Yes, I’m Woke!
And I am proud of it … and embarrassed at the same time.
But mostly I don’t see what all the fuss is. I don’t understand why there is such resistance to being awakened to a history that had been hidden from me.
Here is what I mean by being woke: I have been awakened to a history (black history) I never knew; I have been awakened to black voices I had never heard; I have been awakened to the systemic ways white America has marginalized black America (and continues to do so).
I don’t understand why this is so terrible (according to some people), why it is being denounced as anti-American and anti-Christian, why it is a threat to anybody anywhere.
A few years ago, I found myself in Galveston, Texas. My son was living there, and I was visiting him. While there I read in the local paper about the traditional reenactment of a supposedly-famous event that occurred in June of 1865, two months after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox to end the Civil War.
They called it Juneteenth, and I had never heard of it. I had successfully completed 24 years of education and had never heard of Juneteenth. At least, I had no memory of it.
With a few hundred people, I attended the commemorative service at the AME church on Broadway: Reedy Chapel. I sat on the back row, in front of what turned out to be the color guard: six men dressed in Civil War era Union uniforms who later led the parade to the court house. There was music (drumming and singing) and speeches, as I recall; then we gathered outside in the slightest of rain to walk the half dozen blocks to a site near the original court house where General Order #3 was read.
It was all new to me. As was the news of the Tulsa Race Massacre. A friend sent me four books and a paper he wrote; and a pastor in Tulsa sent me a link to his interview with the chairman of the centennial commemoration of that awful event. I later learned from a map posted on Facebook that such massacres happened in cities across the country: mobs of white people killing scores of black people. I had never heard of it.
Along the way I read The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (by Edward E. Baptist), From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century (by William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen), and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (by Isabel Wilkerson).
I re-read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and its companion volume, The Road to Dawn: Josiah Henson and the Story That Sparked the Civil War (by Jared A. Brock).
On my table awaiting their turn are The Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America (by Michael Eric Dyson), Underground Railroad (by Colson Whitehead), and The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (by the aforementioned Wilkerson).
Why is this reading and learning such a threat to people?
Why is educating ourselves to the history of our country so denounced by people?
I’m not the only one on this journey. Take, for instance, Ty Seidule, professor emeritus of History at West Point. And read his book Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause. His journey parallels mine.
The answer might lie in the phrase “systemic racism”—the idea that public policies have been framed and enforced that advantage white people and disadvantage black people. This reality (and its multi-layered evidence) challenges the notion that sin and wickedness are simply the attitudes and actions of individuals. It re-enforces the notion (the biblical notion!) that wickedness permeates our culture in ways that are longer, wider, and deeper that the unrighteousness of any one person. It makes us all culpable to things that cannot be traced to any individual.
Thousands, even millions of us, have been awakened to these realities about our country. Histories are being re-written, museums are being founded, courses are being taught, minds are being changed, laws are being challenged, people are being awakened to things we have never seen, never heard, never known.
It is an awakening, a renaissance, a revival of truth and justice. I am woke, as they say, and proud of it; but embarrassed that it took so long, that I waited so late, that I am left with so little time to think, write, and preach.
Help me, Lord, for the night comes, when no man can work.
“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that yo may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Letter to the Romans 12:1-2)
How are you being transformed so as to exhibit the attitude and behavior of Jesus our Lord?