You don’t have to look too far today to see or hear the word woke being used. People say it in moving speeches or use it to drive home a point in an essay or an article. Still, others might angrily shout it out to you over the radio or your television screen but what does it mean?
Why do some seem happy, proud, or even moved by it, while others seem to decry it as a breakdown of the moral fabric of America? In today’s article, we’ll explore what woke means in politics. It’s meaning behind the word and how it’s evolved or devolved in today’s culture.
What is the definition of the word Woke?
To avoid confusion, the non-slang definition of woke is simply the past tense of wake. Which means to wake up or to be “roused from your sleep”.
However, it’s when we get into the slang definition of the word that things start to get difficult.
The definition of the word woke according to Merriam-Webster dictionary is, aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).
To put it in simpler terms, being woke or the act of being woke means that you are aware of social injustices around you in your community and the world. You realize that everyone isn’t getting a fair shake at life and that it’s not right and perhaps, that something needs to be done about it. No one, regardless of color, creed, or sexual orientation should be treated unequally.
However, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here, especially since I’m looking at what this word means today in social justice circles and dictionaries but what about its origin?
Where does the word woke come from?
The word woke is a word that started within the black community in America.
It was a watchword for early black activists in the early 20th century to “wake up” to the “new reality” of life in America and a rallying cry of sorts to become an activist or at the very least to be aware of injustices that existed around them at that time. Sadly, many of those injustices haven’t changed over the years.
Since that time period, however, the word has evolved and the most current iteration of the word, the one you’ve likely heard today, came as a result of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown by police.
The 18-year-old Brown was shot dead by police officer Darren Wilson.
The events of that night are mired in mystery, Wilson says he was charged by Brown and in fear for his life, shot the young man.
Witness testimony says that Michael Brown allegedly raised his hands, a sign of surrendering, just before he was shot.
However, witness testimony can be unreliable, and indeed a report by PBS NewsHour shows exactly that.
At best, the testimony is contradictory and at its worst, it’s false, according to the physical evidence that was collected that showed reasonable evidence that in fact, Officer Wilson may have been justified in his actions.
Regardless of the truth of that event, this article isn’t an argument for or against one side or the other of that night, a young black man was shot by police, and the local black community was enraged.
Whether or not their anger was justified, the protests led to the phrase, “stay woke” among black activists.
It was a reminder and a rallying cry to the community to stay vigilant of cases involving racial injustice and police violence or brutality against black Americans.
What are some examples of being woke?
If we use the instance above, the shooting of Michael Brown, then “being woke” would mean being aware of injustices by the police toward black Americans.
The specific example(s) would be to peacefully protest or to reach out to local political leaders, join activist organizations, and the like.
By doing those things, you are “woke”. You’ve “woken up” to the realities around you and are aware of what’s happening and are willing and wanting to see changes in those realities and participate in activities to see that change through.
If we look at the term and what’s evolved into according to Merriam-Webster, then it encompasses any and all racial and social injustices.
So, if you were unaware of inequalities that women face or specific religious, racial, or even sexual groups and now you are aware, then you could say you’re woke.
The example, here again, would be to do something to change those inequalities for these people or groups.
Again, peacefully protesting, voting for measures in their favor, reaching out to local political leaders, etc.
Both of these ideas of woke would be right and the actions taken to help make changes would be good examples of “being woke”. At least in this writer’s eyes.
Why do Republicans seem to hate the word woke?
Again, looking at the definition, to be aware of racial and social injustices, it seems silly that anyone would be upset by this word and its meaning but nonetheless, Republicans and conservative Americans seem to hate it and constantly seem to push against it.
Most likely because right-wing media outlets have railed against it, lumping the word woke and “cancel culture” together.
Seeing it as political correctness gone wild and further proof of the “madness” of the left.
I personally, do not feel “mad” about wanting people to be treated equally but I guess here we are.
Republicans for better or worse are masters at finding the “evil” in something and finding a way to exploit it.
In this instance, a phrase meant to tell a marginalized group of people to simply “wake up” to the unfairness around them and to be vigilant.
In an article for NBC News, Republican aides were anonymously interviewed on the word and rise of woke.
I was surprised to read that some aides seemed indifferent to the phrase and that in fact, some realized it was a tactic meant to be directed toward liberals and being used incorrectly.
One aide said, “I guess it’s just instinctual — like you know when you see it.” a Republican Senate aide said of what is meant when something is deemed to be “woke,” adding: “It’s more talking about a particular worldview of racial, social hierarchies and social leveling and things like that. If you’re using it the right way, it does have a distinct meaning, but there is also obviously a tendency to just call any and everything ‘woke’ when it might mean ‘liberal,’ and those don’t exactly mean the same thing.“
The aide added that anti-woke messaging is “everywhere now” because “it kind of works to say it.”
“And I don’t think people maybe exactly know why,” this person said. “It’s just like you see something working and you’re just going to keep going with it.“
It was his or her saying that it’s “everywhere” now because “it kind of works to say it”. That was damming to me. It shows that these Republicans know exactly what they’re doing.
They want pearl-clutching and angry fists being raised in the air.
Whatever it takes to keep the votes and the donation dollars rolling in. Racial and social inequalities be dammed and that’s why you get all this hate against the phrase “woke”.
Because it just “kinda works” for the conservatives in power to have you up in arms about it.
What is the opposite of woke?
That’s a really great question but difficult to answer because of how subjective it can be.
Simply put, to be the opposite of “woke”, a person would have to be unaware of racial and social injustice and unwilling to hear about those injustices or do anything about them.
However, as we discussed above that phrase has changed and been twisted to mean other things altogether.
So, to a Republican or conservative, being the opposite of woke could mean being “law-abiding”, not a “sheep” and keeping with “American traditions and values”.
What that means, is anyone’s guess but to be more to the point, as simple as the definition of this phrase is, you’ll get those who stick their fingers in their ears and cry out, “maybe they should have complied” or “don’t break the law” etc.
That the mere idea of opening their eyes would shed a light into their deepest insecurities that maybe, just maybe their beloved America isn’t the perfect world they’ve made it out to be.
Meanwhile, for myself and others and hopefully you, the reader, you do realize that it’s not perfect.
That doesn’t mean you’re un-American or any anti-freedom, it means you just want real freedom and equality for all, and I cannot see a fault in that.
Is being woke wrong or bad?
No. Being aware of the wrongs that are happening to a person or groups of people based on their race, religion, or sexual orientation is never wrong and it’s certainly not bad.
However, as with everything else, too much of anything can be bad and that goes for being woke as well.
There are groups that have and will eventually go too far with what woke is, so much so that the well-meaning intention of the phrase will be a distant memory and fodder for conservative news networks.
So, be woke y’all but let’s keep it in check and try not to go overboard.
Rounding this out
Being “woke” or “staying woke” is to be a person that is aware of racial and social injustices.
It became a phrase to serve as a warning and rallying cry to the black community to wake up but it’s evolved to become a cry for all of us to wake up and see the injustices being done to multiple communities.
And while right-wing media outlets will tell you it’s bad and that you should worry about it, I’m here to tell you they’re wrong.
American traditions and values are here to stay, wokeness won’t kill that, marginalized communities just want equal treatment and fairness and for heaven’s sake, to not die during a traffic stop.
Featured Image – On September 20, 2015, in St. Paul, Minnesota, around 100 protesters blocked the light rail line in St. Paul to protest the treatment of Marcus Abrams by St. Paul police. Abrams, who is 17 and has Autism, was violently arrested by Metro Transit Police on August 31, 2015. During his arrest, he suffered a split lip and multiple seizures. Image of a protestor licensed under CC BY 2.0.