[These are notes for a Logos School Assembly talk I gave yesterday on “Wokeness”.]
What is “wokeness”? Wokeness is hipster Marxism. Wokeness is communism with ripped mom jeans and a halter top. Wokeness is critical race theory with tattoos and nose ring and bleached tips. Is that clear enough?
The moniker “woke” is slang for “awake” or “enlightened.” It means you see clearly, and you have the super-deep understanding, specifically as it relates to issues of race or inequality. The term was popularized by the organization Black Lives Matter after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO in 2014.
A Little History from Wikipedia
“Black American folk singer-songwriter Huddie Ledbetter, a.k.a. Lead Belly, used the phrase near the end of the recording of his 1938 song “Scottsboro Boys”, which tells the story of nine black teenagers accused of raping two white women, saying: “I advise everybody, be a little careful when they go along through there – best stay woke, keep their eyes open.” J. Saunders Redding recorded a comment from an African American United Mine Workers official in 1940, stating: “Let me tell you buddy. Waking up is… harder than going to sleep, but we’ll stay woke up longer.”
The Oxford English Dictionary traces an early usage to a 1962 New York Times Magazine article titled “If You’re Woke You Dig It” by African-American novelist William Melvin Kelley, describing the appropriation of African American slang by white beatniks.
Woke had gained more political connotations by 1971 when the play Garvey Lives! by Barry Beckham included the line: “I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I’m gon’ stay woke. And I’m gon help him wake up other black folk.” Marcus Garvey had himself exhorted his early 20th century audiences, “Wake up Ethiopia! Wake up Africa!“ Romano describes this as “a call to global Black citizens to become more socially and politically conscious”.”
A Working Definition
While some uses of the word may have had true injustices in mind, the general sense of the word has come to mean that there is an underlying power structure inherent in the West, in which white people dominate black people. Wokeness has come to mean awareness of injustice and prejudice measured by unbiblical standards. Now even broken clocks are correct twice a day, but that doesn’t mean they are reliable measurements of time. So just because someone claims to be “woke” doesn’t mean that every single example they might give of racial prejudice is wrong. We would just want to point out at that their clock is broken. So for example, in “woke” circles you will hear things like: “systemic racism” or “white privilege” or “white power structures” and talk of the necessity of “empowering” minorities or giving them a “voice” in politics and culture or even “reparations” needing to be paid to black people because of slavery.
When you hear the words “empower” or “power structure” or “systemic racism” or “privilege” you need to think Marxism/communism. The reason is because those categories come directly from Karl Marx, the founder of communism. He and his sidekick Friedrich Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, the Bible of communism.
In the Communist Manifesto and in other writings, Marx explained that he believed that the reason there was so much conflict, war, violence, angst, misery, and general unrest in the world is because of material inequalities. He said that there was basically the wealthy and everybody else: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. He said that the bourgeoisie always, inescapably oppress the proletariat: the rich always oppress the poor. He taught that this was class conflict was systemic and endemic – it affected everything in society, nearly everything could be pointed to as an example of rich exploitation of the poor, and there was no way the rich could not exploit the poor. It was just inherent in the system.
Things like private business, marriage, Christianity, private education, private property – all of these things, Marx argued were part of the power structures designed to make rich people more rich and keep the poor impoverished. There’s your power structure and privilege. So Marx explicitly taught that marriage needed to be abolished, private property needed to be abolished, that the means of production should be seized by the state in order to redistribute wealth and opportunity to everyone equally. So Marx called for a revolution in which the proletariat seized power, and began forcing these things through the state. Marx said that after this happened utopia would break out, but for some reason that has never happened, and instead there’s only been gulags and concentration camps. The final line of the Communist Manifesto is “Workers of the world unite!”
Wokeness & Black Lives Matter
These traditional Marxist ideas were further developed by an Italian communist in the 1920s named Antonio Gramsci and others who became known as the Frankfurt School of critical theory. Critical Theory blended Marxism with Freudian psychology and postmodernism into what many call “cultural Marxism.” Instead of only thinking of people in terms of their class or wealth like Marx did, Critical Theory and Cultural Marxism defined people by their race, their gender, and their sexual desires – that’s the Freudian part.
Postmodernism broadly teaches that everything is a power struggle. Postmodernism is relativistic and teaches that there is no objective truth, and therefore, everything is a Squid Game. Everything is Hunger Games. Everything is survival of the fittest. So put all of this into a blender and you get the worst vegetable smoothie you can image — mostly kale. But basically, Critical Theory and Cultural Marxism teach that everything is a power structure designed to keep other people down, but in the West, they identify Christianity, men, and white people as the primary oppressors.
Enter the notion of intersectionality, which is kind of like a personality test only with victim points. If you’re a white Christian man, you are basically Adolph Hitler even if you don’t want to be. But if you’re black, if you’re female, and especially if you’ve adopted some kind of sexual perversion, you have lots of victim points. The idea is that you have been oppressed by the systems of white Christian men, and therefore you need to be empowered, given a seat at the table of power, a voice, and so on. This is also what is called “identity politics,” which basically treats people like playing cards, according to how they identify by race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
All of this assumes a zero-sum game. If somebody else gets a job, that means you didn’t. If someone else gets an opportunity, that means you didn’t. Which basically means that every time anyone else gets something they basically stole it from you. And if you can’t see how you’re constantly stealing and oppressing minorities by all that nice stuff you have, that’s just more evidence that you’re a misogynistic and homophobic slave trader.
So one writer says: “It’s not “workers of the world unite.” It’s marginalized peoples of the world unite.”
And Black Lives Matter basically says as much on their website: “We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. We are working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise.”
It’s actually really striking that “woke” is a play on “awake.” A number of writers have actually described the Woke movement as a “Great Awokening,” playing off of what is called the Great Awakening. But there really is a religious and spiritual component to Wokeness. It claims a sort of secret knowledge of guilt, and it promises some vague sense of forgiveness and justification (maybe). This is part of what is going on in cancel culture: people getting fired because one time when they were 7 they dressed up like Robert E. Lee for Halloween. But if you confess your white sins, your white guilt, your white oppression, and you seek to elevate minority voices, then you can probably be forgiven.
The Governor of Virginia was famously outed for having donned black-face in college, but despite calls for his resignation, he remained in office, apparently because he had confessed many such sins and had been forgiven by the mob. But all of this takes great faith, not Christian faith, but faith in the mob, faith in the revolution, and faith in the state to bring about that promised utopian harmony. But this is a false gospel, a false religion. It’s actually a form of the ancient heresy called Gnosticism – which was a claim to a secret knowledge that allowed you access to an inner circle, a secret society of the initiated, what you could call the “woke.” And if you were on the inside of the club, you were safe, you were justified.
But the glorious thing about the Christian faith is that it is public and objective. The law of God was revealed on Sinai and it has never changed. It came down and it was written down on stone tablets. It’s public and objective. Our guilt is measured objectively by God’s revealed justice. God does not have a secret list of other sins. There’s only 10. And we are all guilty. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But Jesus came publicly to save sinners. He didn’t come in secret. He was crucified and raised from the dead publicly so that all who trust in Him might be forgiven. And this forgiveness is permanent and objective. If you trust in Christ, all your sins have been removed. This includes racial sins and sexual sins. You do not need to keep asking for forgiveness for the same sins over and over again. They are paid for; you are clean. No one can bring a charge against God’s elect. There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
The second thing to note is that Wokism is thoroughly materialistic. Wokism and every form of Marxism reduces people to material things. But we are more than the mere material we are made of or own. It is certainly true that being made male or female or with different hues of color in our skin or hair or eye color – all of that is glorious. All of that is beautiful and part of God’s good creation. And no one is guilty of any sin for any of it. But what a drab, boring world to think that because you are white or because you are a woman or because your ancestors were from Africa that this means someone can define you.
It’s really silly actually. Just because someone is white doesn’t mean they had anything to do with slavery. Just because someone is black doesn’t mean they were enslaved. In Africa, there were many black people enslaved by other black people, and many black people enslaved many white people. For some reason no one wants to talk about all that “systemic racism” in Africa where white people are minorities. Sure, there may be some common experiences among ethnicities, and there can certainly be sinful patterns over time. But our genes do not confine us to sin. Male and female certainly goes all the way down, but our ethnicities and nationalities are not fixed. We are all descended from Noah and Adam, and we have different personalities, gifts, interests because we are made in the image of God. We are more than matter. This world is more than mere matter and material things.
We should reject wokeness because we believe in beauty. We believe in forgiveness. We believe in joy. We believe in the gospel of grace. And we believe in real justice. There most certainly has been injustice, violence, oppression, but the Bible teaches that people are equal opportunity offenders: men have sinned against women, and women have sinned against men; white people have sinned against black people, and black people have sinned against white people; rich people have sinned against poor people and poor people have sinned against rich people; and all of those superficial categories have sinned against one another, and the list goes on and on. But mobs and revolutions are never good at getting justice, even internet mobs. Jesus died to reconcile us to God and to provide a way for all men to be reconciled in Him. Jesus has made peace through His cross. The state cannot make this peace. The mob cannot make this peace. But Jesus has, and He most certainly will.
So we should want nothing to do with being “woke” but we do want to be wide awake to Christ and His word. Real justice has a fixed, objective standard. Real justice is blind. And it’s the same for everyone: rich or poor, white or black, male or female. And forgiveness is free and complete for everyone who turns to Christ.