The word “Woke” is used widely in the media. It is used in so many ways that it is sometimes hard to figure out what it means. I thought it would be interesting to find out what some of my college- educated friends thought the word means. Here are some of their answers:
“it’s a political term.”
It’s a political buzzword.
Woke means “woke up to what’s going on.”
“Woke” is aware, recognizing and accepting blacks, accepting history, and being sensitive to the mistreatment of blacks.”
Woke is a pejorative used by the political right.
These definitions tell me that people do not understand the definition or meaning of woke, despite how much we hear it or read it. Imagine how many interpretations result from watching the daily news!
Woke is now defined in the Merriam-Wester dictionary as “being aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially racial and social justice issues).
Historically, “woke” came from the idea of being aware of the dangers for blacks in the South. In the late 1930’s, due to the Jim Crow laws, blacks from the North were warned to “stay woke” (or be aware) of the different laws and practices in the South for their personal safety. In the 1950’s, woke meant to be well informed or aware in a political or cultural sense. In the 1960’s, Martin Luther King used “Stay Woke” to mean stay awake, adjust to new ideas, be vigilant and face the challenge of change.
Between 2000-2010, #Staywoke meant be alert to social/racial discrimination or injustice. A 2008 song by American singer Erykah Badu, “Master Teacher”, defined stay woke as “self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better”. From 2014 onward, the phrase “stay woke” was used by Black Lives Matter activists to include awareness of police abuses related to shootings of blacks.
Since 2015 the term “woke” has expanded to include social injustices toward many minority groups. The defined word, which, I think, most of us would see as good and beneficial, has been weaponized by political groups in the United States. Both sides take it to extremes: Democrats use it as a reason to defund agencies that have long served our country well and the Republicans use it to deny systemic injustices and maintain status quo of white privilege. Since 2019, the term “woke” has often been used mockingly or sarcastically in the media and by political groups. It is often hard to understand the exact meaning of their comments, except to be negative. “Woke” has gradually moved to be negative or even an insult.
Florida is very vocal about “woke”. Governor DeSantis says Florida is the “State where woke goes to die”, and has passed the Stop WOKE Act, which restricts discussion of racism in the schools. Does De Santis want a state that does not question current paradigms or strive for better? I would like to understand De Santis’ definition of woke.
As I see it, people often use the term “woke” to express opposition to anything outside white, heterosexual, Christian standards. In our country, people are supposed to be equal, but obviously many suffer a wide variety of injustices related to minority status. Woke can be defined as a term to describe activities and attitudes that would open more doors to equality and acceptance of other values. However, it is often used with negative connotations. The United States is a melting pot, but there are considerable social problems unless you melt into whiteness and white values, which are held as the “norm” in the United States.
As a person who loves to travel and to learn about other people and other cultures, I realize that if more people could experience the amazing non-European cultures of world, our acceptance of each other as peoples, or individuals, would expand. American culture is only one of the five primary cultures of the world. We are not the only or best culture in the world. American culture, as defined here, includes all the Americas: North, Central and South America. The other primary cultures are Asian, Arabian, African, and Chinese. There are hundreds of variations on these five basic cultures. Black and brown are not just skin colors, but signify cultures that include wonderful music, food, movies, languages, religions, and insight into different ways of living and worshiping. These are best enjoyed if you do not measure them against US standards.
I choose to be “woke”. In other words, I want to stay awake, adjust to new ideas, be vigilant and face the challenge of change for the benefit of myself, my children, my grandchildren, and the entire world. We would all benefit if we could see social justice is a human issue, not a political issue.