I usually steer clear of too much political opining, but a recent Facebook post by a friend prompted me to ponder in writing what it means to be “woke.” Unless you have been on Mars for the past several years, you know that the verb describing the status of sleep has morphed into an adjective about the state of one’s politics. My friend’s post proudly declared his affection for the “woke” label. And added, “You would be too if you owned a dictionary.” Yes, he has the linguistic skill of making a statement while simultaneously implying the stupidity of his opponents.
Since I own several dictionaries, I took the bait and looked it up. Still, given the incendiary nature of the term, I hesitated, only briefly, to respond. After all, wokeness has become such a hot button topic that any objective discussion of this political hand grenade is bound to wake sleeping dogs, hyperventilate the hypersensitive, or get you “canceled.” Speaking your mind is risky business in the (un)enlightened 21st century. Free speech is no longer free.
A broad search revealed that the definition of woke depends on which lexicon you use. At its fundamental meaning, to be “woke” is to be well-informed or up-to-date. Others define it as being aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice). By those definitions, I would agree — we all should yearn to be woke regardless of our political persuasion.
I quite understand how “woke” rhetoric resonates within the Christian community. As one author noted, the appeal of wokeness is “rooted in legitimate biblical concerns about the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, and the potential misuse of power.” Yet the “woke” worldview offers only a solution of tearing things down with no real hope or plan of building back anything better.
Is woke at the end of its life-cycle? Past its prime? Why? Overuse? A constant evolution of meaning? Maybe. I consider it broke for a number of reasons.
Woke is broke because it has lost its value and meaning. What started as a legitimate call to be alert to injustice, especially racial injustice, has evolved over time to mean different things to different people. The term’s meaning has become so watered-down that I’m not sure if a common definition can be found.
Woke is broke because it attempts to define an individual’s identity with a single four-letter umbrella term. Is that really possible? Is every “woke” individual in complete alignment on the social issues of the day? Besides, the woke message has become a toxic tag that serves as a distraction from legitimate debate about injustice.
Woke is broke because it implies a false mindset whereby liberals are educated and enlightened, and conservatives are not.
Woke is broke because it has a big bully cousin named Cancel Culture who seeks to silence any opposition. Even within the Left community, there are those accused of not being woke enough. This hate-based heckler ridicules the non-compliant, “Play with my cousin Woke or else!” Which may explain why some Hollywood producers have hired Executive Coaches to help navigate the progressive ideological minefield. The cancel culture has shown it will eat its own at the slightest deviation. Makes me wonder — Why would an ideology have to resort to fear if it is fundamentally true and right?
Woke is broke because of its condescending attitude. This prompted black liberal professor, John McWhorter, author of the book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, to state, “We need the hard left to point us to new ways of thinking. However, we need them to go back to doing this while seated, with the rest of us, rather than standing up and getting their way by calling us moral perverts if we disagree with them and calling this speaking truth to power.”
Woke is broke because it has become weaponized. The Left uses it as a standard to judge ones leftist credentials. The Right uses it as a disparaging label to note its nonsensical nature. Conservative writer, W. James Ante II, had this to say, “The woke left may be the new religious right: preachy, censorious, humorless, judgmental, constantly policing popular culture for impure thoughts…A left more orthodox than the religious right ever was.
To my conservative Christian friends, I urge you to avoid using the “woke” label as an insulting or derisive term. Tempting as it may be, let’s avoid becoming linguistic bullies in the fashion of the cancel culture. Seeking to engage in winsome conversations about the real issues of injustice might help us respond more biblically. Despite tremendous strides in race relations, racism still exists. We are called to speak out against injustice. Loving our neighbor puts our identity in Christ above any racial or ethnic label.
To my liberal Christian friends, I caution you to avoid aligning with the mean-spirited cancel culture. Substantive conversations rarely occur in the face of such hateful intent. Being “woke” initially meant to be aware of racial and social injustice. But today, the term “woke” is a label fraught with misunderstanding and confusion. Yes, it appeals to the compassion within us to recognize injustice but it ignores the reality that we all (the human race) are broken, and in need of redemption.
Pithy labels like “woke” can be counter-productive. Especially since being “woke” appears to have gone the way of tolerance — it no longer has the meaning it once did. Issues of social and racial injustice need to be confronted and civilly debated.
We may have more profitable discussions and effective conversations if we set aside the superficial labels and find common ground. Only then can we do what God requires of us — “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)