‘Wokeness’ is a term being bandied about a lot today, but what does it actually mean? With repeated use, and without defining the term, we risk turning it into an empty insult. In fact, ‘wokeness’ has a precise meaning among academics who have been studying the phenomenon.
Stephen Chavura is one such academic. Chavura is a political theorist and historian, and he lectures in history at Campion College in Sydney. Chavura recently presented a talk called The Great Awokening at an online symposium hosted by truthXchange.
Chavura begins by speaking of The Great Awakening, a spiritual revival that took place in 1730s America. The Great Awakening was a gospel movement and spiritual revival that captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands, even millions of Americans at that time.
Among those touched by the Great Awakening, there was a deep sense of moral guilt that gave way to the revelation of salvation available in Jesus Christ. The fruit of the movement included personal holiness and joy in the lives of those who were touched.
But it wasn’t just hearts that were impacted. The Great Awakening had a massive influence on America over the long term as its results radiated out to the rest of society. Chavura notes that historians record two results in American society: a greater democratic spirit among the people, and a greater sense of national unity and nationalism that ultimately fed into the American independence movement.
Then Chavura pivots:
I want to suggest that right now in the history of the West and particularly in America, we’re going through something equally radical, and it’s something that we can call a Great Awokening…
Essentially to be woke is an African-American slang term for being awake… to be awake to all sorts of forms of oppression, in particular of African Americans, but also… oppression against racial minorities, gender minorities [and] sexuality minorities.
According to Chavura, wokeness is essentially a focus on the oppression that exists within society; who the oppressed and the oppressors are; and how such oppression can be overthrown. “A good sign that you’re in the presence of wokeness,” explains Chavura, “is when you hear terms like ‘diversity’, ‘inclusiveness’, and increasingly now, ‘equity’.”
While evidence of wokeness is all around us, Chavura highlights two recent events signalling that we are in the midst of more than just a passing fad. One is the Black Lives Matter movement which gained immense traction after the death of George Floyd in May 2020. The other is the Equality Act, reintroduced to U.S. Congress in February 2021 by the Democrat Party with the support of President Biden.
Chavura suggests that there are five major domains in which wokeness is spreading through mainstream society in the 2020s.
First, it has taken hold of the educational sphere, with schools, universities and colleges increasingly echoing its mantras. Second, it is affecting language and thought — with gender pronouns being just one such example of this. Third, it is impacting workplaces, especially through the introduction of so-called “race sensitivity” workshops. Fourth, it is present in entertainment, with Netflix and Disney leading the charge on this front. Fifth, it is seen in government and the legislature: the Equality Act an obvious example.
Stephen Chavura’s lecture covers an enormous amount of content, and does so with nuance and depth. Find out more about the cultural revolution that surrounds us by watching The Great Awokening in full.
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