The past tense of awake is woke, obviously. “I woke up,” is what someone could utter any given morning. The word has also been adopted as a slang word with a meaning that is ever expanding, but generally entails being in the know when it comes to social and political enlightenment. A word with such subjectivity allows people to feel a sense of “wokeness” when it comes to just about anything.
Has anyone ever told you to #staywoke? The term has existed for a while, and now got a brand-new make over with its existence on social media. Its social media presence is what caused many to refine or narrow down its meaning.
Many people have various interpretations of the word.
San Francisco State University biology student, Rosa Gutierrez, thinks “…it is when someone is enlightened, or trying to learn about something that is going on around them, and not ignoring the issues that are going on around them.”
American-Indian studies major, Shawnee Sample, believes that, “It’s about seeing different perspectives and different sides to everything, just being able to recognize what’s going down whether it’s political, educational, etc.”
“I think it means being aware of situations and problems that people aren’t aware of,” shares computer science major, David Harvey. “I feel like it’s being overused for now, but with time it will be used less.”
The great thing about social media is that it can get information to circulate on a broader scale. People all over the world can get a laugh from the same memes at the same time! And while that is amazing it’s important to realize that not just memes are being rapidly spread, so are these trends of activism.
We live in a time where big social movements involving hashtags can catapult through the likes of social media. Take #BlackLivesMatter for example, the entirety of that movement started on social media and without social media it would not have spread as widely as it did.
With that being said, even though a social movement as such holds much more value than a trend, it is treated the same when it comes to having a shelf life, which brings me to the topic of being or staying “Woke.”
Even though it has taken off on social media, the term has been around for decades in the Black community. Although not the most reputable source, The Urban Dictionary satirically describes it as “a state of perceived intellectual superiority one gains by reading The Huffington Post.”
“A lot of people think that because they were there first they get to delegate what the meaning is and how others should be regarded within that term,” says Ghila Andemeskel, former executive coordinator for the Black Student Union. “In general it does open doors for discussion.”
At the peak of its existence in the world of social media, “woke” seemed to bring a lot of awareness to issues. It also became something that people were striving to be a part of because it was highly looked down upon to be considered not “woke.”
With that popularity arose various problems. On one hand people were beginning to just start calling themselves “woke,” unjustly throwing around the word like Northern Californians throw around the word “hella.” On the other hand, people began to develop this unwarranted sense of intellectual superiority, and additionally it led to a lot of talk of issues, but no action.
“Media is a tool that can be used positively and negatively,” explains Hanna Wodaje, an Africana studies Alumna who currently works at the Black Unity Center. “The word can be like a double-edged sword obviously if it’s used inefficiently.”
The overuse and misuse of the word by people wanting fit in led to a lot of folks misconstruing the meaning. While it is great to care for these issues and give them more attention, the only thing this superiority does is create a divide between people, as opposed to spreading awareness which was the goal from the beginning, which in my opinion is the cause of this dwindling trend.
Often people think that a simple double tap on someone’s “woke” post or a simple retweet is enough and that is as far as their wokeness goes.
“Social media things like hashtags have been an amazing way for people of color and marginalized groups to reclaim their spaces and their platforms,” Wodaje points out.
Even singer and Bay Area native, Kehlani, sported the word as a tattoo in giant letters gracing the back of her hand, which she had covered up at the beginning of this year.
“When I got the ‘Woke’ tattoo at twenty-years-old I thought I was the smartest cookie in the jar,” shared the now twenty-two-year-old in an Instagram post. “I was so ready to declare my intelligence to the world.”
Someone who is truly about that life, lives it everyday. It shows in the company they keep, in them standing up for themselves and others, and it shows in their active activism—not including “Twitter activism”, which is not necessarily bad, but it is not enough to make an actual impact in the community and the lives of others.
We should stop looking at it like it is a finite state of being. There is no end to learning, growing, and becoming better versions of ourselves.
It is wonderful to spread awareness about social issues, the feeling that comes from doing such feels amazing, but anger or bashing should not stem from a difference in thoughts of opinions regarding various topics. I couldn’t decide whether something like this needed a different title like ‘socially conscious’ or maybe we should eradicate titles all together and let our actions speak louder than or words.
Let’s put the focus we have on the term to sleep and wake up our potential to be the catalyst for positive change in our communities. At the end of the day, that is what it is all about.