If you use woke only as the past tense of wake — I wake up, I woke up — this post is for you.
Millennials and other avid users of social media most likely know that woke has an expanded meaning. It has evolved as an adjective; in today’s world, woke can mean well informed or up-to-date.
In its new context, woke implies an awareness of and being attentive to important facts and issues, especially related to racial and social justice.
History of woke
Although I generally avoid Wikipedia as a source, I found its condensed history of woke helpful and fairly consistent with other online explanations:
Woke is a political term of African American origin that refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It is derived from the African American Vernacular English expression “stay woke,” whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues. Its widespread use since 2014 is in part a result of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Clarifying how to use woke, bustle.com explains:
To use “woke” accurately in a sentence, one that captures its connotations and nuances, you’d need to reference someone who is thinking for themselves, who sees the ways in which racism, sexism and classism affect how we live our lives on a daily basis.
#StayWoke implies that we should look past the conventional narrative about life and examine our own privilege (or lack thereof). The hashtag suggests that there is more than one reality to life in the United States.
Meaning of woke is in flux
Another source, merriam-webster.com, gives woke even broader meaning:
It’s now seeing use as an adjective to refer to places where woke people commune: woke Twitter has taken off as the shorthand for describing social-media activists. The broader uses of woke are still very much in flux, and there are some who are woke to the broader implications of woke.
Brad Pitt is considered one of the wokiest men in Hollywood because he uses his status — and his production company, Plan B Entertainment — to create space for artists of color, with such films as 12 Years a Slave, Selma, and Moonlight.
One writer for the New York Times describes woke as “the inverse of politically correct.”
Think of “woke” as the inverse of “politically correct.” If “P.C.” is a taunt from the right, a way of calling out hypersensitivity in political discourse, then “woke” is a back-pat from the left, a way of affirming the sensitive. It means wanting to be considered correct, and wanting everyone to know just how correct you are.
On forefront of change? Use woke with care
Language and cultural norms continue to evolve. When you’re on the forefront of change, you run the risk of being misunderstood.
Whether you’re writing or speaking, always consider your audience. Make certain you’re on the same linguistic plane when choosing how to best communicate your message.
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