In 2017 the word woke meaning “alert to injustice in society, especially racism” made its debut in the Oxford dictionary. However, the Urban Dictionary doesn’t seem to be having any of it, stating that woke is the being pretentious about one’s care for social justice. Previous versions of the definition did peek of awareness of social injustice and racism. The word has been thrown around and used as labels for almost everything and eventually lost its flavor if one might say. It can be used to speak out against oppression or look down on Toronto luxury houses owners for not taking part, branding them as “not woke.”
The purpose of ‘woke.’
It is worth noting the word is a product of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). The word referred to being in an awakened state and being unable to go back to sleep once you see the truth. Its mainstream debut is accredited to Erykah Badu who in her 2008 song Master Teacher used the phrase ‘I stay woke.’ What followed the next year was the hashtag #staywoke which later gained traction in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement against racial injustice against African Americans in the hands of the police.
In the context of mass uprising against racial injustice, woke was aimed to rally people across all races behind the problem. It is also used to get people to pay more attention to politics and how ignoring it had allowed racial injustice to continue. The aim was to shed a spotlight on the faulty system and how racism continues to thrive long after the abolishment of slavery and segregation. Overall, where there is mass action by the people against the government or some social ill, the word woke speaks to draw people’s attention to the problem.
Self-aware people tend to be more exhausted than the average person. It is especially so when they are fighting against something that doesn’t seem want to budge, like police reforms. To somewhat cope, the black community has chosen to turn to humor. Memes heavily pepper the internet with pop culture references of what staying woke looks like. They also tend to lean on the side of mocking conspiracy theories from relationships to mocking realities around us.
The misappropriation of ‘woke.’
Popular culture took over; that would explain the 2019 definition of woke that the Urban dictionary has chosen to put forth. Those not affected by the issues of race and social injustice have taken the word and converted it to a common word to be thrown around in daily use. It is not surprising that the word has been taken over by predominantly whites and few minorities who are either aloof or somewhat unaffected.
Mostly, we see it among white millennials as part of an Instagram hashtag after coming upon a gem of wisdom or after an eye-opening experience in an exotic tropical island. Even when the well-meaning person tweets out that all life is precious, blacks included, the hashtag woke remains on the platform. They don’t carry it with them in a bid to change the status quo.
There are seemingly two sides of being ‘woke’: one side is aware of injustices and are doing something about it, the others are merely using it as a trend word to appear to be with the times. Others fall in an entirely different spectrum. They believe that the word is a nuisance and stops people from looking at the issue objectively. Where do you fall?