Definition / Overview of "Woke" -

Definition / Overview of "Woke" -

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Woke (/ˈwk/ WOHK) is an adjective derived from African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) meaning "alert to racial prejudice and discrimination".[1][2] Beginning in the 2010s, it came to encompass a broader awareness of social inequalities such as sexism, and has also been used as shorthand for American Left ideas involving identity politics and social justice, such as the notion of white privilege and slavery reparations for African Americans.[3][4][5]

The phrase stay woke had emerged in AAVE by the 1930s, in some contexts referring to an awareness of the social and political issues affecting African Americans. The phrase was uttered in a recording by Lead Belly and later by Erykah Badu. During the 2014 Ferguson protests, the phrase was popularized by Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists seeking to raise awareness about police shootings of African Americans. After seeing use on Black Twitter, the term woke became an Internet meme and was increasingly used by white people, often to signal their support for BLM, which some commentators have criticised as cultural appropriation. Mainly associated with the millennial generation, the term spread internationally and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017.

The terms woke-washing and woke capitalism were coined to describe companies who signal support for progressive causes as a substitute for genuine change. By 2020, members of the political center and right wing in several Western countries were using the term woke, often in an ironic way, as an insult for various progressive or leftist movements and ideologies perceived as overzealous, performative, or insincere. In turn, some commentators came to consider it an offensive term with negative associations to those who promote political ideas involving identity and race.


Origins and usage

In some varieties of African-American English, woke is used in place of woken, the usual past participle form of wake.[8] This has led to the use of woke as an adjective equivalent to awake, which has become mainstream in the United States.[8][9]

Scholars[who?] have noted a resemblance to the Wide Awakes abolitionist movement of 1860.[10]


[ See this Link to the full Article for a deeper dive ]


Broadening usage

While the term woke initially pertained to issues of racial prejudice and discrimination impacting African Americans, it was appropriated by other activist groups with different causes.[5] While there is no single agreed-upon definition of the term, it came to be primarily associated with ideas that involve identity and race and which are promoted by progressives, such as the notion of white privilege or slavery reparations for African Americans.[28] Vox's Aja Romano writes that woke evolved into a "single-word summation of leftist political ideology, centered on social justice politics and critical race theory".[4] Columnist David Brooks wrote in 2017 that "to be woke is to be radically aware and justifiably paranoid. It is to be cognizant of the rot pervading the power structures."[29] Sociologist Marcyliena Morgan contrasts woke with cool in the context of maintaining dignity in the face of social injustice: "While coolness is empty of meaning and interpretation and displays no particular consciousness, woke is explicit and direct regarding injustice, racism, sexism, etc."[3]


The term woke became increasingly common on Black Twitter, the community of African American users of the social media platform Twitter.[15] André Brock, a professor of black digital studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology, suggested that the term proved popular on Twitter because its brevity suited the platform's 140-character limit.[15] According to Charles Pulliam-Moore, the term began crossing over into general internet usage as early as 2015.[30] The phrase stay woke became an Internet meme,[16] with searches for woke on Google surging in 2015.[5]

The term has gained popularity amid an increasing leftward turn on various issues among the American Left; this has partly been a reaction to the right-wing politics of U.S. President Donald Trump, who was elected in 2016, but also to a growing awareness regarding the extent of historical discrimination faced by African Americans.[31] According to Perry Bacon Jr., ideas that have come to be associated with "wokeness" include a rejection of American exceptionalism; a belief that the United States has never been a true democracy; that people of color suffer from systemic and institutional racism; that white Americans experience white privilege; that African Americans deserve reparations for slavery and post-enslavement discrimination; that disparities among racial groups, for instance in certain professions or industries, are automatic evidence of discrimination; that U.S. law enforcement agencies are designed to discriminate against people of color and so should be defunded, disbanded, or heavily reformed; that women suffer from systemic sexism; that individuals should be able to identify with any gender or none; that U.S. capitalism is deeply flawed; and that Trump's election to the presidency was not an aberration but a reflection of the prejudices about people of color held by large parts of the U.S. population.[31] Although increasingly accepted across much of the American Left, many of these ideas were nevertheless unpopular among the U.S. population as a whole and among other, especially more centrist, parts of the Democratic Party.[31]


The term increasingly came to be identified with members of the millennial generation.[15] In May 2016, MTV News identified woke as being among ten words teenagers "should know in 2016".[32][15] The American Dialect Society voted woke the slang word of the year in 2017.[33][34][35] In the same year, the term was included as an entry in Oxford English Dictionary.[36][8] By 2019, the term woke was increasingly being used in an ironic sense, as reflected in the books Woke by comedian Andrew Doyle (using the pen name Titania McGrath) and Anti-Woke by columnist Brendan O'Neill.[37] By 2022, usage of the term had spread beyond the United States, attracting criticism by right-wing political figures in Europe.[38]



  1. ^ Öberg, Dan; Hagström, Linus (2022). "Female Nationalist Activism in Japan: Truth-Telling Through Everyday Micro-Practices". Alternatives: Global, Local, Political. 47 (4): 194–208. doi:10.1177/03043754221126279. ISSN 0304-3754.
  2. ^ Calcutt, Clea (19 October 2021). "French education minister's anti-woke mission". Politico. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  3. ^ Jump up to:a b Morgan, Marcyliena (2020). "'We Don't Play': Black Women's Linguistic Authority Across Race, Class, and Gender". In Alim, H. Samy; Reyes, Angela; Kroskrity, Paul V. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Language and Race. Oxford University Press. pp. 276–277. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190845995.013.13. ISBN 978-0-19-084599-5.
  4. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Romano, Aja (9 October 2020). "A history of 'wokeness'". Vox. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  5. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f Mirzaei, Abas (8 September 2019). "Where 'woke' came from and why marketers should think twice before jumping on the social activism bandwagon". The Conversation.
  6. ^ Cauley, Kashana (February 2019). "Word: Woke". The Believer. No. 123. ISSN 1543-6101. Archived from the original on 10 May 2022.
  7. ^ Jump up to:a b Garvey, Marcus; Garvey, Amy Jacques (1986) [first published 1923]. The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Or, Africa for the Africans. Dover, Mass.: The Majority Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-912469-24-9.
  8. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f g "New words notes June 2017". Oxford English Dictionary. 16 June 2017.
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  10. ^ Wills, Matthew (29 June 2020). "Abolitionist "Wide Awakes" Were Woke Before "Woke"". JSTOR Daily.
  11. ^ Matheis, Frank (August 2018). "Outrage Channeled in Verse". Living Blues. Vol. 49, no. 4. p. 15. ISSN 0024-5232.
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  13. ^ Jump up to:a b c Zimmer, Ben (14 April 2017). "'Woke,' From a Sleepy Verb to a Badge of Awareness". Word on the Street. The Wall Street Journal.
  14. ^ Beckham, Barry (1972). Garvey Lives!: A Play. OCLC 19687974.
  15. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e Marsden, Harriet (25 November 2019). "Whither 'woke': What does the future hold for word that became a weapon?". The New European.
  16. ^ Jump up to:a b Pulliam-Moore, Charles (8 January 2016). "How 'woke' went from black activist watchword to teen internet slang". Splinter News.
  17. ^ Watson, Elijah C. (27 February 2018). "The Origin Of Woke: How Erykah Badu And Georgia Anne Muldrow Sparked The 'Stay Woke' Era". Okayplayer.
  18. ^ Jump up to:a b c "How has the meaning of the word 'woke' evolved?". The Economist explains. The Economist. 30 July 2021.
  19. ^ Parker, Suzi (14 September 2012). "Pussy Riot should continue their mission even if freed". The Washington Post.
  20. ^ Parker, Suzi (21 April 2012). "What American women could learn from Pussy Riot, a Russian punk rock girl band". The Washington Post.
  21. ^ Watson, Elijah C. (25 February 2020). "The Origin Of Woke: How The Death Of Woke Led To The Birth Of Cancel Culture". Okayplayer.
  22. ^ Holloway, James (31 October 2019). "Obama warns against social media call-out culture". New Atlas.
  23. ^ Badu, Erykah [@fatbellybella] (8 August 2012). "Truth requires no belief. Stay woke. Watch closely. #FreePussyRiot" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  24. ^ Jump up to:a b Richardson, Elaine; Ragland, Alice (Spring 2018). "#StayWoke: The Language and Literacies of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement". Community Literacy Journal. 12 (2): 27–56. doi:10.25148/clj.12.2.009099. ISSN 1555-9734.
  25. ^ Jump up to:a b c d e f Hess, Amanda (19 April 2016). "Earning the 'Woke' Badge". The New York Times Magazine. ISSN 0028-7822.
  26. ^ Holliday, Nicole (16 November 2016). "How 'Woke' Fell Asleep". OxfordWords. Oxford Dictionaries. Archived from the original on 27 December 2016.
  27. ^ Harper, Douglas. "wake". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  28. ^ Jump up to:a b c Bacon, Perry Jr. (17 March 2021). "Why Attacking 'Cancel Culture' And 'Woke' People Is Becoming The GOP's New Political Strategy". FiveThirtyEight.
  29. ^ Brooks, David (25 July 2017). "Opinion | How Cool Works in America Today". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Quoted in Morgan (2020), p. 277
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  32. ^ Trudon, Taylor (5 January 2016). "Say Goodbye To 'On Fleek,' 'Basic' And 'Squad' In 2016 And Learn These 10 Words Instead". MTV News.
  33. ^ Steinmetz, Katy (7 January 2017). "'Dumpster Fire' Is the American Dialect Society's 2016 Word of the Year". Time.
  34. ^ King, Georgia Frances (7 January 2017). "The American Dialect Society's word of the year is 'dumpster fire'". Quartz.
  35. ^ Metcalf, Allan (6 January 2017). "2016 Word of the Year is dumpster fire, as voted by American Dialect Society" (PDF) (Press release). American Dialect Society.
  36. ^ Jump up to:a b Sobande, Francesca (2019). "Woke-washing: 'Intersectional' femvertising and branding 'woke' bravery" (PDF). European Journal of Marketing. 54 (11): 2723–2745. doi:10.1108/EJM-02-2019-0134. ISSN 0309-0566. S2CID 213469381 – via ResearchGate. The adverts span from 2015–2018, which reflects the point at which the language of 'woke(ness)' entered mainstream media and marketing spheres
  37. ^ Jump up to:a b Shariatmadari, David (14 October 2019). "Cancelled for sadfishing: the top 10 words of 2019". The Guardian.
  38. ^ Jump up to:a b c "How US 'wokeness' became a right-wing cudgel around the world". France 24. 1 March 2022. Retrieved 21 October 2022.
  39. ^ Jump up to:a b Poole, Steven (25 December 2019). "From woke to gammon: buzzwords by the people who coined them". The Guardian.
  40. ^ Jump up to:a b Butterworth, Benjamin (21 January 2021). "What does 'woke' actually mean, and why are some people so angry about it?".
  41. ^ Jump up to:a b c Smith, Allan; Kapur, Sahil (2 May 2021). "Republicans are crusading against 'woke'". NBC News.
  42. ^ Kilgore, Ed (19 March 2021). "Is 'Anti-Wokeness' the New Ideology of the Republican Party?". Intelligencer. Vox Media. Retrieved 23 October 2022.
  43. ^ McWhorter, John (17 August 2021). "Opinion | How 'Woke' Became an Insult". The New York Times.
  44. ^ Anderson, Bryan (2 November 2021). "Critical race theory is a flashpoint for conservatives, but what does it mean?". PBS NewsHour. Associated Press. Retrieved 3 November 2021.
  45. ^ "脱北ヒロイン 米エリート校に広がる"お目覚め文化"に「北朝鮮と似ている」と苦言 | アメリカの名門校にがっかり". 21 June 2021.
  46. ^ Grant, Meghan (30 January 2023). "Mandatory Indigenous course at risk after group of lawyers aims to change Law Society rule". CBC News. Retrieved 6 February 2023.
  47. ^ Mosleh, Omar (31 January 2023). "Alberta lawyers launch petition against mandatory course on Indigenous history". Toronto Star. Retrieved 5 February 2023.


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