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  • Jennifer Blue Barnes

Why I'm Not Woke

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

“Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler.” Proverbs 6:4-5



I’ve awakened enough to know better than to call myself “woke”. I’m sitting up straight enough to shake away the grogginess of slumber, but I am not fully awake. I am Awakening to newness of life because I have sought out new teachers who have patiently given me new perspective, their perspective, about different realities people live within the same America we all call home. These new teachers have grown my faith and kept me inside the fold I debated leaving because the truth about loving my neighbor I had been taught as a child had taken root, but the modeling of it I had witnessed towards people who didn’t share my same skin color, theology, lifestyle or world perspective, just weren’t measuring up.


I have learned from my black friends that this idea of “wokeness” has been worn as a badge by some white people. It has been used as a proclamation of full understanding, even when understanding hasn’t fully evolved. In some ways, the self-proclamation of “wokeness” has become a further stumbling block to fully knowing and understanding our black brothers and sisters, because it offers a reason to stop exploring, listening and learning. In essence, it can become a presumptuous box we place ourselves in to shield us from further realization in order to protect our own interests, make us the hero of the “woke” story or the savior of our own enlightenment. This box can actually become a new cave for slumber.


For those of us who may have never heard the term “woke”, let’s consider the context and differentiate ourselves from it. “Wokeness” is to possess an “alertness to injustice impacting black people”, specifically in America. In other words, to be “woke” is to have awakened into full realization. In my journey of awakening, I’ve not obtained that level of understanding. The more my eyes open to new realities black people face on a daily basis, historical context I wasn’t properly taught and the present day perpetuation of things the white community has been taught to believe ended long ago, the more I’m convinced I will never be “woke”. To claim it with just a little revelation is arrogance and that is the opposite of Awakening.


Wokeness says, “I know what you mean.” Awakening says, “I’ve never experienced that, teach me more.”


Wokeness says, “I have fully arrived. There’s nothing more to learn about you.” Awakening says, “I will forever be learning you. Please keep leading me to your truth.”


Wokeness says, “I am here.” Awakening says, “Do I have your permission to enter? And what are your terms?”



Awakening is to put those we are learning before ourselves, allow them to lead us into a realization of who they are without questioning the path they’d like to take us on in order to gain the best purview of their perspective. It’s walking that path at their pace, without cutting in front of them to get there faster or taking a shortcut to make the journey shorter. In essence, it looks a lot like love and all the fruits of the spirit.


Art By: William H. Johnson.Early Morning Work, ca. 1940. Oil on burlap; 38 1/2 × 45 5/8 in. (97.8 × 115.9 cm). Born: Florence, South Carolina 1901. Died: Central Islip, New York 1970. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of the Harmon Foundation.

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