The Right Isn’t the Only Reactionary About “Wokeness”

Joshua Adams
4 min readJun 2, 2022

I recently read that the first novel in recorded history was published in Japan. It was called “The Tale of Genji,” completed in the early 11th-century by a woman later given the name Murasaki Shikibu. A few years ago, I found out that printing existed in Asia hundreds of years before the printing press. These are facts I never learned in college, led alone K through 12 — all of which tends to focus on the Gutenberg when the history of printing comes up.

If I said “we should teach this in school,” many within today’s political discourse would call me “woke.” And it wouldn’t only be folks on the Right

Many on the Left (particularly those with “it’s class, not race” politics), who ostensibly value historicism and material reality, would assert that even bringing up that fact (whether it is true or not) can essentially only be about representation, political correctness and identity politics.

It’s been interesting to see the ways folks on the Left use “woke.” It’s often used in a scoffing way similar to the Right. Though it’s usually without the Right’s disgust, the overlap is an empty signifier used to convey the idea that “this (progressive) argument is unserious and you don’t have to engage in with it.”

In an article for The Nation, I tried to explain the Black communal origin of woke, before it became a catchall anti-progressive buzzword:

“Woke” was used in the Black community to convey the need to be socially aware of anti-Black oppressive systems, ideas, etc. in order to at least safely navigate through them — and at most dismantle them. A simple analogy would be the code in The Matrix — just knowing it’s there can help a character survive. Woke could range from James Baldwin in “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” or Laurence Fishburne’s character yelling “Wake up!” in Spike Lee’s School Daze, or Georgia Anne Muldrow saying “Woke is definitely a black experience.”

Black people have also used woke in (often, but not exclusively) Afro-centric spiritual, cosmological, or metaphysical discourse. The topics could be anything from “opening your third eye,” staying attuned to the energy of the people around you, or more charged discussions like not praying to White Jesus or what is the…



Joshua Adams

Joshua Adams is a writer from Chicago. UVA & USC. Assistant Professor at Columbia College Chicago. Twitter: @ProfJoshuaA