Words by Monalisa K Chishato (Presenter / Writer)
The phrase #StayWoke implies a lot. It entails doing your own research, critically thinking about this and that, avoiding being misled by propaganda, and becoming conscious / aware of race related issues. As a black African Christian woman, ‘staying woke’ in this digital age is a lot of work as there are so many layers to who I am, therefore so many possibilities for intended and unintended inter-textual performances. For instance, I was surfing the internet when I was caught unawares by an old tweet that read something like,
“You still believe in God?? #StayWoke !!”
If there is one thing that social media has given me it’s an increased awareness of Black / African issues, however this statement kind of poked at one of my core beliefs and not in that Facebook ‘Hi’ kind of way. Not that I wasn’t aware of the “White Jesus”, “Blue-Eyed Devil” or the “White Man’s God” comments before; such expressions have always found their way into other threads – from #TrayvonMartin, #RhodesMustFall, #BringBackTheLand, #NoToBond, #OmotosoTrial, #MenAreTrash, #OscarsSoWhite, #PrayForZimbabwe, #StopXenophobia, and #GeorgeFloyd. Under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackTwitter, and #StayWoke there will always be theories, facts, historical accounts and testimonials from my fellow melanised people that shock, empower, sadden or expose me to “knowledge” that I did not know I lacked. Nonetheless, it was the “still believe” in that “You still believe in God?? #StayWoke !!” comment that got my Twitter fingers itching.
Since I bumped into this ‘StayWoke’ vs God tweet, I took some extra time to digest other posts related to God and black consciousness that I ran into. In my opinion, it seems like there is a collection of people out there that are so wide awake they seem to be above religion, God and all that is Christian. Don’t get me wrong – I know that the “Word of God” has been used across the world to rubber stamp atrocious acts of hatred, prejudice, pride, and war. I understand how a black person can have a toxic relationship with “The Faith”. For example, I have a friend who says he can prove that “God was used with vehement missionary zeal to erase Africa’s history and disenfranchise black people”. And, on the other hand, I have another friend who often cites Exodus 13: 19 that says “God will surely come to your aid” as a rebuttal to his evidence. There have been many a story like this told about how the pursuit of facts and truth have led some to leave their faith. I will not condemn people for not believing what I believe – that is not my aim – what worries me is this recurring ‘off-God’ trend within the woke pro-black community.
There are some people who claim that they are too intelligent to believe there is a God and then proceed to treat believers as anti-black or my favourite word – “coon”. Listen, I can stand with you against political policies, engage with you in an academic debate about child marriage, then go home, worship and pray – that doesn’t make me an “Uncle Tom”. News flash: You can be a pro-black religious feminist! I do not see why people believe that “wokeness” and faith are mutually exclusive. Look at Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, or Steve Biko. While in prison, Malcolm X (1965) recorded how he saw “the so-called Christian trader never coming to the non-white peoples bearing the Cross in the true manner and spirit of Christ’s teachings – meek, humble, and Christ like”. Instead, he perceived how the Christian doctrines were manipulated in order to disarm indigenous people of their cultural consciousness, and advance colonial governments interests. Furthermore, Biko, despite having criticized the church, ‘still believed’ in God but called for the decolonisation of the Christian religion. Leaders like Biko, MLK and Malcolm were critical of how religion was used in the past, did their own research and were not swayed by trends – they were trendsetters. Can we say the same for our generation?
In their time these black leaders used religious practices to organise black people to see their worth and confront racial injustices in ways that educated the entire human family. In contrast to the last fifteen years or so, where we have witnessed an embarrassing display of the growth of the perverted “success gospel” hijacked from religious practices like tithes, offerings, charity, and “seeding”. The Christian doctrines have been manipulated by our so-called black prophets’ materialistic motivations, lust and shiny suit, quasi-entrepreneurial activities. You can’t turn on the news without hearing about the latest pastor rape scandal or some miracle cure that will lead to financial salvation – be it Doom, underwear, hangers, Savannah, Olive oil, books, sex positions, or holy water. This garbled “Prosperity Doctrine” has led to a phenomena of what I propose should be called the “Papa Said Syndrome”. Found in all congregates, the “Papa Said Syndrome” is a form of mental colonization that renders followers incapable of forming reasonable thoughts, habits, and behaviour contrary to what ‘Pro-phet so and so’ tells them. It has its roots in the more mainstream Blesser culture. A Blesser is a sugar daddy (or ‘businessman’) who recruits your girls using social media (Instagram) for ‘business trips’ to exotic locations, clubs, and hotels. Many young women fall victim to such men because of the religious ideals of prosperity, happiness or divine protection conjured by the word – “blessing”.
Today’s typical woke African’s relationship with God not only suffers from the residual effects of colonization via Christian missionaries but has to contend with prophets profiting from their misfortunes with miracle cures – and predators disguised as ‘blessed’ donors. What a world we live in! Everyone has an ideology, we all have free will, yet there are so many followers. I believe that any woke Christian worth their salt, still practices a “lived religion”. A lived religion’s strength lies in that it emphasises religion as a lifestyle and focuses on the lived experiences of people. And in my experience, there are Christian racists, non-Christian racists, religious racists, and atheist racists. Don’t think just because you choose not to follow “their religion” or “their God” you are absolved in the secular world. Terrible things exist in every aspect of life. That’s why after doing my own research, and formulating my own hypothesis, drawn from my lived experiences, my answer to the post: “You still believe in God?? #StayWoke !!”
Would be: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4: 1) #StayWoke.
T E Jentile (2018) The spirituality of Bantu Stephen Biko: A theology from below. PhD Thesis, University of the Freestate, South Africa.
M Mbunga (2013) Malcolm X and Christianity: Engaging the Criticisms and Moving towards an African-Centred Christianity That Can Advance Pan-Africanism in the 21st Century. In: Journal of Intercultural Disciplines 13. Available at: www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-3641748451/malcolm-x-and-christianity-engaging-the-criticisms (Accessed 17 October, 2020)