icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

What the heck does it mean to be "woke"?

assembled by Pat McNees


I advise everybody to be a little careful when they go down there. Stay woke. Keep your eyes open.” ~ Lead Belly, "Scottsboro Boys," 1938


"DeSantis engineered and recently signed into law the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act, a title that precisely captures what the bill’s architects aimed to do: stop people in Florida from speaking out in ways that challenge racism and other kinds of discrimination." ~ Ishena Robinson, NAACP


"I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I'm gon' stay woke. And I'm gon' help him wake up other black folk." ~ Barry Beckham in his 1972 play Garvey Lives!


The Origin of Woke : William Melvin Kelley Is the ‘Woke’ Godfather We Never Acknowledged (Elijah C. Watson, Okay Player) In the first of his three-part Origin of Woke series, Elijah Watson highlights William Melvin Kelley, the Harlem author credited with coining the word.
---The Origin of Woke: How the Death of Woke Led to the Birth of Cancel Culture (Elijah Watson)

"Most people who are woke ain't calling themselves woke. Most people who are woke are agonizing inside. They're too busy being depressed to call themselves woke."

      "This is what Georgia Anne Muldrow — the woman who introduced woke to Erykah Badu who then introduced it to the world — told me almost two years ago. Throughout the 2010s, Muldrow's declaration became more declarative as woke became ubiquitous in the world. From "I'd stay woke" to "I stay woke"; "I stay woke" to "Stay woke"; and "Stay woke" to "Woke." As the phrase changed so did what it represented. With "stay woke," there was the implication that it was a continuous action — that one isn't only constantly challenging the injustices and transgressions of the world, but themselves, too. "Woke," on its own, is nothing more than a descriptor — a way to signal one's social awareness....Now used as a pejorative, woke has given way to online phenomenons like "call-out culture" and "cancel culture," both of which have also been met with derision. Despite its root function — to protect and give a voice to marginalized people and communities — woke is now seen as a detriment to societal progress.'

---The Origin of Woke: How Erykah Badu and Georgia Anne Muldrow Sparked The “Stay Woke” Era. Muldrow: "To be woke is to be black.  Woke is definitely a black experience — woke is if someone put a burlap sack on your head, knocked you out, and put you in a new location and then you come to and understand where you are ain't home and the people around you ain't your neighbors. They're not acting in a neighborly fashion, they're the ones who conked you on your head. You got kidnapped here and then you got punked out of your own language, everything. That's woke — understanding what your ancestors went through. Just being in touch with the struggle that our people have gone through here and understanding we've been fighting since the very day we touched down here. There was no year where the fight wasn't going down."

• If You're Woke You Dig It; No mickey mouse can be expected to follow today's Negro idiom without a hip assist. (William Melvin Kelley, NY Times, 5-20-62, viewable in the Times Machine, but "woke" appears only in the title.)

A history of “wokeness” (Aja Romano, Vox, 10-9-20) Stay woke: How a Black activist watchword got co-opted in the culture war. In the six years since the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, “woke” has evolved into a single-word summation of leftist political ideology, centered on social justice politics and critical race theory. This framing of “woke” is bipartisan: It’s used as a shorthand for political progressiveness by the left, and as a denigration of leftist culture by the right. On the left, to be “woke” means to identify as a staunch social justice advocate who’s abreast of contemporary political concerns — or to be perceived that way. On the right, “woke” — like its cousin “canceled” — bespeaks “political correctness” gone awry, and the term itself is usually used sarcastically.

[Back to Top]

Woke Is Now A Racial Slur Thanks to White People (Allison Wiltz, Writers and Editors of Color Magazine, 11-10-21) "Keep in mind White people can never be "woke." Thinking they can is part of the problem. Becoming "woke" is a unique experience for Black people because we live in a nation that constantly gaslights us about the racism we see in our communities and experience first hand. Waking up means rejecting the false narratives and overcoming the psychological shackles of White supremacy."
Wikipedia on "Woke" 'Woke is an adjective derived from African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) meaning "alert to racial prejudice and discrimination". Beginning in the 2010s, it came to encompass a broader awareness of social inequalities such as racial injustice, sexism, and denial of LGBT rights.'
Earning the ‘Woke’ Badge (Amanda Hess, Amanda Hess, NY Times Magazine, 4-24-16) "These days, it has become almost fashionable for people to telegraph just how aware they have become. And this uneasy performance has increasingly been advertised with one word: “woke.” Think of “woke” as the inverse of “politically correct.” If “P.C.” is a taunt from the right, a way of calling out hypersensitivity in political discourse, then “woke” is a back-pat from the left, a way of affirming the sensitive. It means wanting to be considered correct, and wanting everyone to know just how correct you are.

The “Woke History” Wars Emma Green with Tyler Foggatt (New Yorker podcast, 3-8-23) discusses a major debate in academia about whether contemporary politics are shaping our understanding of the past too much.
The Roots Of Wokeness (Andrew Sullivan, The Weekly Dish, 7-31-20) It's time we looked more closely at the philosophy behind the movement. 'There’s no conspiracy: we all act unknowingly in perpetuating systems of thought that oppress other groups. To be “woke” is to be “awake” to these invisible, self-reinforcing discourses, and to seek to dismantle them—in ourselves and others.'


[Back to Top]

What does ‘woke’ mean and why are some conservatives using it? (Kiara Alfonseca, ABC News, 11-14-22) "The term has been used by some conservatives as an insult against progressive values, as seen this midterm election cycle. However, the term was originally coined by progressive Black Americans and was used in racial justice movements in the early to mid-1900s, including its use in a historical recording of the protest song, 'Scottsboro Boys' by Lead Belly. In that recording, it was used as a term about staying aware of the potential for racist violence as a Black person in America."
How Woke Went From "Black" to "Bad" (Ishena Robinson, Legal Defense Fund, NAACP) “To be woke is to be Black,” is how Okayplayer Senior News and Culture Reporter Elijah Watson defined the Black American colloquialism, now broadly used derisively, when he embarked on a journey in 2017 to plot its origins. Ironically, his research first turned up a 1962 New York Times essay, “If You’re Woke You Dig It,” by the then Harlem-based writer William Melvin Kelley, "who was highlighting the phenomenon of Black American slang being appropriated by white people who often missed or altogether distorted the words’ original meanings, until the idioms were taken over, inevitably transformed, and ultimately abandoned by their original Black creators.
     Note how that article starts: “We must fight ‘the woke’ in our schools. We must fight ‘the woke’ in our businesses. We must fight ‘the woke’ in government agencies,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently declared from the stage at a campaign event. “We can never, ever surrender to woke ideology. And I’ll tell you this, the state of Florida is where woke goes to die.”

      DeSantis's boast about Florida isn’t an empty threat. From his powerful pulpit as the state’s governor, DeSantis engineered and recently signed into law the “Stop W.O.K.E.” Act, a title that precisely captures what the bill’s architects aimed to do: stop people in Florida from speaking out in ways that challenge racism and other kinds of discrimination.


Even Moms for Liberty Are Tired of Moms for Liberty (Michael Daly, Daily Beast, 2-7-24)

"Among those cheering the disappearance of the Lehigh County chapter [of Moms for Liberty] was Jennifer Jenkins, a school board member in Brevard County, Florida, who was harassed, vilified, slandered and generally terrorized by Moms for Liberty for her science-based approach to the pandemic." As other members lost interest and drifted away from the Lehigh County PA chapter—the war on woke apparently not grabbing them the way the fight against COVID mandates had—Janine Vicalvi stayed on as chair. “I think that most successful political movements are one-issue movements,” she said. “And unfortunately, parental rights is kind of amorphous. Everyone has a different idea of what parental rights looks like.”   

Conservatives’ “anti-woke” alternative to Disney has arrived (Nick Marx, Nieman Lab, 1-3-24) As media grapples with declining advertising revenue, DailyWire+ and Bentkey are betting that loyal, politically engaged subscribers will drive their growth. DailyWire+ offers documentaries, Westerns, and faith-based fantasy series. Its companion streaming platform, Bentkey, which launched in October 2023, specializes in children’s programming. Now, in addition to comedy, U.S. conservatives are using action films, dramas, and even kids’ cartoons to build their own alternative entertainment industry, one shielded from the alleged liberal biases of Hollywood.

[Back to Top]


Should we be ‘woke’ at work? (Santo D Marabella, Office Hours, 12-20-22)

'In Florida, the Stop the Woke Act, signed into law last April, intends to “curb teaching about or conducting trainings on certain topics related to race, sex, and gender in Florida public schools and workplaces. The law was passed with the clear intention to curb ‘critical race theory’ in the state — and to do so through outright censorship,” according to Reason.com, an American Libertarian magazine.

        'Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says, being woke means they “want to tear at the fabric of our society and our culture…attempt to erase history and delegitimize the founding of the country and the institution and they basically want to replace it with a very militant form of leftism that would absolutely destroy the country.” [As of this press writing, the courts disagree and in two separate actions have blocked the restrictions targeted at businesses and colleges.]
        'DeSantis’ answer — go back to sleep, act like it never happened, and for God’s sake, don’t talk about this in school or at work. That is the essence of his Stop the Woke Act or as I like to call it the Same As It Ever Was (a la Talking Heads). But, in that approach, we don’t acknowledge and work through the subtle but pervasive impacts of a business world that has excluded, marginalized or discounted women and people of color? How can we build and grow our business to its full potential in such an approach? We can’t!'

Florida Shows How to Combat Woke Indoctrination on Campus (Joshua Rauh, WSJ, 2-8-23) Advocates are kidding themselves if they think free speech is enough to ensure academic freedom.... "The Stop W.O.K.E. Act prohibits faculty at Florida’s public colleges and universities from indoctrinating students with progressive theologies on race, sex and oppression.... "Judge Mark Walker wrote that “the First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors.” But the law here is far from settled. Professors at public universities are state employees....If universities increasingly fail to safeguard the freedom of faculty to teach, students to learn, and dissenters to be heard, legislatures have an obligation to act."

• And then there's Viktor Orbán’s “Christian democracy” vs. “democracy,” as explained by Heather Cox Richardson (6-4-23) 'Orbán has dismantled Hungary’s liberal democratic government in favor of what he calls “illiberal” or “Christian” democracy that rejects LGBTQ and women’s rights, claiming that the equality valued by liberal democracies undermines traditional virtue....The common thread among these groups is a rejection of democracy, with its emphasis on equality before the law, and the embrace of a hierarchical world in which some people are better than others and have the right to rule.
      DeSantis has imitated 'Orbán’s politics, striking at the principles of liberal democracy with attacks on LGBTQ Americans, abortion rights, academic freedom, and the ability of businesses to react to market forces rather than religious imperatives. Last week he told an audience that “the woke mind virus represents a war on the truth so we will wage a war on the woke. We will fight the woke in education, we will fight the woke in the corporations, we will fight the woke in the halls of congress. We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. We will make woke ideology leave it to the dustbin of history; it’s gone.”

The C.E.O. of Anti-Woke, Inc. (Sheelah Kolhatkar, New Yorker, 12-19-22) "By mocking corporate virtue-signalling on climate change and racial justice, the biotech founder Vivek Ramaswamy is becoming a right-wing star. Ramaswamy, a Fox News fixture, calls affirmative action “the single biggest form of institutionalized racism in America.”

     "...To Ramaswamy, such corporate do-gooderism—and especially environmental, social, and governance investing, known as E.S.G.—is a smoke screen designed to distract from the less virtuous things that companies do to make money....That corporations are given to hypocrisy is hardly a novel observation. But Ramaswamy’s twist on the familiar critique, which he laid out last year in a book entitled Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam,” is to place E.S.G. investing at asset-management firms like BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street at the center of what ails American life.

      "He calls this kind of socially conscious investing—not political corruption or dark money, not election denialism, not disinformation—the gravest danger that American democracy faces today. E.S.G., he told his audience, lets the private sector “do through the back door what our government couldn’t directly get done through the front door.”



See also  
Republicans vs. Democrats on hot issues

Endangered: Academic freedom, campus free speech, teacher tenure, student rights.

• Trending: Educational gag orders (also on Writers and Editors site).

• See also, there: Critical race theory: What is it and why is everyone arguing about it? (and about The 1619 Project)

[Back to Top]
Be the first to comment