UPDATED: 9:30 a.m. ET., March 30
Let me ask you a question. Are you woke? If not, does that mean you’re asleep?
America was built on cultural battles. From the Religious Wars of the 1920s to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, culture wars have always played a part in the progression or regression of this country.
In recent years, a new cultural battleground has emerged in the U.S. called the “Woke Wars,” which has pitted folks who advocate for social justice and equality against those who push back on what they see as “cancel culture” and the erosion of traditional values. This conflict has sparked heated debate across social media and in corporate spaces. It has even made its way into America’s political arena.
Who coined the phrase “stay woke?”
The term “stay woke” is unequivocally a Black phrase and its origins come directly from Black American culture.
Singer Erykah Badu recently joined MSNBC’s Ari Melber to discuss the conservative appropriation of the phrase “stay woke.” During the interview, the legendary singer took credit for coining the term, siting her 2008 song “Master Teacher.” “I stay woke” can be heard throughout the chorus of the song.
“Stay woke was introduced to the world by way of this album ‘New Amerykah Part One,’” she told Ari during the interview.
Erykah Badu certainly helped the phrase become a mainstream word, but she wasn’t the first Black musician to use the term. In 1938, American folk legend Huddie Michael Ledbetter (aka Lead Belly) used the term in an interview discussing his hit song “Scottsboro Boys.” In the interview, Belly was sending a warning to Black folks about traveling through Alabama; the “stay woke” referred to being vigilant of racial violence.
Since then, Black folks have used the term in a very similar fashion. The phrase “stay woke” is a constant reminder that racial injustices and systematic oppression are still worthy of keeping a wary watchful eye on.
What does it mean to be woke?
According to a USA Today poll, 56% of Americans said woke means “to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices,” while 39% said it means “to be overly politically correct and police others’ words.”
The phrase “woke” is a hip-hop slang term associated with your understanding of social issues affecting you and the community around you.
Black Americans began using the phrase “stay woke” during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and the social unrest after the police killing of Michael Brown in 2014. As the Black Lives Matter movement grew, so did the term “stay woke.” Conservatives began to take notice of the popularity of Black Lives Matter and tried to create Blue Lives Matter as its counter, but it just didn’t have the same power. Conservatives then turned their pudgy, thieving hands to the term and saw it as an opportunity to the narrative on the culture wars.
The word was then hijacked by conservative talking heads who turned it into a cultural buzzword to represent the progressive movements they despise. Republican pundits use it as a rallying cry, to give their constituents a boogyman they claim is taking over schools, indoctrinating your children and making white kids hate themselves. These are all lies, but that hasn’t stopped Republicans from fear-mongering. Conservative parents flooded school board meetings all over the country protesting woke culture and CRT barely even knowing what they meant.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken it a step further by adopting legislation to push back against what republicans call “woke indoctrination” and critical race theory.
According to Florida Senator Bobby Powell, DeSantis’ Stop Woke Act, which was signed into law April 2022, essentially prohibits instruction on race relations or diversity that imply a person’s status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin or sex. Fortunately, a federal judge has blocked the law on numerous occasions, but the fight to Stop “wokeness” is far from over.
Ideologies driving the “woke wars”
Progressives believe being “woke” is staying aware of the social injustices around you and speaking up when injustices are presented to you.
“To me, it’s not just woke. It’s ‘stay woke,'” Terri Givens, a political science professor at McGill University told USA Today. “The reason we have to ‘stay woke’ is because of exactly what these people are doing right now, which is finding very insidious ways to undercut our rights.”
Conservatives use the term to attack progressive social moments they are against. They also use it to attack cancel culture. The rallying cry has been slightly effective for conservatives who use it to rally their base. Virginia GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin successfully used it to win his election in 2021, using angry racist parents who were upset about certain critical race theory. If you haven’t noticed a pattern yet, lemme school you. Whenever conservatives get irate over “wokeism” it usually has to do with kids learning about the history of slavery. That is not a coincidence.
The future of “woke wars”
There is no question that the woke battle isn’t going away anytime soon. As the political season ramps up, social issues will once again take the forefront of conservative arguments. As debates over race, gender and identity continue so will culture wars in America. But there will be opportunities for dialogue that could lead to a better understanding. These are the moments we need to amplify. Building a culture that values empathy and the commitment to social justice for all is the only way to win the “Woke Wars.”
When Whitesplaining Goes Wrong: Author Of Anti-Woke Book Can’t Define ‘Woke’ When Asked
Florida’s Black Affairs Board Apologizes After Member Calls Ron DeSantis ‘Racist’
Today’s Freedom Fighters
Jonathan Majors Video Evidence, 'Woman Recanting' Assault Claim Will Clear Actor Of Charges, Lawyer Says
Actress Jodie Turner-Smith Says Having 'Light-Skinned' Baby With White Husband Helped Her Confront Colorism
'Get Out Of The Country': Video Shows Black Man Kicked Out Of School CRT Meeting As 'Racist Woman' Stays
Genius Black Teens Solve Math Problem Believed to Be Impossible For 2,000 Years
Thanks, Ron DeSantis: Florida School District Pulls 'Ruby Bridges' Movie After 1 White Parent Complains
Graphic Videos Showing Tekashi 6ix9ine Being Brutally Beaten In Florida Gym Go Viral
Look-Alike Black Actors Who Should Be Cast As Fictional Siblings