I have heard this word used in many situations, confusing me with its sometimes contradictory meanings—time to check it out.
One of the earliest references using the word ‘woke’ goes back to the 1930s, meaning a broader awareness of social and political issues affecting African Americans. It was a variation of being ‘awake’ about social issues. In 1860, a group, ‘Wide Awake,’ supported the Presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln.
During the 1900s, (my goodness, that seems close to the age of dinosaurs,) wokeness evolved with the Black political consciousness. By the mid-1900s, woke began to mean being well-informed.
By the early 2010s, woke was a term used as literal wakefulness, broader than political or other social issues.
Enter the hashtag ‘#staywoke’; the spread online was quick and broad. It began to mean a progressive outlook, especially on race issues. The documentary film, ‘Stay Woke’ in 2016 emphasized the meaning of political and social awareness.
Gradually other activists with other causes appropriated the term, broadening its meaning even further. The term ‘woke’ in Google searches peaked in 2015.
Gradually the millennial generation took hold of the term. 2015 to 2020 saw this generation’s increased use of woke as a slang term.
By 2020 the term was used mockingly or sarcastically. It mocked righteous liberalism.
The air doesn’t get any clearer when I look at the meaning of woke in different countries or regions.
In the USA, woke is used primarily as an insult, particularly by members of the Republican party towards members of the Democratic party.
Most recently, in Alberta, the Law Society wanted to mandate a course on Indigenous history in Canada. A counterargument from within its membership was that the course was a form of ‘wokeness.’
Well, there you have it. Clear as mud. No wonder I’m confused.
I don’t use the term myself. I wasn’t sure why, except it didn’t sound like me. Perhaps, intuitively, I didn’t understand the term sufficiently.
Please give this a bit of a think. Do you consider the term ‘woke’ to be in your regular vocabulary? Do you have another word to label, positively or negatively, a person with views different or similar to yours?
More generally, what benefit and harm is there in using the term woke or another label? Labels tend to stick, as we’ve discovered, but ebb and flow with meaning.
I’m curious about your thoughts. Please share your bit of a think below.
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