How did the term “woke” become the insult of choice in 2020? The word is simply an African-Americanism meaning to be awake. It has been around for many years. It came to describe those who had become awake to their subjugation. Woke people were awake to racial injustice, the historical effects of the slave trade and the problems of segregation in 20th Century America.
It seems to have broadened out to refer to social justice issues more generally and because of that became associated with what would be considered a left-wing/liberal agenda. Of course along with that, unsurprisingly LGBTQ issues were increasingly co-opted into the mix.
However, by this year the term had become an insult. Anyone seen as opposed to western values, unpatriotic and from a Christian perspective theologically unsound has been wrapped up as part of the woke brigade.
Now, I appreciate that language evolves over time but usually we seen insults become adopted as positive labels by those targeted. For example, “Tory” was originally a term of abuse and the term Christian may well have been too. Yet to see something move the other way, from positive badge of pride to insult is unusual.
Furthermore, for us to casually use the word in this way without thinking through the word’s heritage and the implications of it seems at best thoughtless to me. By lumping the ridiculous with the obviously morally wrong and then using “woke” as a catch all insult sends out a message to black people that their hurts and their hopes are of little consequence to us.
Indeed, should we then be surprised if it is an anti-christian alliance that picks up the #BlackLivesMatter cause? Should we be surprised to see people looking to Marxists and the LGBTQ movement to stand with them, stand up for them and kneel with them. We have made it clear that we see racism as another crank issue and the first thing that people who speak out against racism hear is condemnation and suspicion.
So, instead of reinforcing the insult can I suggest a better way. What if we were to help Black communities to reclaim this beautiful word? What if we were to see this word as an incredible expression of what is only truly possible through the Gospel. Jesus Christ has awakened us, more than that he has brought us from death to life. We should be woke to the Lord, to each other and therefore to injustice.
Christians of all people should be woke.