Jim Beam column:Writer says ‘woke’ not so bad

Published 6:39 am Wednesday, August 30, 2023

When you woke up ready to face an eventual and happy day today, did  you become a “woke” person? Probably, but woke doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

The Independent, a British online newspaper, in January of 2021wrote a story about the history of the word “woke’ and its modern uses. The newspaper said woke was used by the political left to refer to progressiveness and social justice.

Tony Thorne, a linguist and lexicographer (a person who compiles dictionaries), said the phrase “woke” and to “stay woke” isn’t new — it began appearing in the 1940s and was first used by African Americans to “literally mean becoming woken up or sensitized to issues of justice.”

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The newspaper said, “In 1971, the phrase was used in a play by American playwright Barry Beckham titled “Garvey Lives!, in which he wrote: “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.”

Unfortunately, woke has become a toxic term used by alt-right and politically conservative groups to insult people on the left. “People who are woke simply can’t use the word anymore,” Thorne said.

Those on the political right have weaponized the word as a way to denigrate those who disagree with their beliefs, the Independent said. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, loves to use the word woke to tag anyone he thinks is so liberal they might fall off the end of the earth.

Woke started becoming a politicized word in 2014 after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

The word has been used so much recently, I get agitated every time I hear it. However, a letter I read in The Advocate gave me an excuse to perhaps use it myself.

Jeremy White of Baton Rouge wrote the letter titled, “Christians wake up — Jesus was woke.” Robert Mann, who holds the Manship Chair in Journalism at LSU, after reading White’s letter said, “This morning’s paper gave us a serious contender for 2023’s best letter to the editor in The Advocate. “

Here is White’s complete letter:

“All Christian doctrine is based on one simple premise: The Almighty had to assume human form in order to forgive our inevitable shortcomings.

“This all-powerful being was incapable of overlooking our flaws without becoming a mere mortal and living a life on Earth as an actual human being, known commonly around here as Jesus Christ.

“In short, divine forgiveness, the linchpin of all Christianity — is entirely based on one thing: empathy.

“That’s what makes the growing fad of empathy-free Christianity in this allegedly Christian nation so troubling.

“So many self-proclaimed followers of the person who gave us the Golden Rule continue to be seduced by a pervasive, hateful spirit that says, ‘You are under no obligation to give a flying flip about anyone else.’

“This anti-empathy movement exploded in the last decade, largely among Americans who proudly proclaim their faith in the man they call their savior, Jesus Christ.

“Distrust and hatred of the other are celebrated, per their perverted brand of ‘Christianity.’ They lead lives that say only losers turn the other cheek, and that the Good Samaritan is the world’s biggest sucker.

“It’s like they see their purported Redeemer merely as a mystical guarantee on a dogmatic insurance policy for their eternal soul.

“Suggest that they try walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, in order to facilitate common understanding among human beings, and they’ll likely deride you as ‘woke.’ Interestingly enough, according to the term’s original meaning, they’d be correct.

“Before it became an undefinable, ever-expanding catch-all for whatever terrifies hateful people, ‘woke’’ essentially meant two things: awareness and empathy.

“If any of these anti-woke Christians bothered to study the teachings of their alleged savior, they’d realize that if he returned to Earth, he’d instantaneously become — by light-years — the most woke person on the planet.”

One of the teachings of Jesus that White was talking about is found in the book of Matthew when He told a Pharisee about the greatest commandment — “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it — Love your neighbor as yourself.”

That word neighbor includes everybody, even those we may not like. The world would be a much better place if people didn’t forget what Jesus told the Pharisee.