The war on ‘woke’ and the overuse of the word wokeism has become a dog whistle to people who don’t like to be challenged for their bigoted, xenophobic or racist views. Just like the term politically correct, woke has been co-opted by the far-right to bash socially conscious people over the head.
The term woke is of African American origin. Once we were able to use this word without too many people knowing what we were talking about and then mainstream media got hold of it and it was game over.
Early uses of woke
The earliest mention of woke was in a 1942 edition of Negro Digest. J. Saunders Redding used the term in an article about labour unions. A black, unionised mine worker told him: “Waking up is a damn sight harder than going to sleep, but we’ll stay woke up longer.”
In 1962 African-American novelist William Melvin Kelley wrote an article in the New York Times describing how white beatniks were appropriating black slang at the time, it was entitled ‘If you’re woke, you dig it’.
This just goes to show that white people have been appropriating black slangs and idioms for the longest time.
Barry Beckham’s 1972 play Garvey Lives! is another example of early usage. A character exclaims, in reference to Marcus Garvey, “I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr Garvey done woke me up, I’m gon stay woke. And I’m gon help him wake up other black folk.”
“Stay Woke” became the rallying cry of the BLM movement in 2012. In 2016 former political candidate, Dr Jill Stein used it in a tweet and made people cringe. She tweeted: “Maybe it was Bernie who woke you up. I’m asking you to stay woke. #InvestYourVote in a movement party.
In 2017 the Oxford English Dictionary added the term to its lexicon and the word hit mainstream media.
The war on woke begins
In 2020 Piers Morgan tweeted that being woke meant “being constantly, self-righteously certain that your ultra-liberal, virtue signalling opinion is not only always right but anyone who disagrees is an idiot.” From then on the meaning began to change.
Later the same year, the far-right locked onto the word with a vengeance replacing their once favourite term, snowflake with woke brigade and wokeism and cancel culture. It became a useful tool for stoking culture wars. Now woke has been bastardised to the point where it’s a slur that the right lash out with expecting socially conscious people to cower from.
The anti-woke brigade is nothing new. Every civil and social rights movement has had its detractors, people who support the status quo and/or are too blind or entrenched in their beliefs to see the value of a more equitable society.
I think it’s time to come up with a new word to get their piss boiling.