Stop Using “Woke”!

by | Dec 7, 2017 | Faith & Politics, Justice

Am I the only person tired of the word “woke”? Maybe it used to mean something, but the term seems to have devolved into a badge of coolness meant to be flaunted publicly.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with the original meaning of woke. After the tragic shootings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and many other black youth, the term gained widespread usage as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. At its beginning, woke was used to indicate a person’s active awareness of social justice issues, especially surrounding race and privilege. Considering the the current hostile state of politics and issues surrounding race, it seems perfectly legitimate to coin such a term that calls to light otherwise unrecognized prejudice.

But that’s not how the term is generally used anymore. The word has rather been reduced to a badge of honor. Checking one’s privilege publicly and practicing other woke gestures have become more of a declaration of one’s superiority, rather than the humility they’re supposed to convey. In a New York Times op-ed,  journalist David Brooks considers whether the woke ethos is comparable to the “cool” ethos of the 20th century. In his assessment, Brooks thinks that woke and cool share the same “rebel posture” but concludes that the two ethoses are ultimately different. Brooks wrote this Op-Ed earlier this year, yet, the more the term is used, I fear that the two ethoses are growing ever closer.

The other thing that gets me is woke’s “meme-worthiness.” The term’s virality just shows how diluted the term has become. If woke’s original meaning was supposed to mean radical awareness, then woke’s meme-worthiness shows that its meaning has become superficial awareness, at best.  #StayWoke remains a mere flashy afterthought attachable to a selfie caption or at the end of some 140-character message.1

Considering that we are now in the season of Advent, the emergence of ‘woke’ as the popular term might seem timely. After all, Jesus orders us to “Be watchful!” and “Be alert,” in the gospel reading from Mark on the first Sunday of Advent. But let’s take another Christian teaching to heart, as well. As the gospel teaches us, righteousness is an inward disposition. Jesus himself had a distaste for people who were all show; so much so that he called those who do good in order to be seen, hypocrites.

So don’t be a hypocrite. Jesus wasn’t woke and neither should you be. It’s time to put woke to bed.


Image courtesy FlickrCC user Jonathan Koren.

  1. I know, Twitter has since expanded their character limit to 280.

James Antonio, SJ   /   All posts by James