Taraji P. Henson Talks To Us About What It Means To Be ‘Woke’

11.06.18 8 months ago

Marriott International

Social media is full of people using, misusing, and overusing the phrases “mental health” and “wokeness.” And sure, that makes things a little muddled. But what we social media users often fail to realize is that there are real people who have to deal with both mental health issues and social/ societal issues that require them to be “woke.” It’s imperative for their very survival.

As a champion of mental health awareness, especially in the black community, Taraji P. Henson has been making rounds in the media and at speaking engagements to break the stigma on getting help. She’s using her platform to encourage people to take these matters seriously, as more than a hashtag or a popular trend. To do so effectively, she’s had to be very open about her own journey with maintaining her mental health and relates much of it to her profession — as a minority in film and TV.

As a part of Marriott International’s #LoveTravels Beyond Barriers initiative, Henson spoke to the National Black MBA Association gathering in Detroit about minority representation in the media. After her speech, we chatted about why she feels called to this particular mission, wokeness, and the importance of representation.

I think it’s cool, especially as a black woman who is a travel blogger, to hear about how your initiative with Marriott is saluting people who are opening people’s minds as far as diversity goes.

So along those lines: what is your definition of “woke?” People use it all the time, but when you hear that word, what is your definition?

I guess woke to me means culturally conscious like aware of what’s going on in the world and not just the pretty side — everything.

So why is it important to be woke? How do we come together to create a woke society?

A woke society is an inclusive society. An all-inclusive society. So you can’t say you’re woke but you only stay on one side of town, and you don’t know what the other side of town looks like or what they’re into.

I think if we all come together and just understand each other better…love is a search for understanding. So I think if we all as humans try to understand each other, no matter how we look, no matter where we live, no matter who we are…sleep with, our gender…It’s a search for understanding each other.

You mentioned that you can’t be woke if you stay on your side of town —

Well, you can’t be woke with blindfolds on. Like if you’re just in a tunnel, you gotta come out of that and see the world.

For sure. Literally, my first time out of the country was last year. And I realized that both “traveling while black” and “traveling while female” are real things.

So what have you learned or noticed, while traveling for work or for leisure, that’s fueled your drive to break barriers and promote diversity?

The way America sees us as black people, is pretty much how the world kind of sees us. It’s sickening, because America sort of sets the tone for that. Other countries tend to be a little more open-minded… But you go to different countries and I’ll still get nasty stares because I’m black. And it’s like well, wait a minute, especially because in many countries — you look like me almost! That’s why for me as an artist and as an actress, it’s important for me for my movies to sell internationally. I know my movies do well domestically, but right now my sight is to get them international.

You know, I just think the more we learn about each other, the better off we’ll be overall.

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