What does “woke” or being woke mean? According to Urban Dictionary, woke is the intellectual state of an individual after becoming aware of the disparities within their society. There’s no doubting the powerful meaning and history of this slang word, especially in our currently uneasy political climate. Despite this, I found myself questioning whether we were using it correctly. Some of us choose to actively live by the word by protesting social injustice and rallying for change, while others only use the word for self promotion.
Many people would be surprised to learn that “woke” has a history. Between 2008 and 2009, singer Erykah Badu declared “stay woke” in her song “Master Teacher” to express her desire for a world free of racial prejudice while acknowledging that our current world may always be far from it. Erykah Badu urged her audience to recognize the issues with the inequalities within our country and hope for better days. Fast-forward to 2013, when awareness and influence of the Black Lives Matter movement increased following the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, and #StayWoke surfaces on Twitter, ultimately popularizing the term. Suddenly, “woke” is being used for almost anytime someone learns something new about our chaotic world.
I’ve found that humans can hover between different levels of “woke,” but for the purpose of not being too wordy or scholarly, I will merely cover three common levels. First, the Trender: an individual who is likely to view forms of activism as a trend and not movements devoted to making true change within society. The two other common types of “woke” individuals are the Activist and the Extremist. The Activist and the Extremist make a point to maintain an awareness of the disparities within major institutions and will happily educate others on issues and areas of society that are not well known and/or are disregarded. However, the Extremist is prone to arguing or engaging in violence even for the smallest social injustice.
What’s the point of me dishing out all this information about a slang word? “Woke” isn’t just a slang word. It’s a reminder to be mindful of our actions and that the world isn’t as squeaky clean as we’d like it to be.
To the Activists and Extremists: don’t take everything too seriously, and don’t try to push your beliefs on others. In our society, anyone who lives an alternative lifestyle is often characterized as angry, crazy or dangerous. We must remember that there are people who aren’t informed or aware of alternative lifestyles and that their lack of knowledge in this area does not necessarily mean they’re ignorant. There are also people who just don’t care, and we just have to accept that.
To the Trenders: cultures different from your own and the people of these cultures are not tokens to be flaunted before friends and family. Furthermore, as much as I believe in taking as much help as possible, you’re not helping a movement by pretending to care. There are people that genuinely care about social issues and seek to improve society, and someone pretending to care undermines the message, the efforts and the achievements of these movements.
There’s something beautiful about the word “woke.” It’s enticing and represents something bigger than some Millennial trend or angst. I personally feel it represents a hope for the future as well as for maintaining mindfulness in the present. It reminds me that anybody is capable of making a positive change in the world through activism and volunteering. There are no nobodies because we’re all somebody.
By Nikki Wertz, Layout Designer