On Consciousness

By: Taylor Lampe 

In our Faith-Based Community Organizing Workshop with Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, we were introduced to public narrative, the telling of our personal story as it relates to a greater issue. Lisa encouraged us to create an arc to our story and to emphasize the climax - our point of no return. When were our eyes opened? When could we not un-see the truths of our world? When was our inactivity and complacency too much to bear?

I struggled with this exercise. Anyone who is currently operating in my realm of existence knows that everything is a tornado for me right now. It is as if I took a neatly organized deck of cards (how I was taught to view myself and the world) and threw it out the window and into the wind. I am chasing these cards around, frantically trying to make sense of it all and figure out how to be in this world. But even in the chaos, somehow I know that I can never go back to the nice, neat stack.

So when Lisa proposed this exercise, creating a linear public narrative felt almost impossible to me. I don’t have one story. I don’t even have one issue. I just have this burning awareness that things are not right, that I am not ok with it, and that I cannot return to how it was before. Academics and activists might call this ‘consciousness’. The dictionary definition of consciousness is “the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings”. I like that language. Consciousness, in the social context, is being aware of the structures that shape our world and being woken up to the racism, homophobia, sexism and other systemic oppressions incarnate in them.

As I prepared my public narrative to share with Demarius, it slowly became clear to me that my present narrative is the raising of consciousness. I do not have a linear story that leads to one issue, but I do have a story-in-progress of waking up to the world around me.

Most of college years, and certainly my time before college, were spent somewhat asleep, or ‘unconscious’ if we’re continuing with this language. And I have come to believe that my vision was clouded by The Dream. The Dream, Ta-Nehisis Coates writes in his book, Between the World and Me, is “perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is treehouses and the Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake.” The Dream, in short, was more or less my white, suburban upbringing. For me, The Dream was comfort and buying into a narrative that intended to lull me into complacency. The Dream created the opposite of consciousness - a cloud, a blindness, a sleep.

But now, as I brush shoulders with radicals, queers, poets, activists, liberals, intellectuals, philosophers, community organizers, idealists, storytellers, healers, priests, feminists… As I have experiences, discuss them with great minds and hearts, and find language for the world around me… My eyes are constantly being opened and I am emboldened in my quest to reject the dominant narrative and continuously push towards new realities.

I have reached my point of no return, perhaps the first of many. My consciousness is raised and there is no turning back. What this means for the future, I can only guess. But stay tuned, because this public narrative has only just begun.