are all intertwined in a structure that has existed since the dawn of man. It is a centuries-old story of dominance and subjugation that has been perpetuated by religion, society and culture and is not easily deconstructed.
If you take the mantle of responsibility to fight against any of it, you must resolve that you will defeat all of it. Racism is sexism is homophobia is all injustice. One cannot dismantle one leg of an unjust power structure and leave the other pillars standing.
When they eventually awake from their slumber, the half-woke realize that sometimes the white man wears dashikis, too. The people who fight for black freedom but turn a blind eye at the oppression of others are as asleep as the masses yelling, "All lives matter."
They just look woke.