In recent years, the term ‘woke’ has been an increasingly important term in the world of politics, sociology, and activism. Originating in the United States, the term is used to describe a state of being alert to injustice, discrimination, and prejudice in the society, particularly racism and sexism. The word itself has also been used as a derogatory phrase by those on the right wing of politics, to characterise views from the left that support minority rights, progress on climate change and other similar issues.
The concept of woke as a conscious awareness of and response to iniquity has been around for decades in various forms, such as the Black Consciousness movement in the 1970s, or Canadan philosopher Charles Taylor’s conception of ‘the politics of recognition’. However, only since more recently has ‘woke’ entered into the mainstream spoken vernacular.
The word was popularised initially in 2012 by a song called ‘Wake Me Up’ by artist Erykah Badu. In the song she proclaims the desire to be ‘so woke’, to be alert and responsive to the ‘devilish fiending’, ‘polit grams’ and ‘hatred’s drilling’ going on around her. With the influence of culture, this phrase then found uptake in the world of activism, particularly within African-American movements.
Over the last few years there has been a huge growth in the popularity of the term, partly driven by social media. The right have used it invidiously to critique the left, in particular their views on climate change. However, there are nuances to the term that those on the political right often ignore or misunderstand. Woke isn’t a leftist monolith, it is about personal responsibility, respect and growth.
Today the term goes beyond racial discrimination and includes topics such as women’s rights, LGBT rights, and Disability rights, and has adopted a wider interest in social justice. The term has had to evolve to include various aspects of discrimination, not just racism.
Woke is an important and ever evolving term that has been embraced by many around the world who are committed to social justice. It has become a language of advocacy, inclusiveness, and compassion, giving voices to those whose voices may not have been heard otherwise in the past. Those on the left have a vested interest in continuing to champion ‘wokeness’ and its associated values in order to keep on protecting and promoting human rights and dignity.