The term “woke” has undergone a deliberate negative transformation over the past few years. Once used to show awareness of social issues and empathy towards them, the word has been co-opted by far-right conservatives, who deliberately muddled its meaning, turning it into a derogatory dog whistle to signal their base. This blog post will explore how this cultural appropriation transpired and its implications.
A Brief History of Woke
“Woke” originally emerged within the African American community as a call to stay informed about social, economic, and political injustices marginalised groups face. The term gained popularity after the Black Lives Matter movement, as more people joined the fight against systemic racism and inequality. However, its evolution took a dark turn when far-right conservatives began deploying it to further their own agenda.
The Co-opting of Woke by Far-Right Conservatives
Witnessing the steady growth of “woke” in the public consciousness, far-right conservatives identified an opportunity to exploit the word to serve their agenda. Far-right conservatives realised that they could use “woke” as a way to mock and discredit those working towards social justice. By altering the term’s connotations, they hoped to transform it into something negative and derogatory. For them, the word now signifies misguided, overly sensitive, aka snowflakes, or intolerant individuals who push their agenda under the guise of fighting for “social justice.”
The Dog Whistle Effect
A dog whistle, in the realm of politics, is an innocuous-seeming phrase with a hidden or coded meaning designed to appeal to a specific group. The weaponisation of “woke” is an example of such a tactic, with far-right conservatives carefully repurposing the word to rile their base. By painting the proponents of social justice as fanatical, these political actors invoke fear to consolidate support among their followers.
The Role of Media and Discourse
Media plays an instrumental role in shaping the accepted meanings and usages of any term, and “woke” is no exception. Far-right commentators and media personalities have eagerly jumped on the bandwagon to debase the term.
Why It Matters
This co-opting of “woke” by far-right conservatives has seriously impacted how people view social justice movements. The original meaning – advocating for the rights of marginalised groups – is now overshadowed by right-wing rhetoric, fueling division and stalling progress on important social issues. In addition, the term’s negative rebranding perpetuates a false narrative that those fighting for justice are zealots.